Readers without access beyond The Sunday Times’ paywall may be interested in reading the full story here. True bill or an attempt by PSNI/various spooks to deflect attention away from the real culprits? Problem is that the answers ‘yes’ and ‘no’ carry equal weight. But we shall see:
Police in Scotland secretly recorded a dissident republican confessing to the murder of Denis Donaldson, the Sinn Fein official who was shot dead by the Real IRA at a remote cottage in Donegal in 2006 after being exposed as a British spy.
The confession was recorded in a prison where the republican is serving a lengthy sentence for an unrelated offence. An eavesdropping device was planted in his cell by surveillance officers after the prisoner was granted temporary release for a weekend. A warrant to use the device had been granted by British authorities.
Detectives investigating Donaldson’s murder say they have built up a detailed picture of what happened and who was involved. The murder was initially thought to have been carried out by the Provisional IRA’s internal security department, but investigators believe four dissidents, assisted by a handful of sympathisers, were involved.
He was shot four times by an assailant armed with a shotgun. The first two shots were fired through the front door of the house as Donaldson attempted to bolt it or barricade himself inside. Once inside, his killers fired two more cartridges.
A prominent dissident from Derry is believed to have directed the operation, which was carried out by three others, including the gunman whose confession was covertly recorded. Rather than being a carefully planned terrorist operation, gardai and the PSNI believe it was hastily organised after Donaldson’s whereabouts was revealed by journalists. The motive was revenge for Donaldson’s betrayal of the IRA and Sinn Fein, and the propaganda boost it gave the Real IRA, though the dissident organisation claimed responsibility for the murder only when its members became aware that gardai in Donegal had discovered their involvement.
“The dissidents thought murdering Donaldson would be a major publicity coup,” said a security source. “They were too afraid to claim responsibility for it, as those involved feared arrest or that it would provoke a clampdown from the state.”
Gardai believe Donaldson was one of the most senior Sinn Fein officials to have worked for British intelligence during the Troubles. A friend and adviser to Gerry Adams from the 1980s, Donaldson had been a senior figure in the IRA and served as Sinn Fein’s director of international affairs. He set up the party’s office in Washington and organised Adams’s first official visit to America, having previously travelled throughout the Middle East as a representative for the IRA leadership.
Donaldson admitted he was recruited by MI5 in the 1980s after compromising himself during a vulnerable time in his life, but did not specify what the vulnerability was. The PSNI and MI5 have never officially acknowledged their relationship with Donaldson to gardai, according to security sources.
Detectives investigating the murder are confident the suspect could be extradited from Scotland and charged before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin if the recording evidence is accepted by the director of public prosecutions.
The recording, in part, corroborates separate evidence from Liam McGinley, a father of six from Letterkenny, who is living under garda protection. McGinley agreed to co-operate after he was abducted, shot in the abdomen and dumped on a dirt track in the Derryveagh mountains in Donegal in 2007.
McGinley was never a member of a dissident republican group but had extensive contacts with dissidents in Donegal and Derry. Originally from Scotland, he grew up in Falcarragh and was not known to gardai as a republican sympathiser. He was shot following a disagreement with the gang who killed Donaldson. McGinley has made detailed statements to gardai outlining his knowledge of the Real IRA in the northwest, and named the paramilitaries who shot him and discussed the murder of Donaldson.