The exposure of a top-level spy within Sinn Fein has dealt a significant if belated blow to the British government’s efforts to control and manipulate the peace process.
The outing of Denis Donaldson, a highly prominent party veteran and a de facto member of the Sinn Fein leadership, has stunned the North’s political establishment and thrown a major question mark over political developments in recent years. Donaldson has admitted to have secretly worked on behalf of the RUC/PSNI Special Branch and British military intelligence for over 20 years.
From the Short Strand area of east Belfast, Donaldson played a central role in the so-called ‘Stormontgate’ plot, a British plan to collapse the institutions of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement through the “discovery” of a republican spy ring at the heart of the Belfast Assembly. Donaldson was one of five arrested in October 2002 following a scene of high political farce at the Stormont parliament buildings, the seat of the Assembly. Sinn Fein’s offices at Stormont, where Donaldson was head of administration, were raided by hundreds of PSNI police in a bogus and artificial attempt to create a crisis in the peace process.
Although no evidence was found to justify the charges, blame fell on the party and the Provisional IRA for the collapse of the Agreement, rather than the increasing intransigence of the main unionist parties.
Donaldson appeared at a press conference in a Dublin hotel on Friday and confirmed he had worked as a Special Branch agent since 1985. He said his last contacts with the RUC/PSNI Special Branch had been in the days preceding his arrest in 2002 and last week, when he was informed his cover had finally been blown.
The informer said he had been recruited “during a vulnerable time”. He apologised to former comrades and his family for his actions.
Stormontgate was “a scam and a fiction” orchestrated by PSNI Special Branch, he added.
The development has generated an extraordinary amount of speculation as to how much damage Donaldson has inflicted on the republican cause, and the manouevring which led to his “arrest” at Sinn Fein’s Stormont office three years ago.
What is unquestionably true, however, is that the only spy involved in the so-called Stormontgate affair was a paid Special Branch agent working on behalf of the British government.
Donaldson is the highest mole ever placed by the British government within the republican movement, and his exposure has scandalised the Sinn Fein leadership as well as the British Prime Minister. Tony Blair, who would have been closely briefed on the handling of Britain’s prime intelligence asset in Ireland, is facing calls for an explanation of his governments’ apparent efforts to destroy the peace process. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adam is also being urged to resign by the rival nationalist SDLP, for his close association with Mr Donaldson.
Speaking at a press conference to announce the development on Friday, Mr Adams said the nature of British rule in Ireland had for a very long time been driven by “a security agenda, with policy dictated by British Intelligence, state police and military agencies. The Good Friday Agreement is, as much as anything else, about ending that.”
Mr Adams said the allegation of a Sinn Fein spy ring at Stormont was “a carefully constructed lie created by the Special Branch in order to cause maximum political impact.
“The fact is that the collapse of the political institutions was a direct result of the actions of some of those who run the intelligence and policing system of the British.
“The fact is that the key person at the centre of those events was a Sinn Fein member who was a British agent. This is entirely the responsibility of the British government.”
Mr Adams, however, was careful not to directly blame the British Prime Minister for the scandal, instead castigating the PSNI and the intelligence agencies who he said were “a law unto themselves”.
The Sinn Fein President called on Tony Blair and the 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern “to wake up to the reality” that these agencies were working against the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and were “operating to their own agenda with no accountability”.
“Sinn Fein has been very conscious of the negative role being played by elements within the British system and we have raised these matters consistently with both governments,” Mr Adams said.
“If Britain’s war is over then the British Prime Minister needs to come to terms with the fact that he has to end the activities of the securocrats.
“This entire episode underlines the need for an end to political policing. That, and defending the Good Friday Agreement, remains the focus of Sinn Fein.”
(Reproduced from Republican News, with thanks).