18 December 2005

Sinn Fein official unmasked as spy flees to Continent

Scotland on Sunday

MURDO MACLEOD
18 December 2005

A PROMINENT Irish Republican who has been unmasked as a British government spy was last night believed to have fled to the Continent in fear of his life.

Denis Donaldson's house in West Belfast was found abandoned, with informed sources saying there was no prospect of him returning to Ulster or the Republic of Ireland because of the risk of being killed. Scotland has also been ruled out as a bolthole.

Unionists last night renewed their calls for a full public inquiry into the "Stormontgate" affair which saw Ulster's assembly suspended in 2002 amid allegations of spying by Sinn Fein officials.

Donaldson, Sinn Fein's former head of administration at Stormont, was expelled from the party on Friday after he owned up to working for British intelligence and the Northern Irish Special Branch for 20 years.

He had been one of three Republican officials charged with spying at Stormont, but last week the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland controversially decided to drop the case against all three.

In his statement admitting being a British government informer, Donaldson denied that the Republicans had ever carried out any spying at Stormont.

He had issued his statement from a hotel in Dublin after fleeing Belfast.

Although the IRA has put its arms beyond use and should in theory not be able to harm Donaldson, it is feared that individuals within the Republican movement would want to kill him in revenge for having been a British mole.

One informed Belfast-based source told Scotland on Sunday: "He has gone to a bolthole on the Continent, either France or Italy. He can basically forget about coming back to West Belfast. Even if the Sinn Fein leadership says he is not to be harmed, he will always worry that someone from the movement will regard him as having betrayed 'the cause' and will want to get him."

The source added: "He won't have gone to Scotland either. He will regard Scotland as much too risky."

Throughout the Troubles a series of Republicans have been unmasked as British agents. Many died - their bodies dumped with an IRA bullet in the head.

Sinn Fein last night accused the UK government of having operated the only spy ring at Stormont.

The party's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, said: "It is very, very clear from Sinn Fein's perspective - and I think this is shared increasingly by many other people within our society - that there was a spy ring at Stormont, but it was a British spy ring controlled by securocrats, by people within the establishment who are hostile to the peace process."

The "spying" is believed to have consisted of Sinn Fein officials using their position at Stormont to secure access to previously confidential files from the Northern Ireland Office which could have been used to help piece together information about the security services.

But one informed source claimed that any espionage by Sinn Fein would have been a cosmetic exercise designed to keep extremists in the Republican movement from resorting to violence.

She said: "If there was spying then it was gathering of information that would never be used. It worked like this: the IRA guys and the hardliners keep agitating for a return to the 'armed struggle'. So to keep them on board the leadership would say, 'Don't worry, our boys are in there using the system, carrying out spying.'"

But a spokesman for the Ulster Unionist Party renewed calls for a full public inquiry.

He said: "What must now come out is the truth about what was going on. Right now it seems that the Republicans are saying, 'How dare those Brits spy on our spies?'"

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