19 December 2005

Sinn Fein spy mystery deepens

Times Online

By David Sharrock
19 December 2005

Why was a 'British asset' in Republican ranks unmasked – and are more revelations imminent?
PRESSURE was growing on Tony Blair last night to make a public statement on the confession by a senior Irish republican that he had spied on the IRA and Sinn Fein for the past 20 years.

Denis Donaldson, who is believed to be in hiding in the Irish Republic with his family, has lifted a corner of a lid that until now has been kept tightly in place on the shadowy underworld of Northern Ireland’s intelligence wars. While the Provisional movement, led by Gerry Adams, has the most to lose from the affair, the Government will regret the unmasking of one of its best placed “assets” deep within the republican leadership.

So far the Stormontgate affair has thrown up more questions than answers. How did Donaldson manage to stay so high in the republican leadership for so long without being discovered? How and why was he unmasked now? And who has the most to gain from his exposure? Just over a week ago Donaldson was basking in the republican limelight after the case against him and two others collapsed, with Sinn Fein insisting this was proof that the IRA spy ring at Stormont never existed and the Government claiming the opposite. Yesterday all of Northern Ireland’s political parties — with the notable exception of Sinn Fein — were calling for Mr Blair to give an explanation for the highly unusual events of the past ten days.

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, will meet Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, today to urge him to curb what he claimed yesterday were “dissident elements within the British system” undermining the peace process.

Mr Hain denied the charge but admitted that the affair had been “a turbulent event”. He said: “Something like 1,000 documents were stolen from the Northern Ireland Office. They disappeared. They were stolen.”

Alex Attwood, of the nationalist SDLP, said: “Elements in the British system and Provisional movement are partners in a dirty peace. They spy on each other and they cover up for each other.”

Nigel Dodds, the Democratic Unionist MP, said that Mr Blair had to state what he knew. The North Belfast MP said: “The DUP will be pursuing this matter in the Commons this week.”

Stories circulated feverishly over the weekend that another top Provisional was about to be revealed as a British agent.

But it would be a far greater surprise if it was discovered that the intelligence services had not managed to infiltrate any more agents.

The IRA is riddled with informers and agents because intelligence was king in the battle against the “Long War” conceived by Mr Adams and his “kitchen Cabinet” — which included Donaldson — back in the 1970s. But the most intriguing question of all arises out of the nature of the work of agents within an organisation like the IRA. They are there not just to pass information to their MI5 or Special Branch handlers, but also to influence strategy and direction at the highest level.

In 1994 Mr Donaldson told me at his West Belfast home about what appeared to be the key to the emerging “peace strategy” of the Provisionals.

“For too many people the IRA has become the end in itself and no longer the vehicle to achieve the end for which it fights,” he said.

He meant that the “armed struggle” had become an obstacle to reuniting Ireland and ending British sovereignty.

Little wonder, then, that Unionists are so paranoid or that Irish republicans of a greener, more traditional nature see traitors everywhere — up to and including “the Brit agents Adams and McGuinness” themselves.

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