09 April 2006

Murdered spy was planning to move

Sunday Times

Liam Clarke
April 09, 2006

DENIS DONALDSON, the British agent shot dead last week in an isolated cottage in Donegal, had been planning to leave the area this week.

Sources in west Belfast say he had agreed with Ciaran Kearney, his son-in-law who owned the holiday home, that it was time to move and that he had told others of his plans.

Donaldson was buried yesterday after a private ceremony in his home in Aitnamona Crescent. About 100 mourners attended the burial in the city cemetery. Had he not been exposed as an informer, Donaldson, as a senior republican, would probably have been buried in the IRA plot in nearby Milltown cemetery.

The fact that he was making plans to leave the remote cottage raises the possibility that his killers struck last week to avoid losing track of him.

Gardai believe Donaldson was gunned down on either Monday night or early Tuesday morning, and that his killers came across the border but had local help in finding the cottage and possibly in watching his movements. Gardai sealed the border after they became aware of the killing and Northern Ireland security sources say the killers’ car may have been seen passing through a checkpoint in Belleek, Co Fermanagh.

The last person to speak to Donaldson is thought to have been a census taker who visited his home between 8pm and 9pm last Monday. Donaldson told this man that he might be moving out and asked for an address to which to return the completed census form.

The family home he once shared with his wife Alice had been put on the market with an asking price of £93,000 (€134,000), which his killers probably knew.

A picture is now emerging of the murder which contradicts some early reports. It appears that he almost certainly was not still alive at 11am on Tuesday. A neighbour who reported seeing him is not now sure of the identification.

Donaldson’s body was found by gardai at 5pm on Tuesday. They believe his killers shot him through the door as he was attempting to bolt or barricade it. The killers abandoned two cartridge cases at the threshold, possibly because it was too dark to see them. They then chased Donaldson into the house, firing two more cartridges at him and leaving his body where it lay in a room to the left of the doorway.

His right hand, which was all but severed, was underneath his body.

The theory that Donaldson was killed before he could move on adds another layer of mystery to his story. Despite his plans to move, it seems that Donaldson was not living in fear for his life, as might have been expected. He told a visiting Sunday World journalist that he was not in hiding, a statement repeated by Pearse Doherty, a local Sinn Fein representative. He had used the cottage for holiday breaks over many years and was known in the area.

After being outed as an agent last year, Donaldson threw himself on the mercy of the republicans. He was debriefed by Declan Kearney, a brother of Ciaran and a Sinn Fein official, and Leo Green, another senior republican, but does not appear to have answered many of their questions.

According to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, and Danny Morrison, a former party press officer, Donaldson refused to give republicans details of his double life or explain why he decided to work for Special Branch. Referring to this debriefing, Adams wrote in Village magazine: “The party broke off all contact with him shortly after all this. He was told that if he wanted to make a full disclosure he should get in touch with us. He never did.”

Writing in An Phoblacht, the republican newspaper, Declan Kearney said he believed Donaldson’s case was still being used by elements of British intelligence for their own ends. “Having failed in their initial intention, it is inevitable that the securocrats will seek to play the Donaldson episode out as an ongoing psy op (psychological operation), aimed at destabilising internal republican unity,” he wrote.

Given the continuing suspicions, it is hard to understand Donaldson’s apparent selfconfidence and the fact that he did not have his door bolted when the killers struck. One possible explanation is that he was a double agent who had been uncovered by the IRA intelligence department and had supplied information to the British under their direction in his final years as a spy.

A security source with knowledge of his output said Donaldson rarely supplied anything of security value. He instead gave information about Sinn Fein’s political intentions. He withheld information on the Stormont spy ring and the Castlereagh break-in, during which the IRA stole Special Branch files.

If Donaldson was a double agent, it would explain why he did not accept a resettlement package from the PSNI and instead relied on Sinn Fein.

Whatever the background, the murder poses a continuing political problem for Sinn Fein and the two governments. As soon as he heard news of the murder from his security adviser last Tuesday, Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland secretary, informed Adams and the Rev Ian Paisley, the leaders of the two biggest parties in Northern Ireland.

Paisley immediately blamed the IRA while Adams condemned the murder and denied republican involvement. Hain said he took Adams’s statement and the subsequent IRA denial at face value. This position is shared by the Irish government and the Donaldson family.

But republicans of some hue seem the most likely culprits. Other former British agents are now living in fear and some complain that the protection afforded to them is negligible.

Raymond Gilmour, the former Londonderry supergrass, says that since Christmas he has been given only psychological counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder, and no physical protection. “I have been told to ring 999 if I think I am in danger,” he said.

Another former military intelligence agent now living in London, who uses the pseudonym Kevin Fulton, said: “I have been denied any protection whatsoever and told that my life is not in danger.”

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