Controversy over Irish `spy' ring deepens

LONDON NOV. 9. The controversy over an alleged IRA spy ring right in the heart of the Northern Ireland administration headquarters in Belfast has taken a more serious turn after the discovery of a suspected republican `mole' in the private offices of David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and head of the suspended Provincial Government.

The arrest of Gerard Willis, a junior civil servant whose job as a diary secretary to Mr. Trimble gave him access to confidential information including security details of his movements, has raised fears that the alleged spy operation might be bigger than originally believed and that there might be more moles still around.

He is the fourth person to be arrested in recent weeks in connection with allegations of spying against Sinn Fein and its armed wing, IRA. Three persons, including a woman, who were arrested last month have been charged with possessing information that could be `useful' to terrorists, but Mr. Willis was released today without being charged for now.

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who has come down heavily on IRA lately for not being fully committed to the peace process, called it a "disturbing development'' and a somewhat shaken Mr. Trimble warned that it could have "huge implications''.

For the new Northern Ireland Secretary, Paul Murphy, there could not have been a more discouraging start to his efforts to break the political deadlock that has brought the peace process to a grinding halt.

``These are very serious matters and what they are doing, issues like this, is undermining confidence and trust in the process,'' he said.

Unionists seized the latest twist to harden their stand against Sinn Fein's participation in the Government saying there was no question of sharing power with Republicans until the IRA was disbanded. It was on this issue that the Northern Ireland Assembly and Government were suspended last month after the Unionists demanded Sinn Fein's expulsion from the administration following police claims that they had seized hundreds of sensitive documents from Sinn Fein offices and homes of its supporters.

Efforts to resolve the crisis have been complicated by IRA's blunt refusal to disarm under pressure, and its decision to suspend contact with the independent international decommissioning body, chaired by Gen John de Chastelain.

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