Tuesday 25 October 2016

So many suspects in an IRA riddled with spies

Whether it was Adams's sidekick Donaldson or a single mother with cancer, no mercy was shown in the deadly hunt for infiltrators, writes Jim Cusack

Published 25/09/2016 | 02:30

Denis Donaldson, the senior Sinn Féin official and British spy, who was shot in Donegal in April, 2006. Photo: PA
Denis Donaldson, the senior Sinn Féin official and British spy, who was shot in Donegal in April, 2006. Photo: PA

Could Gerry Adams be telling the truth when he insists he didn't sanction the murder of his longtime sidekick and MI5 tout Denis Donaldson?

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It would seem on the face of it that the Provisional IRA had good reason to murder Donaldson, upon whose head blame was laid for almost the entire infiltration of the IRA leadership from the early 1980s onwards.

It was a weird period during which the Provos are known to have murdered no less than 33 men and women for being informers. Anyone with any brains left in the 'Republican movement' knew that the 'military' campaign was lost. The RUC and An Garda Siochana were defeating the Provos at almost every turn and there were very obvious signs the organisation was deeply infiltrated by spies.

In Belfast and Derry the IRA had virtually stopped operating. Entire units of Provos in both places were being rounded up, often caught in the act of preparing bomb or gun attacks.

East Tyrone, the most active and dangerous element of the IRA at the time, had been virtually wiped out in a succession of SAS ambushes culminating in the killing of nine IRA men as they tried to bomb Loughgall RUC station in May 1987. At the time, Donaldson had been sent by IRA headquarters in Belfast to 'oversee' operations in Tyrone.

Tuesday night's BBC Spotlight programme carried an interview Gerry Adams gave around this time after public expressions of anger in his constituency of west Belfast over the IRA's murder of a local taxi driver, Charlie McIlmurray, a married man with two young children.

Killing: The cottage where Denis Donaldson was shot dead. Photo: PA
Killing: The cottage where Denis Donaldson was shot dead. Photo: PA

Mr McIlmurray had approached Fr Denis Faul shortly before his abduction and murder and told him the RUC Special Branch had offered to quash a drink driving charge in return for him giving information to them about the IRA. Mr McIlmurray had also contacted Sinn Fein and made the situation known to the party. He was living in fear, as Fr Faul said, caught between the two warring groups.

The IRA murdered McIlmurray anyway and dumped his body in Co Louth just over the Border from the old customs post on the main Dundalk to Newry road. The taxi driver may have had the deep misfortune of having spent time in the underground torture chamber the IRA used in South Armagh before his execution.

Asked about the public disquiet in his constituency (he had been MP since 1983) Adams replied, in the interview re-broadcast last Tuesday: "Mr McIlmurray, like anyone living in west Belfast, knows that the consequences for informing is death."

One of these deaths was Caroline Moreland, a 34-year-old single mother whose home in west Belfast was used as a meeting place for senior IRA figures. There are many stories about Moreland's alleged informing which may or may not be true. But barely a year before the first IRA ceasefire, at a time when newspapers were full of stories about the moves towards the peace process, she was abducted and taken to South Armagh and held there for a week before being shot dead. She was subjected to torture by IRA men and women who knew she was suffering from terminal cancer.

Denis Donaldson was bogey all his life. I met him shortly after he was released from jail - probably in the early 1980s - and had become an unofficial spokesman for Sinn Fein. He asked me for an introduction to the female lead singer of a popular rock band in Belfast at the time who I happened to know and even invited me into his home in the Short Strand area. I remember being struck by the fact that, while only recently released from jail and with no visible means of support other than the dole, he had a top-of-the range stereo system and very expensive furnishings packed into the terrace house.

It was almost an open secret that Donaldson was dodgy yet he represented the IRA at the highest levels in its contacts with Hezbollah - who he visited in Lebanon - and Col Gaddafi's regime. He eventually even moved to New York to take over the group's fund-raising operations in the United States.

Donaldson's outing as a spy - and subsequent murder - was no real surprise. He was given special treatment by the IRA, a press conference and exile to his holiday cottage in Donegal where he was apparently left to his own devices to write a journal about his activities.

The view of security figures is that he wasn't murdered by the Provisional IRA - officially anyway. His killers left behind the journal he had been writing and which, if he was being frank with himself, would contain secrets that Gerry Adams among others would never want to see the light of day.

Donaldson was put into retirement by the IRA rather than executed. It was a sensitive time for Sinn Fein, which was recovering from the controversies over the murder of Robert McCartney, and it was due to declare itself out of existence (another lie). The probability is that he was killed by 'dissidents', including those who had left the IRA, because of the work of top-level informants like himself.

Spotlight carried revealing interviews with two key figures in the last decades of the Troubles. The Derry man and intermediary between the IRA and British government, Martin Bradley, told how, as part of the historic revelations process, he and two other witnesses had been taken to London and shown documents relating to the British infiltration of the IRA. There were, he said, 800 informants being operated inside the IRA and loyalist groups at any given time.

Former RUC assistant chief constable Raymond White, in one of the most forthright interviews given on the subject, explained how agents were operated in the IRA at all levels by the RUC Special Branch. White had worked under the RUC's counter-terrorism boss chief superintendent Frank Murray - known as the bionic man as he had lost an arm, leg and eye in an IRA bomb attack in 1976.

Murray created the strategy of targeting IRA men coming out of jail, devising ways to catch them in the act and offering them the alternative of colluding with the police. Donaldson was one of his catches. By the time of the 1995 ceasefire the RUC Special Branch had informants up to and including members of the IRA's governing 'army council'. Murray died from cancer a year later, having retired to live in Scotland.

Frank Murray and his counterparts in An Garda Siochana beat the IRA into submission mainly by legal means. Paranoia was rampant in the IRA by the end of the Troubles and Gerry Adams's stated goal of achieving a "32-county socialist republic" by bombing and shooting unionists out of existence was slipping further and further into the realms of complete fantasy.

Sinn Fein was allowed to dress up the corpse of the IRA campaign in the peace process aided and abetted by politicians, civil servants and journalists in both jurisdictions.

The police officers who relentlessly hunted the IRA to the brink of extinction took a back seat and remained quiet, if at times exasperated by the blatant and continuing false revision of history.

The peace process existed because of the work of brave and intelligent gardai and RUC officers but for reasons of political expediency their role was airbrushed. And, for some reason they have almost become the villains, not the organisation that kidnapped a 34-year-old cancer sufferer, subjected her to a week of torture and interrogation, then made her kneel her at the side of a deserted country road and shot her through the back of the head.

Sunday Independent

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