Police raid Sinn Fein offices

A former messenger who once worked at the Government's main offices in Belfast was arrested today as part of a major police investigation into IRA intelligence gathering, sources said today.

The man was detained in a series of searches in west Belfast and at Sinn Fein's offices at Stormont, the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly, where computer discs and documents were also seized.

The man worked as a messenger at Castle Buildings, Stormont, where the the Secretary of State John Reid and his ministerial team have offices.

The man left worked suddenly last year after an internal inquiry, sources told PA News.

Up to 200 officers were involved in today's searches.

Although the Sinn Fein office inside Parliament Buildings at Stormont was searched, and the party's top administrator Denis Dondaldson was detained, the main focus of this dramatic new investigation centres on the former Government messenger.

Detectives are investigating how much access he had inside Castle Buildings where the Good Friday agreement was signed in April 1998.

Police today confirmed the inquiry was linked to IRA intelligence gathering but not to the break in and theft of Special Branch files in Belfast in March last year.

The operation was ordered by Northern Ireland's chief constable Hugh Orde amid fears that the IRA had obtained highly sensitive ministerial documents.

The hardline Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson called for Sinn Fein to be ordered out of the powersharing executive.

He said: "It is the final nail to their participation. After this no one can seriously argue the republican movement are democrats."

Mr Donaldson, later added that today's events were the "final nail in the coffin" of Sinn Fein's involvement in the power-sharing Government.

He said: "We cannot ignore the political ramifications of today's events. They are most serious and they will have to be acted upon."

The Lagan Valley MP said today's searches showed that the republican movement had not made the transition to peace and democracy.

He said he would be arguing at a party officers' meeting later today for the removal of Sinn Fein ministers from the executive.

"I want to see Sinn Fein IRA removed from the Government of Northern Ireland. Martin McGuinness and his Sinn Fein IRA colleagues are not fit to govern Northern Ireland given their continued involvement in terrorist activities," he said.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble called on Tony Blair and Dr Reid to take action against Sinn Fein.

He said: "What we know so far or suspect so far is that there has been an IRA intelligence operation directed against the upper echelons of the Government, having penetrated the Northern Ireland office.

"That places the responsibility clearly and unequivocally with John Reid and Tony Blair."

Mr Trimble pointed out that the Secretary of State had promised to take action against Republicans if it had been proved they had broken their ceasefire.

"The challenge today to John Reid is: Fulfil your words. Do what you said in July that you would do to take appropriate responses."

The Ulster Unionist leader said that he would be meeting the prime minister early next week and he expected decisions to be taken by then.

Mr Trimble said he regarded today's events as a vindication of his decision to pull out of the power sharing executive by January 18 if the IRA failed to disband.

"I am not in the habit of evading responsibilities but I do insist that we go first to the person who has the responsibility in the matter."

The Ulster Unionist leader added he believed that today's operation was as serious as the break-in at a Special Branch office at Castlereagh station in East Belfast.

"It is in the same league as Castlereagh. It is in the same style of operation as Castlereagh. It's probably been carried out by the same people. It's probably been done by the same people who did Castlereagh."

He said he would not rule any action in or out.

"We did lay out our position a fortnight ago. I think that position covers the problems that we are dealing with here because it puts the responsibility on others and it gives those others an opportunity to fix this process."

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