No-one comes out smelling of roses…

THE most likely explanation for Denis Donaldson’s exposure as a British agent inside Sinn Fein could have come about – quite possibly inadvertantly – as a result of probing by his solicitors, Madden & Finucane, into the ‘Stormontgate’ case. But perhaps it was only confirming conclusions Sinn Fein has been coming to over the past week…The Sunday Times reported that the police had handled evidence that theoretically could have been tampered with, such as the laptop said to contain the details of 1,400 prison officers, thus requiring the police to produce a “chain of evidence”. Since none was forthcoming, it strongly suggested the State was protecting an agent, a belief probably reinforced within SF when the charges were so mysteriously dropped without explanation “in the public interest” – standard British procedure in such cases. Since the case obviously passed the DPP’s evidentiary test, as the Attorney General confirmed to the SDLP, it wouldn’t have taken much of a leap of faith for SF see the work of an agent.

With only three suspects in the ring, SF would have been able to deduce who had access to what and when. They are likely to have drawn their conclusions only within the last few days – backed by the fact that Gerry Adams stood shoulder to shoulder at a Stormont press conference with Donaldson on December 9. Donaldson was effectively Adams’ chief of staff within the Assembly, often popping into other parties offices as the “friendly face” of Sinn Fein’s outreach.

Suspicions may also have been raised by the police granting Donaldson a shotgun licence shortly before his arrest, but the ST report suggests that Donaldson did not necessarily instigate the intelligence gathering, possibly being used to catch a bigger fish – probably IRA intelligence director Bobby Storey – in Operation Torsion.

The lists of names of people on the lists seized in the wake of the Stormont raids (including from Donaldson’s home, IIRC) was broader than just civil servants and prison officers, including loyalists and at least one republican who was seen as a problem to SF. This suggests that there was republican intelligence gathering on a wider level outside Stormont not involving the alleged Stormont spy inside SF. If the IRA had not seen the captured lists, it is doubtful the Government would have spent tens of millions on relocation schemes.

In ‘An Armed Peace’, Brian Rowan suggested that the files had been removed, copied and replaced by the police. Sinn Fein are probably working on the assumption that this was Donaldson’s role. However, Rowan claims today that Donaldson was not the source for the authorities finding out about republican intelligence gathering, again suggesting he wasn’t the instigator of the operation and that there is another high-level source within Sinn Fein as yet undiscovered.

The ST report suggests that the republican agent was being run by Special Branch. Since SB carried out the raid, perhaps Denis’s arrest was designed to protect him from suspicion from within SF. By that stage MI5 was involved. While they and John Reid advocated a more subtle approach (with his ‘Yellow Card’ warning), Bill Lowry, who resigned as head of Special Branch shortly afterwards, decided on a more heavy-handed approach. Perhaps he didn’t believe that London was taking the perceived threat to prison officers etc seriously enough. Perhaps he wanted revenge for the embarrassing break-in at the PSNI’s Castlereagh branch, in which both the IRA and MI5 had at different times been implicated. Lowry would later blame MI5 for his removal from the position.

SF will always blame the ‘securocrats’, but if Donaldson did not instigate the spying in the first place – which appears reasonable – then they were caught out by the agent, who was said to have worked for the British for 20 years.

Whether agent provocateur or not, for him to have remained in place for so long makes Sinn Fein look very silly indeed.

Earlier this month, Donaldson claimed that the dropped charges against him were proof of “political policing”. What he didn’t mention was that it was him doing the policing…

ADDS: The NIO has released a statement here.