I have no idea whether the story below – an Irish Times summary of a BBC Spotlight programme broadcast Tuesday night – is true. But here is what is significant, in my view, about it.
The programme would have been vetted before broadcast by the BBC’s lawyers and it would probably have gone to London for final approval. That was always the way when the bombs and guns were in play and it probably still is the way things are done.
BBC lawyers are, almost by definition, very cautious beings. Put it this way, when Richard O’Rawe went to BBC’s Spotlight back in 2006 with his story about how Gerry Adams had vetoed a deal to end the 1981 hunger strike it was very quickly killed off.
But here you now have the very same programme, headed by the same people, giving the green light to a documentary which, libel-wise, puts O’Rawe’s story in the ha’penny place.
That tells me that the BBC’s lawyers were convinced a) that the supposed British agent known only as ‘Martin’ was the real deal and b) that no-one in the British intelligence establishment moved to kill off the story, which as anyone who has worked in the BBC can attest, they could easily do.
Which suggests that the Spotlight story is seeing the light of day because a) the BBC believes it to be true and b) no-one in the British establishment objected to it being broadcast. Which leads to the conclusion that the higher-up’s in British intelligence not only had no objection to it being broadcast but may even have wished to see it aired.
Which, if true, is bad news for the Sinn Fein leader and his plans to bow out of his party’s leadership by way of a term of office in the Phoenix Park and the respectability such a conclusion to his career would bestow.
Incidentally, for what it is worth, the idea that ‘Slab’ Murphy would insist on Denis Donaldson’s execution as fitting punishment for his treachery is entirely credible. Given that Freddie Scappaticci had been given a bye ball for much worse, a second blind eye turned to blatant, longstanding double-dealing would only intensify grassroots unease.
Anyway here is The Irish Times story. Enjoy:
Gerry Adams rejects claim he ordered Denis Donaldson killing
Sinn Féin leader denies claim he had role in spy’s death made by alleged former British agent.
Amanda Ferguson in Belfast
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has rejected claims by an alleged former British agent that he directly ordered the killing of IRA informer, Denis Donaldson in 2006, on foot of a demand by leading republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy.
Mr Donaldson, a former Sinn Féin group administrator at the Stormont Assembly, was shot dead in Co Donegal in April 2006 after he confessed to being a British agent, which directly led to the collapse of Stormont’s institutions.
His killing, which was claimed three years later by the splinter Real IRA, has still not resulted in prosecutions. His inquest has been repeatedly postponed on foot of applications by An Garda Síochána.
The man, who infiltrated the IRA for over a decade, was interviewed over months by the BBC’s Spotlight programme.
He claims to have worked for the RUC special branch from 1997 – one of up to 1,000 informers of different levels of importance who were allegedly passing on information about the IRA’s activities.
In a series of meetings, the agent, known only as “Martin”, claims Mr Donaldson’s killing was sanctioned by Mr Adams. “I know from my experience in the IRA that murders have to be approved by the leadership,” Martin said. Specifically asked to identify who ordered the killing, he went on: “Gerry Adams, he gives the final say.”
Mr Adams’s solicitor strongly rejected the allegations, saying that his client had no knowledge and no involvement. He categorically denied that he was consulted about it. Mr Adams has repeatedly denied IRA membership.
Mr Donaldson moved to Donegal after he publicly admitted being a spy. The IRA denied involvement when he was shot dead. The Real IRA’s claim of responsibility in 2009 was untrue, the alleged agent claimed, and had been an attempt to bolster its reputation with supporters.
Spotlight said “Slab” Murphy, now serving a sentence for tax evasion in the Republic, had insisted on Mr Donaldson’s killing in order to maintain IRA discipline. Spotlight said it tried to contact Murphy but had received no reply.
Questioned about the extent to which the IRA had been infiltrated, Denis Bradley, who played a leading role during the peace process, said he inspected records held in London six years ago that illustrated its scale.
“At any one time, the security services were running about 800 informers throughout the Troubles.
“Now that’s a lot of people within a small community of people,” he said.