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Republicans 'no objection' as agent's family return to Belfast

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

Members of Denis Donaldson's family are understood to have returned to Belfast last night.

The 55-year-old former Sinn Féin official has been in hiding since he admitted having worked as a Special Branch agent for 20 years.

However, it is understood a number of Mr Donaldson's family returned to Belfast at the weekend but have not returned to the family home at Aitnamona Crescent in west Belfast.

It is unclear if Mr Donaldson intends to return to Belfast himself.

Sinn Féin assembly member Gerry Kelly last night said that republicans had no objection to Mr Donaldson's family returning to his home city.

"The Donaldson family are as much victims in this whole sordid affair as anyone else," he said.

Meanwhile, it is understood Mr Donaldson was given permission by police to keep a shotgun in his house weeks before he was arrested over the alleged IRA spy ring at Stormont in October 2002.

The decision to issue Donaldson with a gun permit and the fact that he was the first republican to be given increased security at his home under the government's Key Persons Protection Scheme (KPPS), is now being viewed by republicans as an unforeseen indication that his life was being safeguarded by the security forces.

It is understood Donaldson's licence was later revoked following his arrest.

Donaldson admitted his role as a British agent on Friday after allegedly being informed by his Special Branch handlers that he was due to be 'outed' by the media.

However, no weekend newspaper claimed that it had prior knowledge of his double life or that it had been preparing to reveal his identity.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams will meet with Secretary of State Peter Hain today to discuss the Stormontgate affair.

It is understood Mr Hain and Mr Adams already discussed Donaldson's role as a double agent during a 'lengthy' telephone conversation on Saturday.

Weekend media reports claimed that a second senior republican 'mole' was on the verge of being publicly identified, however, republican sources last night dismissed the claims as 'mischief making designed to create paranoia'.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly last night rejected SDLP vice chairman Eddie Espie's call that Mr Adams should resign as Sinn Féin leader over the Stormontgate affair.

"I think it is a disgrace that the British government has been found guilty of spying on Sinn Féin for 20 years and all the SDLP can do is call for Gerry Adams to resign.

"British government securocrats brought down the power sharing executive and all this man can do is call for Gerry Adams to resign."

Reiterating his party's position that the British government was solely to blame for the collapse of the executive, Mr Kelly said: "The IRA stood down in July and General [John] de Chastelain confirmed in September that its weapons had been put beyond use, yet we now see that it is the British securocrats who are still at war.

"They are either orchestrating what is happening or they are out of control.

"Either way, Tony Blair needs to tell people what he is going to do about it.

"Myself, Gerry Adams and hundreds of other nationalists were only recently informed that our personal details had gone missing from Castlereagh and are now in the hands of loyalists.

"Why is the British government still spying on elected politicians?"

Hain defends police action

Secretary of State Peter Hain has defended the police operation against republicans which brought down devolution three years ago.

Mr Hain told ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme: "This is a turbulent event.

"Let us remind ourselves about what happened.

"Something like a thousand documents were stolen from the Northern Ireland Office over which I now preside.

"They appeared in a west Belfast situation. They disappeared. They were stolen.

"The police went in, praised by the Ombudsman [Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan] by the way because this is the most regulated, supervised police force now in the world.

"It's not what it used to be.

"The Police Ombudsman said they had done not only what was justified but what was absolutely necessary.

"Then events unfolded and the prosecution felt that they could not proceed in the public interest."

December 20, 2005

This article appeared first in the December 19, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

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