A young student activist who was returning from a morning exam was this week the target of the latest MI5 approach in the north of Ireland. It involved a feeble £50 and a quote from Karl Marx.
Stephen McCourt, a student from Newtownabbey, County Antrim, said an envelope was given to him this month as he was making his way home by train after sitting an exam at the University of Ulster in Coleraine.
The history and education undergraduate said he fell asleep and was woken by a tap on the shoulder from a man as the train reached Ballymena station. A man with an English accent handed him an envelope and said “letter for you” before getting off the train.
Mr McCourt said that inside he found a typed Marx quotation, #50 in cash and a blank postcard.
The quotation is believed to have been taken from a letter Marx sent to his father. It read: “History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good.”
Mr McCourt said he was ‘spooked’ by the incident.
“I feel harassed by it and it has left me paranoid too. It has left me feeling that they are watching me,” he said.
“Karl Marx would probably be my political inspiration,” he noted. “In my university bag there was a copy of the Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx.
“They must be watching what I am reading, what I get out from the university library.”
Mr McCourt said he believes he will be approached again. “I don’t feel a threat for my life but I feel under threat that they are going to approach me again,” he said.
“There was no contact number and that would suggest they are going to contact me again.”
The approach to Mr McCourt matches the modus operandi of two known MI5 operatives who usually call themselves ‘Brian and Julie’. In the past, this team have openly introduced themselves to people as being ‘from MI5\0x00 and have sent both cards and letters to political activists which insinuate that they have a deep insight into their personal lives and inviting their targets to collaborate with them in some way.
It is believed that MI5 agents such as ‘Brian and Julie’ are now turning their sights to the next generation of republicans and socialists in the Six Counties.
Republican Network for Unity West Belfast representative Tommy Doherty condemned the approach and called on youth and student organisations to speak out against such tactics.
“Stephen is a politics student who has studied Marx as a part of his degree. He is also a dedicated Socialist and Republican who played a key role in the recent student protests at Coleraine University aimed at opposing privatisation of student services and calling for free education,” he said.
“The fact that a young student, committed to legitimate political activity can be stalked, targeted and pressurised in such a devious way by unaccountable spooks, must be of concern to those who claim to stand for free speech and youth welfare in this country. I am calling on the NUS [National Union of Students] and the University of Ulster to come out in support of Stephen and to demand that British Military intelligence back off and allow him to carry on with his studies in peace.”