Stormontgate and a question for Sinn Fein over the targeting of my wife Mary
Stormontgate has been in the news recently with claims that the arrest of Sinn Fein special adviser Denis Donaldson was orchestrated to protect him after his cover as a double agent was blown when the IRA stole classified documents from Castlereagh holding centre.
The Castlereagh raid was on March 17, 2002, and afterwards a number of prominent republicans including Bobby Storey and Declan Kearney were questioned, but no one was charged.
Then, six months later, on October 4, 2002, the PSNI raided Sinn Fein's offices at Stormont and took away computer disks and files. This became known as Stormontgate.
Some time later my wife Mary and I were visited at home by two police officers. They were in the process of contacting anyone about whom there was information on the Sinn Fein computer disks, and they told us that among the documents that had been recovered from the computers and files were some relating to my wife. They also told us the nature of the information.
She had started a two-year course on community development and education at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown and this was to lead to a diploma.
It was a popular course that drew students from across Northern Ireland and even some from the Irish Republic, and it was in a location at Jordanstown where anyone could feel comfortable.
Mary started in 1999, completed the first year successfully and was looking forward to the second year. However, the university discontinued the course at Jordanstown and students were expected to transfer to the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education (BIFHE) to complete their second year.
BIFHE had a number of campuses and buildings, including some near the centre of Belfast, but the one selected for this course was the Whiterock campus in west Belfast.
At that time I was a unionist councillor in Belfast and not averse to controversy. As a result my wife was concerned about her personal safety and the fact that each week over the next year she would have to go to regular, time-tabled classes off the Whiterock Road.
I lobbied BIFHE about this on her behalf and suggested that the course be transferred to a more neutral location in the city centre. I pressed it strongly on the need to relocate the course, but it refused and she dropped out for a year. In the end a solution was found for her for the following year and she was then able to complete the second year at the old College Square East Building in the city centre.
There was nothing about this in the public domain and the only folk who would have known outside our circle of family and friends were those associated with the BIFHE course.
Yet this information on the concerns of an individual student had found its way on to one of Sinn Fein's computers at Stormont.
It is worth remembering that this information was in the office of Donaldson, one of those arrested at the time.
Two days later three members of Sinn Fein were arrested, including Donaldson and his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney, but eventually the charges against them were dropped.
Three years later, in December 2005, Donaldson appeared at a Sinn Fein Press conference flanked by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. He admitted he had been a British agent for two decades.
A few months later he was shot dead in Donegal.
The recent mention of Stormontgate brought the Whiterock episode to mind, along with the questions that were never answered.
Why was Sinn Fein so interested in the location of a further education course? Why was it collecting information on the wife of a unionist councillor? Who was it that had access to the information and passed it on to Sinn Fein?
I think I know the answers to the first two questions. But I do wonder about the third.
- Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee