The head of MI5 has admitted that British intelligence agents placed a sophisticated listening device at the head offices of Sinn Féin in Belfast.

In the first formal admission of the bugging operation, MI5’s director-general Eliza Manningham-Buller bragged to a Westminster parliamentary committee, “they [Sinn Féin officials] had to almost shred the office to find it”.

The 5ft device was found last September hidden in a floor joist at the headquarters of the party, which is the IRA’s political wing.

Sinn Féin said at the time that two live microphones were found, one pointed towards the upstairs office and the other at a downstairs conference room.

When the bugging was disclosed, British officials refused to discuss the matter. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams ‘returned’ the device at scheduled talks with the British Prime Minister days later.

Adams described the bug as “a serious act of bad faith” and “a violation of human rights”. He added: “The British make it very, very hard to make peace when this goes on.. this is a violation of the peace process.”

Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brun urged Dublin’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern to raise the matter with Britain’s Direct Ruler, Paul Murphy, who she said must have authorised the surveillance operation.

Ms de Brun said the news of the bugging “will shock even those who have become hardened to the fact that the nationalist community has been spied upon and harassed for the past 35 years by these same shadowy organisations.

“Given this highly disturbing report, the British government must now provide a satisfactory reply to the European Parliament, to the Irish government, and most importantly to the voters whose rights have been infringed.

“Time and again undercover British securocrats have created difficulties in the peace process, culminating with the closure of Stormont after unsubstantiated allegations of a spy-ring. These are the same people who have admitted responsibility for spying on republicans ten years into a peace process.”

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© 2004 Irish Republican News