Informers - an unsavoury fact of life
Informers - an unsavoury fact of life

By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)

I first met Denis Donaldson, or rather I met his name, a few days after June 27 1970. The word on people’s lips on the streets of the Short Strand was that he and a few other teenage members of the local IRA saved the people of the Strand from a loyalist pogrom.

The battle of St Matthew’s, as the attack became known, gave birth to the modern IRA.

Denis Donaldson was a local hero.

Thirty-five years later by his own admission he has entered the hall of infamy as an informer; a traitor to his country, the movement he helped set up, his comrades, his friends and most of all his devoted family.

I can hardly believe I have just written the previous paragraph.

Those of us close to Denis Donaldson were rocked by the informer revelation.

The people of the Short Strand are in shock. It will take time to overcome the personal and the political implications of it all.

But we will.

I am not a stranger to informers. On the three occasions I have been to jail informers put me there. They are an occupational hazard, an unsavoury fact of life. They never stopped me being a republican and never will.

I should not be surprised, but I am, that Denis crossed to the other side.

Freedom struggles carry a heavy price tag.

Every part of me has been tested to its outer limits by the demands of the struggle.

I have walked behind the coffins of teenage comrades of mine.

I visited men and women in prison on hunger strike and watched men dying in the H-blocks.

Behind bars I watched youths grow to men in their middle years.

I saw families’ grief-stricken when loyalist killers claimed a child of theirs.

I experienced the pressure used to break people in interrogation centres.

I know how difficult it is to maintain one’s composure under such pressure.

There is no shame in breaking under interrogation. The shame is in what Denis did when he left the interrogation centre.

He had options and unbelievably

he chose to betray everything

those who knew him thought he believed in.

Over the last week the word betrayal has been used most frequently by those closest to Denis. It is how we feel.

If there ever was a stereotypical mould for an informer then Denis Donaldson broke the mould.

He was charming, entertaining, witty and clever. He used these fine qualities to conceal his double life of treachery.

I could not count the number of times I shared political ideas

with him.

It hurts deeply now to think he passed my thoughts to others for money.

For those close to him the hurt runs deep because it is personal.

For others the cost is measured politically.

A friend described Denis as a ‘listening device’ for the Special Branch.

Rarely did he suggest an original idea. He was not close to Gerry Adams. He was not part of the small group of people in the national leadership of Sinn Féin who developed the peace process.

He did not contribute to shaping the strategy, which led to the IRA’s first cessation.

He was not part of the group handling the day-to-day negotiations with the British and Irish governments over the last 10 years.

The informer revelation starkly confirms what Sinn Féin has been saying for years.

Inside the British system there are powerful individuals who are a law onto themselves.

These are the same people who killed human rights lawyer Pat Finucane and hundreds of innocent Catholics because it served their interests.

It is now clear there was a spy ring at Stormont. It was a British spy ring run by British intelligence agencies.

They organised a coup and overthrew a democratically elected government.

The issue now is will Tony Blair do anything about his agencies?

If Peter Hain’s comments are anything to go by then it is likely we have not seen the last of the securocrats.

There is a very simple message in all of this drama: informers come and informers go.

The struggle for a united Ireland, which they desperately seek to bring down, carries on regardless.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News