An official report into the murder of Denis Donaldson, an MI5 informer operating at the highest ranks of Sinn Fein, has not quelled speculation over his killing.
An investigation by the North’s Police Ombudsman said it found no evidence of PSNI police involvement or collusion in the murder. It also said there was no evidence that the PSNI leaked the information used to kill the British agent in April 2006.
Ombudsman Marie Anderson did, however, conclude that the PSNI should have conducted a “risk assessment” when media reports pictured him at a location in County Donegal after being exposed as an MI5 agent.
The diminutive figure was head of the party’s office at Stormont and was a confidant of the entire Sinn Fein leadership, helping to craft the party’s political strategy throughout the peace process.
A key figure in the Provisional movement from the outset, the east Belfast man rose to prominence after taking part in the night-long Battle of St Matthew’s in 1970, defending a Catholic church after it was attacked by loyalists. As a former republican prisoner, he was close to IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands and was pictured with him in an iconic photograph taken in 1975.
As peace negotiations were taking palce, he played a central role as part of Sinn Féin’s powerful backroom team. He was later sent to the US to take control of support for the Irish republican cause under a new organisation, Friends of Sinn Fein.
On 16 December, 2005, Mr Adams announced to a press conference in Dublin that Donaldson had been a spy in the pay of British intelligence for over twenty years. The news was confirmed by Donaldson himself in a statement which he read out at a subsequent press conference.
Both Irish republicans and the British establishment were stunned by his public outing as an informer. The news shook confidence in the North’s political institutions and undermined the credibility of the peace process itself.
It was immediately clear that Donaldson’s life was in grave danger from almost every direction. The fatal shotgun attack came four months later, after his location was revealed in a newspaper report which pictured him standing outside an isolated Donegal cottage. The attack was claimed by the breakaway Real IRA.
Mrs Anderson said that the PSNI had been guilty of a “corporate failure” by not carrying out a threat assessment once the 55-year-old’s whereabouts had been revealed.
But major questions remain, such as why neither Dublin or London opted to relocate Donaldson like other exposed agents. His journal, in which he is rumoured to have recorded significant details of historic political events, was seized by police and its whereabouts remains unknown to this day.
The family have been particularly scathing of the actions of the authorities in the 26 Counties.
“We don’t believe that there has been an adequate Garda investigation,” said his daughter Jane. “The inquest into his killing has been adjourned 25 times. My mother is still being refused a formal death certificate.”
She added that the state’s use of agents and informers during the conflict was being ignored by governments and politicians.
“It has had a devastating impact on our family and hundreds of other families.
“The use of agents and informers, including to kill other agents and informers, was institutionalised in our society. It is the elephant in the room and no-one on any side wants to confront these issues.”