Spy case in Irish Republican Army

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern expressed bewilderment on Friday that prosecutors dropped all charges in a spying case that dealt a severe blow to Northern Ireland's political institutions. Prosecutors in Belfast dropped charges Thursday against three men accused of spying for the Irish Republican Army in 2002 a scandal that destroyed power-sharing, the central accomplishment of Northern Ireland's peace accord.

Following talks in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday, Ahern noted that the charges had "vanished like snow in June." "This brought down the institutions. This created huge grief for me and the prime minister. We had hundreds of troops descend on the Stormont (government) building for what we were told at the time was irrefutable evidence," Ahern told reporters outside Blair's Downing Street office.

"It vanished yesterday with no prosecutions," he said. "That is a lot of grief for no prosecutions. I think it is all very interesting and I do not quite understand." The case collapsed with no advance warning, and was announced in Belfast Crown Court without explanation.

Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party that represents most Catholics, accused British security officials of fabricating the charges to help Protestants opposed to power-sharing. But Protestants countered that Britain dropped the case because it would have embarrassed the Sinn Fein leadership. The three men, Denis Donaldson, Ciaran Kearney and William Mackessy, were charged with gathering information useful to terrorists, such as personal details of potential IRA targets like army and police officers.

Critics suggested the IRA was planning for a potential breakdown of its 1997 cease-fire and power-sharing disintegrated. Talks meant to revive it have failed.

The Protestants want the IRA to disband before they will resume cooperation with Sinn Fein. The IRA made long sought concessions, declaring its cease-fire permanent and handing over weapons stockpiles, but hasn't disbanded, reports the AP. N.U.

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