Wednesday 19 June 2019

James Bond fanatic Denis Donaldson was 'Walter Mitty-type who flaunted double life'

Martin McGuinness, Denis Donaldson and Gerry Adams pictured in Stormont in 2005
Martin McGuinness, Denis Donaldson and Gerry Adams pictured in Stormont in 2005

Jim Cusack

Denis Donaldson was a member of the IRA's east Belfast 'unit' at the time of one of the worst atrocities in the 30 years of 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland.

Twelve people were incinerated when four 'blast incendiary' bombs exploded in the La Mon Hotel in the eastern outskirts of the city on February 17, 1978.

More than 30 others suffered severe burn injuries.

The atrocity killed innocent members of the local branch of the Border Collie owners' association, leaving several children orphaned.

None of the dead or injured had any connections with the security forces or any loyalist groups.

The atrocity was the culmination of a series of similar attacks on hotels and restaurants - which was depicted in republican material as part of a campaign to force the economic disengagement of Britain from Northern Ireland.

At best, Donaldson played a small role in the campaign. But the person reputed to have been chief of staff of the Provisional IRA at the time was Gerry Adams.

He continues to deny ever having been a member of the organisation, but has never sued in court over such claims. His period as reputed chief of staff was said to have ended on his arrest shortly after the La Mon atrocity.

Under IRA orders, a chief of staff accedes his position if imprisoned. He was released after 18 months when a charge of membership of the IRA was withdrawn.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Adams was gradually moving the IRA towards its first 1995 ceasefire, Donaldson became one of Adams' closest associates, running the Sinn Féin offices in Stormont once the deal on government was struck.

He was outed as an MI5 spy throughout this period in December 2005 - and after admitting his guilt in a press conference, he went into hiding. He was found shot dead at the door of a traditional hillside cottage he used as a 'retreat' in April the following year.

At the time the murder was claimed in the name of the 'splinter' republican group the Real IRA. There were suspicions at the time that members of the Provisional IRA, or relatives of IRA men who had been betrayed by Donaldson, had murdered Donaldson.

The inquest into Donaldson's death in Letterkenny has been adjourned 18 times as lawyers for his family argue for disclosure of material evidence.

The hearings have been told that the documentation is understood to include a journal Donaldson had been writing.

Donaldson's daughter, Jane, who is seeking disclosure of documents, is married to Ciaran Kearney, brother of the senior northern Sinn Féin figure, Declan Kearney, who is tipped as one of Gerry Adams' potential successors.

The issue of Donaldson's journal, as much as who was responsible for his murder, has been a common matter for discussion among former IRA members.

One who spoke to the Irish Independent said there was "amazement" among them than Donaldson had survived so long. He was described as a 'Walter Mitty' character who almost flaunted his double life as a spy for the British Security Service MI5.

One said Donaldson had a collection of every James Bond film on DVD.

Donaldson is believed to have been only one of dozens of MI5 and RUC Special Branch informants, several in high levels positions in the IRA and Sinn Féin.

As repeated in last night's programme Donaldson worked as a double agent involved in both spying on the Northern Ireland security services using his access to civil service information while acting as head of the Sinn Féin office at Stormont. Revelations about this spy ring collapsed the first Stormont Assembly in 2004.

Last night's programme revealed that British intelligence documents opened for partial scrutiny show there were no less than 800 informants with the IRA and Sinn Féin during Donaldsons' time.

Irish Independent

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