Campaign of leaks threatens Irish peace

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The Independent Online
THE Government is facing up to the unpalatable fact that an organised campaign of sabotage is being waged against its Northern Ireland policy from within the highest levels of its administration in Belfast.

The leaking of another sensitive document from within the Northern Ireland Office has left no room for doubt that at least one person with access to secret papers has been systematically feeding them to Unionist sources and hence to the media.

The most recent leak took place this week, when the Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson received a document whose disclosure was plainly designed to cause personal embarrassment to Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

It showed that she recently held a telephone conversation with a senior Sinn Fein member, Rita O'Hare, on the question of membership of the new commission on the future policing of Northern Ireland. Ms O'Hare lives in the Republic of Ireland since she is wanted for questioning in Northern Ireland about a sniping attack on soldiers in early 1970s.

Mr Donaldson said: "It's a disgrace. One wonders to what extent the Government is prepared to pander to the demands of Sinn Fein and the IRA regarding the future of the RUC. There will be many people who will share my deep concern that the Secretary of State should consult about the future of the RUC with someone like Rita O'Hare who is wanted for questioning by the RUC."

The memo, which summarised a flurry of diplomatic and political activity before the commission's membership was announced, was drawn up by Ms Mowlam's private secretary, and circulated only to two ministers and eight senior officials. Marked confidential and dated 4 June, it took only four days to reach Mr Donaldson.

Although a certain amount of leaking took place during the time of Sir Patrick Mayhew, Ms Mowlam's predecessor in Belfast, the trickle has grown into a flow since she took charge. "My thoughts are that leaks are bad for government," she said yesterday. "It's damaging and we will make every effort we can to find out who is responsible. We are today talking to the police to see if they will consider an investigation on this issue."

Previous leaks have included a key document outlining the Government's approach to last year's marching season and a more recent document setting out its public relations strategy in relation to the referendum on the Good Friday agreement. In each case the intention appears to have been to cause political damage and disruption.

The persistence of the leaks appears to be a sign that one or more people with access to confidential documents is so opposed to the Government's approach that they are prepared to risk ignominious discharge, and possibly prosecution.

Ireland's foreign affairs minister, David Andrews, said: "The leakers are opposed to the peace process and should examine their consciences, whoever they are. But ... sneaky little people in the Northern Ireland Office are not going to obstruct the pursuit of what we all want to achieve - a permanent peace on the island of Ireland."