Mo admits bugging Sinn Fein leaders

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The Independent Online

Mo Mowlam has admitted she authorised a bug to be planted in a car used by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and his chief negotiator Martin McGuinness.

Mo Mowlam has admitted she authorised a bug to be planted in a car used by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and his chief negotiator Martin McGuinness.

The former Northern Ireland Secretary told a television programme to be screened tomorrow night that she approved surveillance on the Ford Mondeo car used by the nationalist delegation during peace talks last year.

Her confession prompted an immediate condemnation by Sinn Fein, which accused the intelligence community of trying to sabotage the Northern Ireland peace process.

The surveillance device was discovered by Sinn Fein and displayed at a Stormont press conference in December, just days after the formation of the Northern Ireland executive in a delicate climate overshadowed by the row over IRA weapons decommissioning.

The incident was described by Mr Adams as a "hugely serious breach of faith" which could have damaged the peace process. It was also condemned by the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon.

At the time, Northern Ireland Office officials refused to confirm military intelligence involvement in the incident despite widespread reports of British Government involvement.

However, Ms Mowlam told BBC 1's You Only Live Once, hosted by comedian Nick Hancock, that the car was bugged in order to save lives.

The former Northern Ireland Secretary told Mr Hancock: "Lives were being lost and a lot was done to make sure we knew what was going on."

A Sinn Fein spokesman yesterday described Ms Mowlam's admission as "disappointing but not surprising".

"There can be little doubt that this was part of a secret agenda which is still intent on subverting the peace process," he said. "This is evident in the way the demilitarisation and policing issues are mishandled by the British Government.

"Bad faith is a trait that appears inherent in the British government, particularly when dealing with Ireland.

"Until British government policy towards Ireland changes fundamentally and Britain accepts that its only objective should be disengagement, British governments and their security agencies will continue to breach human rights conventions and pursue policies that are not in the interests of the Irish people."

Ms Mowlam, now the Cabinet Office Minister, is one of the nation's most popular politicians. But it is not the first time her straight-talking style has landed her in trouble.

She recently repeated calls, first made several years ago when Labour was in opposition, for the Royal family to quit Buckingham Palace in favour of humbler accommodation.

And she has admitted to trying cannabis as a student, despite being the Cabinet minister responsible for overseeing the anti-drugs strategy.

Ms Mowlam also complained that she had been the victim of a Whitehall whispering campaign during which unnamed sources sought to undermine her.

This latest revelation has already prompted criticism from her political opponents.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Andrew Mackay said: "These are delicate security matters which are also politically sensitive, and so I am appalled that Mo Mowlam has seen fit to blab in a television documentary.

"It would have been wiser for all concerned, particularly at a time when the process is moving on, for her to remain silent. This is hardly statesman-like."