09 April 2006

Did agent set up a top Provo for RUC ambush?

Sunday Life

09 April 2006

REPUBLICANS last night denied that Denis Donaldson has left a legacy beyond the grave of damage and penetration in south Down.

But it has emerged for the first time that the IRA spy may have played a part in triggering the RUC operation that led to the death of IRA commander Colum Marks.

Marks was shot dead in 1991 by undercover cops who staked out parkland in Downpatrick where Marks - the IRA's officer commanding in the town - was planning a mortar attack on a passing police patrol. Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the incident.

Marks (29) had been brought in from Newry to re-organise the Provos in Downpatrick.

On the night he was killed, he was accompanied by one of the IRA's most experienced operators in south Down as they primed a horizontal mortar to use against a passing police patrol in St Patrick's Avenue.

Instead, undercover RUC officers had already staked out the adjoining parkland and they shot Marks. He died later in hospital.

The IRA suspected at the time that the operation which led to his death had been betrayed by an informer in their own ranks.

In the immediate aftermath, an internal IRA inquiry was set up to track down the mole.

But now it has emerged that, since Donaldson was outed as an MI5 agent before Christmas, the IRA had been looking at his links to the RUC operation that led to Marks' death.

Said one former senior IRA member: "Donaldson did have contact with Collie Marks at the time.

"The big question for us is, 'Did he know anything about the RUC trap and shoot to kill operation?'"

Donaldson's closest links as an electoral strategist within Sinn Fein were with the south Down area, leading to the claims that his lasting legacy to the party in the area is one of British security service penetration.

There have been repeated claims since December that he was able to plant his own double-agents within the party structure and move out more hard-line elements within the party in south Down who were opposed to the peace strategy of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

Said one republican source: "From what I have seen, I do not think there is anything to worry about.

"He (Donaldson) did mix with people, but a lot of these claims about plants are sour grapes.

"Sinn Fein had a long-term strategy for the area which had nothing to do with Denis Donaldson."

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