09 April 2006

Provos at war?

Belfast Telegraph

Was the killing of Denis Donaldson the first sign of a Provo revolt against the leadership? Ed Moloney examines the evidence

08 April 2006

Those pundits and politicians who are linking the killing of Denis Donaldson to the newly relaunched attempt to save the Good Friday Agreement are probably correct, but not in the way they think, nor for the reasons they give.

From Martin McGuinness to Tony Blair, the cry has gone up that the informer's killers set out to damage or derail the British and Irish governments' Assembly initiative announced last Thursday, but even a cursory examination reveals this theory to be flawed.

If that indeed was the motive of the killers then common sense suggests that they should have waited until near the November 24 deadline and if there were signs of a DUP-Sinn Fein deal emerging, strike then against Donaldson in the knowledge that suspicion of IRA responsibility would probably torpedo any chances of success. But killing him now, seven long months before the deadline, will have next to no impact on those talks.

A better explanation of the motive for Donaldson's death can perhaps be found in the Byzantine internal politics of the Provisional movement and in the distinct possibility that the killers were striking not just at the informer but at the leadership and strategy of the Adams-McGuinness leadership.

If the slaying of Donaldson is the first sign of a rebellion against the Provo leaders, then the governments are right to be worried about the chances of reviving the Good Friday Agreement.

So what has been going on inside the Provos that might be the cause of discontent serious enough to set off such a revolt?

To begin with there were those recent raids on Tom 'Slab' Murphy's south Armagh home and farm by the assets recovery agencies of both the Northern and Southern states, during which millions of 'Slab's' euros were confiscated, a huge tax bill reportedly drawn up and the promise of worse to come.

As the IRA's Chief-of-Staff fled his breakfast table on the morning of the raids it would be surprising if the angry thought did not cross his mind that the loss of his fortune was one bit of the peace process script that Gerry and Martin had neglected to tell him about.

The authorities went for 'Slab' first in their drive against IRA criminality to send a message to others in the organisation who have been operating a lucrative sideline in diesel smuggling and illicit cigarette sales which was that if 'Slab' can be targeted, then none of them are safe. There will be no shortage of unhappy Provos in the wake of these raids, no shortage of Provos ready to cause trouble for those they blame for all this.

Needless to say these malcontents could hardly frame a case against their leaders on the grounds that Gerry and Martin couldn't get the governments to turn a blind eye to their rackets. But they could make a case against them, one that would resonate within the wider republican community, over the issue of the IRA's treatment of informers in recent years.

Denis Donaldson is the third high-level, seriously damaging informer to be exposed or caught by the IRA in recent years only to escape the traditional punishment reserved for those who have betrayed their comrades.

The first case, one that has received no publicity but which is well known inside the IRA, concerns a Sinn Fein councillor in the South who was on the IRA Executive and responsible for recruiting personnel for the IRA's bombing campaign in England.

The man was working for MI5 all along, betraying the English bombing teams, but when the IRA caught up with him he was allowed to live on the grounds that the revelation of such high-level penetration by the British would be extremely embarrassing for the leadership.

Then came Freddie Scappaticci, the head of the IRA spycatchers unit, the Security department who, it is reckoned, was working for the British Army for at least 20 years. The damage he did to the IRA was incalculable but certainly immense. Yet when he was caught it seems that he too was forgiven, presumably for the same reasons.

Hard on the heels of 'Scap' came Denis Donaldson who also, it turned out, had been working for British intelligence for two decades. Again Donaldson's position, in the circle just outside the Adams' think-tank, made him a valuable agent and again, he escaped the ultimate sanction - until this week.

The lesson from these three cases is hugely damaging to the Adams-McGuinness leadership.

It is that if you are an informer then the more damage you do to the IRA and the more embarrassment you can cause to the leadership, then the more likely you are to live and enjoy the fruits of your treachery.

It is this point, perhaps, that the killers of Denis Donaldson were intent on making in Donegal this week.

lEd Moloney is the author of A Secret History of the IRA

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