Police seized 1,000 papers in raids on 'IRA spies'

David McKittrick
Saturday 12 October 2002 00:00
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More than one thousand documents were seized by police in the recent raids targeting IRA intelligence-gathering, a Belfast court was told yesterday as a fourth person appeared in court following the operation.

The defendant, 31-year-old Ciaran Kearney, was refused bail on a charge of possessing information likely to be of use to terrorism. Others already in custody include his father-in-law, senior Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson. The court appearance came as the political world prepared for Monday's suspension of the Belfast Assembly and its power-sharing executive.

Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid is due to announce on Monday morning that the devolved government will be suspended with effect from midnight on Monday. The move will preempt the resignations from the executive of Ulster Unionist ministers, which party leader David Trimble has said would take place early in the week. Yesterday the Rev Ian Paisley's two ministers formally resigned from the executive.

For legal reasons the government cannot specify the duration of the suspension, but will express the hope that the devolved government can be reinstated as quickly as possible. There is little sense however that this can be achieved at any early date, with Unionists and republicans so far apart and trust in such short supply. The government will announce the holding of a review to allow fresh talks, but there seems little appetite for any immediate rounds of negotiations.

Stormont ministers will meanwhile lose their ministerial salaries, while members of the Assembly will receive a reduced salary. At yesterday's legal proceedings Mr Kearney, a member of Sinn Fein, was accused of having classified documents on the army's General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland, Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin, a serving police officer and high profile loyalists.

Sketches of Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid's offices at Castle Buildings, Stormont, and top secret government papers were also allegedly found in his possession. It was said the documents were in a bag taken from Mr Donaldson's house.

A defence solicitor claimed a detective had agreed with him that three documents said to contain Mr Kearney's fingerprints, when examined individually, were not regarded as material likely to be of use to terrorists.

A police witness said however that the papers could not be looked at in isolation. He added: "The presence of the fingerprint on the bag that contained all the documentation from Mr Kearney's father-in-law's house indicates to me that he had at some time had possession of all the documentation contained in the bag."

The public gallery of the court was packed with republican supporters, including Sinn Fein Health Minister Bairbre de Brun, who is a member of the executive which will be suspended on Monday.

Meanwhile, an apparently conciliatory development emerged last night in the loyalist feud which has been raging in Belfast for several weeks. One of the groups involved, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, indicated that it would only take defensive action against its opponents, the Ulster Defence Association.

Two men have died in the feud, while there have been eight other shooting incidents. The latest move follows contacts involving Protestant clergymen and community groups.

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