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Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Tale of Espionage Marks a'Bizarre' Turn in N. Ireland
Date: Sun, 18 Dec 2005 7:34:00 -0500
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Tale of Espionage Marks a'Bizarre' Turn in N. Ireland
By Kevin Sullivan
LONDON, Dec. 17 -- For aquarter-century, Denis Donaldsonmoved among the elite of NorthernIreland's republican movement.A small man with glasses and thinninghair, he looked more like abureaucrat than a guerrilla fighter.But his revolutionary credentialswere impeccable, starting with a1971 conviction for plotting to blowup British government buildings anda four-year stint in the infamousMaze prison. A photo from that timeshows him in the prison with his armdraped over the shoulder ofcellmate Bobby Sands, the IrishRepublican Army icon who died on ahunger strike in 1981.Then, Friday night, Donaldsonrevealed his secret: For two decades,he had been a British spy.Donaldson's announcement hasroiled Northern Ireland's fragilepolitical world, where mistrustbetween Protestants and Catholicsstill runs high despite the IRA'sannouncement last summer that itwas permanently ending its armedcampaign. Politicians from all sidesare demanding official inquiries intoone of the province's mostsensational cases of espionage sincethe beginning of the sectarianviolence known as the Troubles, athree-decade war that cost morethan 3,600 lives."People are just gobsmacked," saidTim Pat Coogan, an Irish historianand author of a history of the IRA.Even Irish Prime Minister BertieAhern, who said he would seek aninvestigation, called the situation "asbizarre as it gets."A spokesman for British PrimeMinister Tony Blair said Saturdaythat Blair would have "no commentwhatsoever" on the case.Donaldson, 55, had emerged fromMaze prison as a rising republicanstar. He eventually became a topofficial in Sinn Fein, the IRA's politicalwing, where he was a confidant ofparty leader Gerry Adams andrepresented the party onfundraising trips to the UnitedStates. And for much of that time,Donaldson admitted Friday, he wasbeing paid by the Britishgovernment to inform on hiscolleagues."I deeply regret my activities withBritish intelligence," he said in astatement broadcast on television.Apologizing to his "formercomrades" and his family in a calmvoice, he sa!
id he "w
as recruited inthe 1980s after compromisingmyself during a vulnerable time inmy life." He did not elaborate, and itremains unclear how the Britishgovernment was able to recruit him.Martin McGuinness, deputy leaderof Sinn Fein, told BBC Radio Ulster onSaturday that the disclosure showedthat, despite the IRA's disarmament,British security forces were stilltrying to undermine the landmark1998 Good Friday peace accord. Thatplan calls for a power-sharingagreement between NorthernIreland's Catholic republicans, whowant to see Northern Irelandreunited with the Republic of Ireland,and Protestant unionists, whosupport British rule in the province."We are all disappointed,"McGuinness said, calling it "yetanother episode of the dirty war ofBritish security services."David Ervine, a prominentProtestant leader from theProgressive Unionist Party, said hewas "deeply confused" by theDonaldson case."Every time you think you've gotNorthern Ireland figured out,something else happens," he said in atelephone interview.Donaldson's statement Friday wasthe latest twist in a puzzling,three-year drama.It began in October 2002, whenpolice raided Sinn Fein's office atStormont, the seat of the NorthernIreland Assembly. They seized stolengovernment documents andarrested Donaldson, who ran theoffice, and two others and chargedthem with running a republican spyring. Sinn Fein denied the allegations.Ten days after Donaldson's arrest,Unionist representatives walked outof the assembly, saying the spy ringallegations proved that Sinn Feincould not be trusted. Sinn Feinofficials said security forces weretrying to discredit them. Theassembly was suspended and has notbeen reinstated, a major stumblingblock to restoring normalgovernment to the province.Last week, the spying chargesagainst Donaldson and the otherswere suddenly dropped. Prosecutorssaid pursuing the case was "no longerin the public interest," offering nofurther explanation and sparkingnew questions about an alreadymysterious episode that hadbrought down Northern Ireland'selected !
vernment.Donaldson was embraced by SinnFein as a vindicated hero, appearingat a news conference alongsideAdams, who supported him andblasted British officials for theirhandling of the case.But that all changed Friday. In histelevised statement, Donaldson saidBritish agents had approached himThursday night, which he said was hisfirst contact with them since 2002.He did not say what they told him.But Adams, at a news conferenceFriday, said they told Donaldson hiscover was about to be blown and hislife was in danger. Adams saidDonaldson then confessed to SinnFein officials, and he was expelledfrom the party."Obviously we did have a spy ring atStormont, but it is now clear it was aBritish spy ring," McGuinness said.Donaldson's statement was filledwith contrition for being "a Britishagent." He said the allegedrepublican spy ring at Stormont in2002 "was a scam and a fiction. Itnever existed." He said Britishsecurity officials had "created it." Hedid not say why, but republicans arespeculating that some elements inthe British security forces do notsupport efforts to give legitimacyand political power to Sinn Fein.The British government's NorthernIreland Office issued a statementFriday saying that the Stormontraid was not politically motivatedand that it did turn up evidence ofrepublican spying. "The fact remainsthat a huge number of stolendocuments were recovered by thepolice," the statement said.In a 2001 interview with the AgenceFrance-Presse news agency,Donaldson said he had traveledthroughout Latin America and theMiddle East for years, meeting withthe Palestine LiberationOrganization and otherrevolutionary groups. In 1988, SinnFein sent him as an emissary toLebanon to meet the head ofHezbollah to try to negotiate therelease of an Irish teacher, BrianKeenan, who had been kidnapped.Despite his extraordinary contacts,many who have met Donaldson saidhe is less than memorable."I spent a day at the Sinn Fein officein Stormont at one point, and hemade no impression on me," saidCoogan, the historian. "He was liketh!