Belfast spy scandal in briefs for Irish government

The commander of the Northern Ireland police force briefed Ireland's prime minister and other top Cabinet officials Thursday on the secret details behind a Belfast spy case that has shaken peacemaking efforts in the British territory. Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde spent an hour in the office of Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who was joined by his justice and foreign affairs ministers and the commander of the Irish Republic's police, Commissioner Noel Conroy.

About a dozen protesters from Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party, tried to block or strike the vehicle carrying Orde as he arrived from Belfast. Police scuffled with the protesters and seized a club from one of them, but arrested nobody. Afterward, Orde left without comment. Ahern's office declined to permit any government minister to discuss the meeting, but issued a statement that the meeting involved "detailed exchanges" and "was an indication of the seriousness that attached to this case."

Ahern previously has appealed for the British government and Orde to explain to him what really happened in the spying case, which in 2002 triggered the collapse of a joint Catholic-Protestant administration, the central achievement of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord.

Three men including Denis Donaldson, Sinn Fein's senior administrator within the power-sharing administration, were charged in October 2002 with pilfering confidential British documents that included the personal details of potential IRA targets.

But earlier this month, Northern Ireland prosecutors unexpectedly dropped all the espionage charges without explanation. Protestant leaders accused Britain of cutting a secret deal with Sinn Fein. Then Donaldson stunned Northern Ireland by declaring he had been a paid informer for the Northern Ireland police and British domestic spy agency MI5 for the past two decades. Sinn Fein accused British intelligence officials of having used Donaldson to stage an event that would wreck power-sharing, informs the AP. N.U.

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