Who was informer and Sinn Féin insider Denis Donaldson?

Senior Sinn Féin and IRA figure had been a British agent for 20 years

Martin McGuinness, Denis Donaldson and President Gerry Adams on December 9th, 2005. Photograph:  Paul Faith /PA

Martin McGuinness, Denis Donaldson and President Gerry Adams on December 9th, 2005. Photograph: Paul Faith /PA

 

Denis Donaldson, whom the Real IRA said it murdered at a lonely farmhouse near Glenties in Co Donegal in 2006, was a senior figure in both Sinn Féin and the IRA and a trusted ally of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

He also served periods in Long Kesh and was a close friend of the hunger striker Bobby Sands. In the period after the 1998 Belfast Agreement and the creation of the Northern Executive and Assembly, he was Sinn Féin’s senior administrator at Stormont.

Born in 1950, he is believed to have joined the IRA in the 1960s before the Troubles began. He was a key player in the republican movement. He was also involved in setting up Friends of Sinn Féin in New York and in the late 1980s took part in efforts to secure the release of Lebanon hostage Brian Keenan.

He stood for Sinn Féin in East Belfast in the 1983 Westminster general election, winning 682 votes.

It came as a bombshell, therefore, in 2005 when it was disclosed that he had been a British agent for 20 years. Hitherto, the expected penalty for republican informers or touts was death, but the peace process had kicked in at that stage and Donaldson was allowed his life by the provisional republican movement.

He appeared to fade into obscurity thereafter but he was subsequently traced by the Sunday World to an isolated house near Glenties.

In April 2006, as claimed by the Real IRA, he was shot at the house, dying from a shotgun blast or blasts.

In October 2002, Donaldson and two other members of Sinn Fein’s Northern Assembly staff were arrested in connection with an alleged republican spy ring operating at Stormont. Dubbed ‘Stormontgate’, it caused unionist outrage and led to the collapse of the Northern Executive and the return of direct rule from Westminster.

Northern Ireland police officers remove bags of unknown materials from a house during a raid related to the arrest of Denis Donaldson in 2002. Photograph: REUTERS/Paul McErlane
Northern Ireland police officers remove bags of unknown materials from a house during a raid related to the arrest of Denis Donaldson in 2002. Photograph: REUTERS/Paul McErlane

Curiously, charges against Donaldson were dropped in December 2005 in the “public interest”. It prompted speculation that the “public interest” was a pretext to protect an agent or agents. A week later Sinn Féin said that Donaldson was a British agent and expelled him from the party.

In a statement, an abject Donaldson sid he was recruited “in the 1980s after compromising myself during a vulnerable time in my life”.

“Since then I have worked for British intelligence and the RUC/PSNI Special Branch. Over that period I was paid money,” he added.

He insisted he was not involved in any republican spy ring in Stormont despite evidence to the contrary. “The so-called Stormontgate affair was a scam and a fiction. It never existed. It was created by Special Branch,” he said.

“I deeply regret my activities with British intelligence and RUC/PSNI Special Branch. I apologise to anyone who has suffered as a result of my activities, as well as to my former comrades, and especially to my family who have become victims in all of this,” he added.