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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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",
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.
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".
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.
storeroom may be secure, but the information stored
there obviously is not, if these claims are proven
to be true.
article, written by Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh,
a co-founder of NICRA in 1967, was first published
in October 1993.