Informer’s role linked to rally killing

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The family of Sean Downes, who was killed by a plastic bullet almost 35 years ago, has asked the Six County Attorney General John Larkin to hold an inquest. It comes after concerns were raised about the role of top Sinn Féin informer Denis Donaldson in events leading up to the August 1984 killing.

The 22-year-old Belfast man after being struck by a plastic bullet fired by the RUC during an anti-internment rally in west Belfast.

The killing, which was captured by TV cameras, caused outrage in the nationalist community as Mr Downes was unarmed when he was shot in the chest at close range.

In September 1986 RUC man Nigel Hegarty was found not guilty of manslaughter. Mr Downes’s widow Brenda was subsequently told there was therefore no merit to holding an inquest.

It has recently emerged that Denis Donaldson chaired the rally at which Mr Downes was killed. A major RUC operation had been put in place ahead of the rally in a bid to stop former Noraid publicity director Martin Galvin, who was banned from entering the Six Counties, from making an appearance.

Noraid, a US organisation, provided support to the families of republican prisoners. The RUC were keen to neutralise Mr Galvin, who would have been seen as a relative hardliner in the Provisional movement.

Trouble flared after Mr Galvin made an appearance on a platform outside Sinn Féin’s Connolly House in Andersonstown. This resulted in an RUC arrest team moving forward, and in the fracas that followed, Mr Downes was shot.

In a submission to the Attorney General, lawyers say that Mr Galvin believes that Mr Donaldson “was attempting to set him up for arrest, or worse, at the hands of the RUC” and that he would be prepared to submit an affidavit to that effect.

Legal representatives for the Downes family say that part of their submission to the Attorney General focuses on whether there was prior knowledge of Mr Galvin’s attendance and if so, where that information came from.

They noted that a court judgment relating to three IRA Volunteers killed by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988 puts a duty on the state at the planning and preparation stage of operations to consider the right to life of those involved.

Lawyer Michael Brentnall said the ruling would have a bearing on the Downes case and he said there are questions around the involvement of Mr Donaldson.

“Considerations around the inadequacy of the RUC’s planning and preparation of the arrest operation on the day take on a new significance when consideration is given to the position of Denis Donaldson as chairman in the anti-internment rally, given his admissions in 2005 that he had been a British spy for over 20 years.”

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