Irish Spy May Hurt N. Ireland Peace Process
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now another story about spying. This one's in Northern Ireland, and it's worthy of the best spy novels. A senior member of the political party that wants to end British rule in Northern Ireland has revealed himself to be a spy for the British. Denis Donaldson, a Sinn Fein member, is now believed to be in hiding. He made a brief statement last week about his 20 years as a double agent.
Mr. DENIS DONALDSON (Sinn Fein): I was recruited in the 1980s after compromising myself during a vulnerable time in my life. Since then, I have worked for British intelligence and the RUC/PSNI Special Branch.
NORRIS: To make sense of the case, we turn to Gerry Moriarty. He's Northern Ireland editor for The Irish Times newspaper. Moriarty says the news that Donaldson was a British spy is stunning because he had impeccable credentials as an Irish Republican.
Mr. GERRY MORIARTY (Northern Ireland Editor, The Irish Times): He goes back a long way. He was in prison with Bobby Sands, the iconic IRA figure who died in hunger strike in 1981. They were good friends. When he got out of prison in the '80s, he was more involved in the political end of things. More lately when a power-sharing government was formed at Stormont, he was Sinn Fein's head of administration. Over the years--I've been here for almost 20 years, and you would regularly see him at the main meetings, not as the politician but as the man in the background who had a fairly major role to play.
NORRIS: So, as you say, he was a longtime backroom leader there, but it turns out he was also a longtime spy, almost two decades. Why did this information come out now?
Mr. MORIARTY: Well, now that's a little perplexing. We're in this--you know, the story of spies of lies, there are two stories. One from, say, the British security side is that the police went to see him to alert him that Sinn Fein and the IRA had finally cottoned on that he was a spy and that his life was in danger, and it was time that he move out as quickly as he could with his wife and his family. Now the other story we got from Sinn Fein is that the PSNI effectively outed him in order to damage the peace process up here. They're...
Mr. MORIARTY: Sorry, the police over here, the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
NORRIS: Gerry, there's also another unusual twist here. Denis Donaldson at one point was on trial as a Sinn Fein spy when he was actually, as it turns out, spying for the British.
Mr. MORIARTY: Yes. This whole story broke in October 2002. There was a big police raid on Parliament buildings and Stormont and also on a number of homes, including Mr. Donaldson's home in West Belfast. And over a thousand documents were found, purportedly containing compromising information about police officers and prison officers and other people working in sensitive jobs and that Mr. Donaldson, his son-in-law Kearney, a civil servant called William Mackessy--they were arrested at the time and charged with spying on behalf of Sinn Fein and the IRA.
And what happened a few weeks ago--it was another sensational twist to this story--the charges were dropped. There was no explanation why the charges were dropped. It was just stated within the public interest. Now that often is shorthand for trying to protect an informant, but at the time nobody really suspected that the agent was going to turn out as Mr. Donaldson.
NORRIS: And where is Mr. Donaldson? Is his life at risk?
Mr. MORIARTY: We're not sure. He's out of Belfast. He's unlikely to return. With the cease-fires and with, you know, the conflict effectively being over, I don't think the IRA would attack him. But if he were spotted walking down the street in Belfast, a lot of individuals very, very angry at what he had done--they might attack him and possibly even kill him. So he can't live here anymore. He'll either have to live in the South or go abroad for his own safety.
NORRIS: Gerry Moriarty, thanks so much for talking to us.
Mr. MORIARTY: Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: Gerry Moriarty is a Northern Ireland editor for The Irish Times.
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