The murder of top republican informer Denis Donaldson has caused political shockwaves amid intense speculation about his killing.
Four months after being revealed as a British spy, Donaldson was found shot dead at his remote County Donegal hideaway yesterday evening. Suicide is not suspected, according to an autopsy report.
The Provisional IRA denied it had any involvement in the murder, while Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and other republican leaders strongly condemned the killing.
The once highly respected republican figure had been living a meagre existence in an abandoned and isolated cottage once used by the IRA as a ‘safe house’ for its Volunteers.
Following a morning break-in, Donaldson was killed by at least one shotgun blast.
Many republicans believe Donaldson’s former handlers in the British Crown forces may have ordered his murder after the controversial figure came clean about his role as a top-level informer within the republican movement last year.
In December, the high-ranking Sinn Féin official admitted in a press conference that he had passed information to British intelligence and police in exchage for money for over twenty years.
Donaldson had been outed in suspicious circumstances after his trial in the notorious ‘Stormontgate’ incident was suddenly abandoned. The double-agent had ironically been charged with running a spy ring on behalf of the IRA at Stormont parliament buildings, where he ran Sinn Féin’s offices. It was later confirmed he had been secretly working for police Special Branch at the time.
It is now understood that the cryptic individual, known as ‘a charmer’, had come to be distrusted by his handlers before he was suddenly exposed before Christmas.
His appearance at a press conference to admit his double life and express regret at his actions marked the end of his connection with British forces. Mr Donaldson said that he had been recruited at a vulnerable time in his life, and admitted he had been paid money for his information. While outraging republicans, the admissions may also have made him even more dangerous enemies.
There has been some speculation that ‘maverick’ republicans, disaffected from the peace process, may have ensured Donaldson would not escape punishment for his betrayal. Parallels have been drawn to the impromptu killing of another informer, Eamon Collins, who was beaten to death during a remote country walk in South Armagh in January 1999.
But here was no evidence, as was initially claimed, that the double agent had been abused before his death, which was described by Gardai police as well-organised and clinical.
It is now being credibly suggested that Donaldson was killed by his former handlers in retribution -- and in fear that he would reveal further secrets from the ‘Dirty War’, possibly including the identity of other informers.
The murder comes at a crucial time for the peace process, as the Dublin and London governments prepare to launch a political project involving the reanimation of the Belfast Assembly.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said on Tuesday those responsible were “enemies of the peace process”.
“I want to condemn without reservation the murder of Denis Donaldson,” he said.
At the time of his exposure, Mr Adams assured Mr Donaldson that he would face no threat from republicans.
Speaking at a press conference on the former site of Andersonstown police station in west Belfast, Mr Adams said he lives in the hope that such killings “should be a thing of the past”.
He also offered his sympathies to the former Sinn Féin official’s family, describing them as “decent people and decent republicans as well,” Mr Adams said.
“I condemn without reservation this very brutal killing. I extend my condolences to the Donaldson family.”
Mr Adams said that he was keeping an “open mind” about who was responsible for the murder.
“I disassociate Sinn Féin and all of the hundreds of thousands of Irish republicans who support the peace process from this killing. I am keeping a very open mind,” he said.
“Denis Donaldson did work for Special Branch, there was messy, dirty business.”
Mr Adams said those who had carried out the killing were “enemies of the peace process.”
“All of these killings and all of these different acts should be an incentive for politicians to get on with the peace process,” he said.
“We live in the hope that killings like this should be a thing of the past.
“I feel sorry for his family. Any killing of this nature is a killing too many. I feel particularly for his family.
“His family are decent people and decent republicans as well.
DUP leader Ian Paisley expressed scepticism at the IRA denial of responsibility and said the killing could be another reason to reject peace efforts.
“There are serious talks that are going to take place and I would say that this has put a dark cloud over those talks.
“If this man has been murdered because of his connection with IRA/Sinn Féin and because of the past happenings then it strikes a blow at what the two governments are trying to do - to say that the IRA has forsaken these ways and they are seeking peace.”
Speaking in the Dublin parliament, 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said gardai had visited him in January and advised him that, because of his circumstances, there was a perceived threat to his life.
“They offered him advice on his personal security and gave him a telephone number for Glenties Garda station in case he had any concerns. The house where he lived received passing attention from the Garda on an ongoing basis.
“It should be noted that Mr Donaldson did not at any time request Garda assistance or protection since that period in January.”
The mother of a County Tyrone teenager has spoken of the pressure placed on her family after the PSNI police tried to recruit her son as an informer last week.
The teenager was too frightened to be identified. He said he had been harassed by the PSNI since he refused to provide information about his neighbours after being arrested for an alleged driving offence last month.
The young man said the PSNI had detained him last week near his home for failing to wear a seat belt. The 18-year-old from Cappagh was taken to a PSNI station in Armagh when he was urged to supply information about events in the area where he lives.
He was told that he could get penalty points and advised that he could “help” himself.
After he refused, the PSNI gave him a ticket and released him.
“I’m afraid to leave the house because, every time I go out, I am stopped,” said the young man.