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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Snapshot, 1993: Voters' Rights, MI5 Wrongs


Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh

NATIONALIST VOTERS have good reason to feel concerned if recent press reports, particularly those published in the Belfast-based 'Sunday Life' newspaper are true. One should add that all voters should be concerned, for when the rights of one section of the community are taken away, the civil rights of all citizens are threatened.

This specific issue needs to be aired internationally to obtain the necessary changes in British law. The issue relates to voters' democratic rights and the apparent ease whereby state employees - MI5 agents - can undermine the right to confidentiality at the polling booths.

The biggest civil servant union in the Six Counties has taken on the secret service on the issue of the "secret ballot". For some years now thousands of files have been 'leaked' to loyalist death-squads from the British Crown Forces, and now this latest controversy is causing further concern, as a leading trade unionist claims voters' lives could again be at stake because of the alleged antics of Britain's secret services.

The Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) in the Six Counties has called on the British Government to remove identifying numbers from voting forms to ensure that voters' politics will not be identified, and that they cannot be subsequently traced by shadowy figures within officialdom. That our democratic vote if always secret, now seems to have been a myth which has been exploded if the claims of a retired MI5 officer are found to be true.

He has recently made the very startling claim that MI5 has identified how people vote, by trawling through ballot papers. In the context of the Six-Counties such can truly be said to be a grave matter, without needing further elaboration.


It seems that the focus is solely on nationalist voters, and comes at a time when the British Government is claiming to be 'neutral' in the internal affairs of north-east Ireland. These revelations further undermine public confidence in the whole democratic process and place that government's 'good faith' in serious doubt. Its emphasis on trying to find a political, rather than a military solution, for many, is now open to question.

All this, together with claims that MI5 agents such as Brian Nelson, who assisted in the importation of arms from the South African government, is leading to deeper alienation within the minority nationalist community. Nelson, currently serving a long jail sentence, was exposed by an inquiry led by the Chief Constable of Northhumbria. John Stevens investigated the 'leaking' of substantial numbers of confidential security forces' files to loyalist paramilitaries.

The arms imported, apparently with the blessing and assistance of MI5, have been used over several years to murder, at random, countless nationalist civilians. John Stevens has recently returned to the Six Counties, and it is claimed that he and the youthful DPP, Alasdair Fraser, are men with fiercely independent minds who are determined to get to the bottom of what has become known as the 'Nelson affair'.


The ghost of the 'Stalker affair' warns us against being too optimistic, for there too was a man who fearlessly sought after the truth before the mat was pulled from under him by those who pay the pipers, and didn't like the tune he would otherwise be playing.

The votes issue fits into patterns of operations that have been described as 'dirty tricks'. In a letter to Pat Bradley, the chief electoral office for the Six Counties, NIPSA's general secretary, Jim McCusker, said his members were seriously concerned by the risk to members of the public - "It is a denial of every citizen's fundamental right to a secret ballot if it is possible to link voters to a particular party", he said.

"If information on a person's political allegiance gained from ballot papers fell into the hands of unscrupulous individuals such as loyalist paramilitaries, then that person's life could be at risk", he continued.

McCusker said his union wanted identifying numbers removed from voting papers to ensure the anonymity of each voter. The union leader told Belfast journalists that Mr Bradley had passed his letter on to the appropriate department of the N.I.O. [Northern Ireland Office], which drafts electoral laws.

The retired senior official in the counter-espionage agency, MI5, permitted his name to be used when he made his 'leak'. James Rushbridger, who is the cousin of spy-catcher Peter Wright, went on to claim that trawling ballot-papers was "quite common practice for MI5 officers after elections in Northern Ireland".

By matching Provisional Sinn Fein voters with counterfoil stubs, he claimed they were able to identify that party's voters from the electoral register. It is accepted that ballot papers and counterfoils are stored for one year after every election. It is unacceptable for the British Government to pretend, in the light of these allegations by an acknowledged "insider", that these records are kept in a supposedly secure government storeroom, before being destroyed.

The storeroom may be secure, but the information stored there obviously is not, if these claims are proven to be true.



This article, written by Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh, a co-founder of NICRA in 1967, was first published in October 1993.















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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