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Donaldson spy mystery begins to become clearer

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

It is exactly one week since former Sinn Féin official Denis Donaldson admitted being a British spy. Barry McCaffrey gives one of the most detailed pictures yet of how events unfolded.

Special Branch informer Denis Donaldson was last night (Thursday) still admitting the full extent of his life as a double agent to the Sinn Féin leadership.

As the 55-year-old remained in hiding further details emerged of the events which led to Donaldson being uncovered as a British agent last Friday.

Republican sources confirmed that neither Martin McGuinness nor Gerry Adams knew that the Sinn Féin administrator was a double agent when they were photographed with him at Stormont buildings on Friday December 9.

However, Donaldson's double life began to unravel at 5pm the following day when uniformed PSNI officers visited his west Belfast home and informed him that he was going to be exposed in the media.

Police returned to Donaldson's Aitnamona Crescent home at 9pm but he was not there.

Less than 15 minutes later he telephoned Declan Kearney, chairman of Sinn Féin's northern executive and Donaldson's immediate superior, to tell him that the PSNI had warned he was to be 'outed' as an informer.

Republican's say it was a coincidence that Mr Kearney's brother Ciaran was Donaldson's son-in-law and his co-accused in the Stormontgate trial that never was.

Mr Kearney advised Donaldson to go to his solicitor.

Republican sources say that Mr Kearney's instruction was in line with Sinn Féin policy in dealing with anyone who has been warned by the PSNI that they are about to be exposed as an informer.

It is unclear whether republicans believed at this stage that Donaldson was a double agent or were working under the misapprehension that this was a 'securocrat' plot to discredit Sinn Féin's leadership.

While Mr Adams would later claim that republicans had suspected for two years that there was a spy within their ranks, it is not thought that Donaldson had come under suspicion.

On Sunday Declan Kearney informed Sinn Féin's former Stormont administrator that he would be interviewed at party headquarters the following day.

Following that interview Mr Adams was told that Donaldson had admitted to being a British agent and he informed the rest of the Sinn Féin leadership on the Tuesday.

On Wednesday December 14 Donaldson had two interviews with Declan Kearney and senior Sinn Féin official Leo Green at Sinn Féin's Sevastopol Street offices.

It was at this meeting that Donaldson began to reveal the full extent of his role as a Special Branch and MI5 agent for more than 20 years.

He admitted meeting his Special Branch handlers two days before his arrest over the Stormontgate affair in October 2002.

Media reports suggested that Donaldson received £35,000 for his role as a double agent, although the real figure could total a six-figure sum, through regular payments.

At the end of that meeting Donaldson was informed that he was suspended from Sinn Féin and that he should contact his solicitor Peter Madden.

On Thursday December 16 Donaldson had two more meetings with the Sinn Féin officials, ending at 2pm.

At 4.45pm he received a telephone call at his home from a Special Branch handler, who identified himself as 'Lenny'.

The handler is understood to have asked "Do you remember me?"

"I understand you have had a visit from our uniform boys," he said.

"I think it's time we got together."

'Lenny' then gave Donaldson a mobile contact phone.

When The Irish News called the number last night it was on answerphone.

Later on Thursday night Declan Kearney met Donaldson again and informed him that he had been expelled from Sinn Féin.

It is understood that Donaldson, in the presence of his solicitor, then attempted to contact 'Lenny' but the number went to answerphone.

Hours later Donaldson and his family are understood to have gone into hiding in Dublin.

Less than 24 hours later Donaldson's 30-year career as an Irish republican was in tatters.

Republicans point to the fact that the IRA had offered amnesties to informers on three occasions during the last three decades but Donaldson chose not to come forward on any of these occasions.

At 5pm Mr Adams and Gerry Kelly appeared at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin to publicly reveal that Donaldson was a British agent and had been expelled from Sinn Féin.

At 9.30pm that night a visibly shaken Donaldson appeared at a press conference to reveal his role as a double agent.

He revealed few details other than he had been a paid informer for more than 20 years.

Since then he has not been seen in public, although he is believed to be in hiding in the Republic.

A senior republican source last night confirmed that Donaldson has continued to meet with senior Sinn Féin officials over the last seven days to give detailed accounts of his life as an informer.

It is understood Donaldson's admissions are now being assessed by the Sinn Féin leadership, although the source insisted that he was a 'free agent'.

A Garda spokeswoman refused to state if it was aware of Donaldson's whereabouts in the Republic.

However, it last night appeared that there was no way back for the veteran republican-turned-informer.

"We are not taking this lightly," Mr Kelly insisted.

"This was a betrayal on a massive scale.

"He has betrayed his family and comrades.

"He played his part in helping the British government to bring down the power-sharing executive.

"He allowed himself to be used by the securocrats in their deliberate and calculated efforts to wreck the peace process.

"The question now is what Tony Blair is going to do to stop these people?"

December 24, 2005

This article appeared first in the December 23, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News