Looking back at Stormontgate

Published Tuesday, 16 October 2012
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Ten years ago, the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended amid allegations that a spy ring was operating within the fragile government.

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    Stormontgate, ten years on
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    Stormontgate debate

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Police Land Rovers lined Prince of Wales Avenue on 4 October 2002 and as Stormont was searched, three men - including Sinn Féin's director of administration Denis Donaldson - were arrested.

Then Secretary of State John Reid suspended the power-sharing Assembly ten days after the raids first took place.

Three years after 'Stormontgate' the charges against Donaldson and two others were dropped. The Public Prosecution Service said pursuing the case was no longer in the public interest.

At the time Donaldson described the events as "political policing" and said charges should never have been brought.

That was not acceptable to Sinn Féin, we had to have a non-partisan and a non political police force and we eventually got that.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly

It was later revealed Donaldson had been acting as a spy for 20 years.

"I was a British agent at the time, I was recruited in the 1980s after compromising myself during a vulnerable time in my life," Donaldson commented, admitting that he had worked within Special Branch.

Soon after, Donaldson moved to a remote cottage in Co Donegal where he was shot dead in 2006.

The Assembly had been damaged by the scandal - as had the reputation of then-First Minister David Trimble.

"For so long Trimble had been pushing the whole thing about getting people to trust Sinn Féin," said former UUP communications director Alex Kane.

"The whole process has been brought down and it has been suspended again and, worse than that, the perception that Sinn Féin - the very people that he had been asking the voters to trust - were being accused of running a spy ring at the very heart of that government."

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said Stormontgate was a perfect example of "political policing".
"It was a set up, it was meant by people who were against the peace process within the police at the time to bring down the institutions and this succeeded in doing it."

It was our view that if (Sinn Féin) got the votes they had to be able to support the police, the courts and the rule of law. Those were non-negotiable barriers to entry which they had to overcome.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said boundaries at the Assembly changed significantly after the scandal.

"If you look back that 10 years, and just beyond it, the Trimble-led Ulster Unionist party did not lay down any ground rules... and Stormontgate was the price," Mr Campbell said.

"There were a number of other issues as well that actually demonstrated how clearly the democratic institutions could fall if you did not have those democratic principles in place," he commented.

Breakthroughs saw the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, decommissioning and the decision by Sinn Féin to declare its support for the PSNI and the criminal justice system.

Two assembly elections in 2003 and 2007 returned the DUP and Sinn Féin as the largest parties at Stormont.

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness were installed as First and deputy First Minister in May 2007, and the Assembly was running once again after a near five-year hiatus.

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