IRA spy ring has been broken up, police claim

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The Independent Online

Police in Northern Ireland claimed yesterday that a major investigation had "broken open" an IRA political and security spying operation of huge dimensions.

Police in Northern Ireland claimed yesterday that a major investigation had "broken open" an IRA political and security spying operation of huge dimensions.

They said the level of threat against no fewer than 2,000 people was being reassessed after the discovery of their names and details on IRA documents or in official papers obtained by the IRA.

Scores of officers have been detailed to sift through thousands of pages of recovered documents as efforts go on to locate more IRA agents within government structures in Northern Ireland.

The continuing investigation into IRA intelligence-gathering is expected to go on for some months. The inquiry into IRA activities at Stormont has been merged with the investigation into last March's break-in at Special Branch offices in Belfast.

Alan McQuillan, the acting deputy chief constable, declared: "The investigation has taken us in to the heart of the IRA. We have broken up their intelligence cell in Belfast." He added that the investigation had cost "a fortune".

He said that in recent searches police had recovered documents, including some which were IRA documents, which meant that they were actively investigating possible republican approaches to "a small number of people in a small number of offices within government".

He denied claims that a "witchhunt" was being directed against Catholic civil servants, adding: "We are very conscious that some people working within government who are decent, honest people may well have been approached and may well have had pressure put on them to provide information."

Yesterday, it emerged that a Belfast civil servant who had worked in key positions in the suspended Northern Ireland Executive, including a spell in the office of the former first minister David Trimble, has been suspended on full pay.

Last week the man was held for two days for questioning by detectives investigating alleged IRA penetration of the offices of Mr Trimble and his former deputy, the SDLP leader Mark Durkan. On Friday he was released without charge.

Forty police officers have been assigned to investigate IRA spying, while a further 15 have been assessing the threats to individuals.

A police officer said yesterday that those who were being alerted included forensic scientists, and members of the police, military, judiciary and loyalists.

Police said they were examining 79 computers, 1,000 disks and about 19,000 pages of documentation. Detectives have taken some 2,000 statements and interviewed up to 5,000 people.

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