LONDON — Britain denied that there was any political motivation behind a decision to drop charges against three men accused of spying in Northern Ireland after a probe that led to the collapse of the province's government.
Denis Donaldson and two other men were arrested in 2002 and accused of spying for the Irish Republican Army's political ally Sinn Fein at the Stormont parliament in Belfast.
But charges were dropped in December after the Director of Public Prosecutions decided the case was "no longer in the public interest". Days later, Donaldson said he had been working for British intelligence since the 1980s.
Britain's Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, in a letter to a parliamentary committee on Northern Ireland, yesterday said "political considerations" did not form any part of the decision to drop the case.
"I may give you ... my absolute assurance that there was no political interference and there was no question of the decision being taken to cover any possible embarrassment to the government," Goldsmith wrote.
He said he asked ministerial colleagues in January 2005 whether they had any information relating to the case but the information obtained had no impact on the trial's collapse.
The decision to drop charges was informed by facts and information provided by Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde, said the letter to the committee, which has been pressing Prime Minister Tony Blair for more details of the case.
Donaldson, who had been Sinn Fein's head of administration at Stormont, Ciaran Kearney and William Mackessy had all been accused of "possessing documents likely to be of use to terrorists".
The Stormontgate affair led to the suspension of Northern Ireland's Protestant-Catholic power-sharing assembly, set up under 1998's Good Friday peace agreement aimed at ending 30 years of political and sectarian violence. It is still on ice.
Goldsmith said he could not comment on whether Donaldson was a police informant, in the interests of national security.
Donaldson said the Stormontgate spy ring was "a fiction" concocted by police Special Branch, a charge rejected by London.
Sinn Fein, which wants to end British rule in the province, calls the Stormont scandal a "coup d'etat" by London and British agencies to end the party's involvement in the assembly.
Goldsmith recognised the decision to drop charges had the potential to damage confidence in the Public Prosecution Service but said he could give no further information.
"To do so might be liable to give rise to the very damage the decision to discontinue was intended to avoid," he wrote.
He acknowledged the case involved "sensitive and confidential information", of a kind that could put a person's life at risk or jeopardise national security.
source: http://www.newkerala.com/news.php?action=fullnews&id=87865 17jan2006