07 April 2006

Obituaries: Denis Donaldson

Times Online
The Times April 07, 2006

1950 - April 4, 2006

Senior IRA man revealed to have been a spy in the pay of British Intelligence for 20 years
HAD Denis Donaldson not been a paid agent of British Intelligence and Special Branch for more than 20 years, the close-knit Irish republican family would have reacted to his death as if one of its model members had passed away.

A “pre-Sixty-Niner” — one who joined the IRA before the eruption of the Troubles — a convicted bomber, a hunger striker, an international ambassador: Donaldson had all the hallmarks of an apostle and he would have been buried with due ceremony in the republican plot in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, where every Easter the movement renews its vows to end British rule in Ireland.

The irony is that now only time will tell if he really was a model Provisional: the test of that will be how many more of his comrades in the upper reaches of Sinn Fein and the “army” are exposed as informers in the pay of the British.

Donaldson was born into a traditional republican family in the embattled Short Strand, a tiny Catholic enclave in overwhelmingly Protestant East Belfast. Its Catholic parish church, St Matthews, holds an iconic position in Provisional mythology for it was here in June 1970 that Billy McKee, leading a small IRA group in the defence of the neighbourhood, opened fire and killed two Protestant men and a Catholic man.

Donaldson took part in that night’s activities, which finally buried the taunt “IRA — I Ran Away” as the Marxist leadership of the “Officials” was swept away by the Provisionals.

Donaldson had joined the IRA as soon as he was old enough, first in the Fianna, the “boy scouts” of the republicans. But as Belfast descended into chaos he quickly decided, like many young Catholic men of his generation, that the Provisionals and not the Officials — who favoured forging a non-sectarian alliance with the Protestant working-class — were the future.

He rose rapidly through the ranks. He was Provisionals’ commanding officer in East Belfast when he was arrested during a bombing mission on a bottling plant. He served half of a ten-year sentence in the Maze Prison – Long Kesh to republicans. There a smuggled camera caught Donaldson’s young beaming face as he put his arm around Bobby Sands. It was to become one of the most famous republican images after Sands, elected MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone, starved himself to death in May 1981 for the recognition of political status.

Donaldson took part in an earlier hunger strike, which was called off when it appeared that the Government had granted the prisoners’ wishes. On his release Donaldson took on the Provisionals’ intelligence portfolio and was one of the pioneers of the Adams-McGuinness leadership in holding dual high-ranking membership roles in both the IRA and its political wing Sinn Fein.

In 1981 he was arrested at Paris-Orly airport while travelling on a false British passport from Lebanon. Before his release he admitted that he had been visiting Palestine Liberation Organisation training camps.

In 1983 he stood unsuccessfully in Belfast council elections for the east of the city. It was during this period that he was secretly recruited as a British agent.

In his recent confession Donaldson described it as “a vulnerable period” in his life, but the mystery of his recruitment remains. The Irish feminist Marie Mulholland recently described him thus: “Denis stood out, all five foot nothing of him. Yes, he was a small man but somehow it never seemed to matter because he had charm — buckets of it. Not the schmoozing of an operator, but real charm; a blend of wit, generosity, mischief and that capacity to make you feel like you, your problem or your request were the most important thing to him right at that moment. It worked wonders with women, and Denis loved women — lots of them.”

Donaldson once told the journalist Brendan Anderson that British Intelligence had tried to recruit him while he was on holiday in Spain with his wife. “He was not asked if he had declined the offer to work for the British — in retrospect a serious omission,” Anderson wrote.

Over the following years Donaldson travelled widely, taking charge of the republican movement’s international relations, forging close links with “brother liberation struggles” in the Middle East and the Spanish Basque Country.

He also tried to obtain the release of the Irish Beirut hostage Brian Keenan who, after Donaldson’s arrest in 2002 on spying charges, said: “Two human beings put their lives at risk on my behalf. One was Terry Waite and the other was Denis Donaldson.”

In the late 1980s Donaldson was sent to the US to impose the leadership’s writ on fund-raisers. Martin Galvin, the former Noraid publicity director, said of him: “He created trouble, he made bad recommendations about genuine people, he attempted to undermine supporters with traditional republican credentials and he pushed those with reformist politics on the North.

“I was told that Donaldson’s credentials were impeccable, that he was beyond reproach, and that he had the full confidence of the Sinn Fein leadership in Ireland.”

By 1998 Donaldson was a senior apparatchik, running the Sinn Fein operation at Stormont and acting as a fixer for the leadership.

In the autumn of 2002 police carried out a dramatic raid on Sinn Fein’s offices at Stormont, and Donaldson and two others were arrested and charged with operating an IRA spy ring. The episode led to the collapse of the Stormont power-sharing executive, the end of the political career of David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader and First Minister, and the unravelling of Unionist confidence in the Good Friday agreement.

Last December the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern got it right when he declared “this is as bizarre as it gets” when the Public Prosecution Service dropped charges against Donaldson and his co-accused “in the public interest”.

Donaldson appeared triumphantly between Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to declare that the IRA spy ring had been “a fiction created by Special Branch to save Trimble”.

Yet within days, Adams issued a statement exposing Donaldson as a British agent, and a few hours later Donaldson read a prepared statement to RTE Television, the Irish state broadcaster, confirming his double life and offering his apologies.

Donaldson, as a career member of the IRA, knew the traditional price for “touting” was a bullet in the back of the head. He was apparently spared because the IRA had recently declared an end to all its activities: a killing would have only confirmed Unionists in their refusal to share political power with Sinn Fein.

He disappeared to a primitive cottage in Co Donegal owned by his son-in-law but said that he was not in hiding. Nobody could understand why he would freely choose to live in such reduced circumstances, nor why he continued after the Irish police warned him that his life was in danger.

He was killed by an unknown person or persons armed with a shotgun who broke into the isolated cottage.

He is survived by his wife Alice, his daughter and two sons.

Denis Donaldson, IRA leader, was born in 1950. He died on April 4, 2006, aged 56.


Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?