a more coherent theory

In the Sunday Times, Liam Clarke has a comprehensive look at the life and times, so far, of Denis Donaldson, from joining the IRA in the 1960s, through his conviction on explosives charges in 1971, and the 4 years term he served, to his role as Sinn Féin director of international affairs, establishing links with other groups, links which he would later use in efforts to secure the release of Beirut-held hostage, Brian Keenan – who provided a letter of reference for Donaldson at his bail hearing[subs req] – and later establishing their US office, after the US State Department ignored his earlier conviction and granted him a visa, liasing between the US State Department and Sinn Féin locally. Clarke also has one of the more coherent theories about the spy ring and on the police going “against strong advice from MI5”.In the Sunday Times article, Liam Clarke details one incident in 1981 which may provide a clue as to when Denis Donaldson was recruited –

Donaldson and Sands spent three years in jail together and became close friends. This link helped to establish Donaldson’s credibility within the close group of former prisoners who would reshape the IRA and Sinn Fein under Adams’s leadership during the 1980s.

After he was released from jail Donaldson became a key Adams ally against the previous generation of IRA leaders. He also built up links with foreign revolutionary groups which would supply the Provos with weapons and training.

In August 1981, three months after Sands’s death, Donaldson and William “Blue” Kelly, a leading IRA gunrunner, were arrested by French police at Orly airport in Paris. The duo, who were travelling on false passports, told the French authorities that they were returning home after spending several months in a Lebanese training camp.

Donaldson was allowed to go home despite the admission and some suspect that this may have been the moment when he was turned by intelligence agents, but by his own account it is too early.[added emphasis]

He continued to build republican links with groups such as Eta (the Basque terrorists) and Yasser Arafat’s PLO, travelling widely in Europe and South America as Sinn Fein’s director of international affairs.

And it was those links that led to one of the more bizarre details of the court case that collapsed last week, as the Irish Times reported

Mr Donaldson came to public attention in October 2002 after the PSNI raided Sinn Féin’s offices at Stormont as part of an investigation into republican intelligence-gathering.

His arrest, along with that of his son-in-law, Ciarán Kearney, and of William Mackessy, a former Stormont porter, became known as Stormontgate. Two days later he appeared in court on five charges, and exactly 10 days after the raid, devolution collapsed.

During a subsequent High Court bail application, it was claimed that he had risked his life to help free Beirut hostage Brian Keenan. Mr Keenan – held hostage in Lebanon between 1986 and 1990 – sent a letter of reference to the court.

It said Mr Donaldson had talks with an adviser to the Hizbullah group holding him. Mr Keenan stated: “For the whole period of my incarceration, only two human beings put their lives at risk on my behalf – one was Terry Waite and the other was Denis Donaldson.”

In the Sunday Times article, again, Liam Clarke also writes of Donaldson’s role in the spy ring

Although Donaldson was an important agent to the British during these years, former intelligence officers doubt that he passed on all the information to which he had access. Otherwise he would not have survived for two decades.

As the peace process began to provide political dividends in the form of the Good Friday agreement and power sharing, Donaldson became head of the party’s administration in the parliament buildings in Stormont.

Police believe that he knew of an IRA spy ring at the heart of the British administration at Stormont but kept quiet about it for fear that his role would be exposed.

Donaldson apparently did not know that the spy ring was revealed to the RUC Special Branch by a lower-level agent whose information sparked a three-month surveillance operation known by the codename Operation Torsion.

A mass of intelligence material gathered by the IRA at Stormont was removed from a house in Belfast by the police, copied and returned in the vain hope that Bobby Storey, the IRA’s head of intelligence, would eventually take possession of it and expose himself to arrest.

This entrapment and surveillance operation took place against strong advice from MI5 who urged the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to seize the papers and leave it at that. It reasoned that this would be enough to halt the spying operation and bring Donaldson into line.[added emphasis]

In the end the police decided to recover the IRA intelligence cache and make what arrests they could — including Donaldson and his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney. The affair led to the collapse of power sharing and the fall of David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, who was blamed by loyalist voters for being too trusting of Sinn Fein. In the continuing political fall-out, Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist party ousted the Ulster Unionists as the majority party at the last general election.

One of the interesting aspects of this version is that the acting “against strong advice from MI5” may shed more light on another event which took place shortly after the arrests, the abrupt resignation, on November 18 2002, of Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Lowry, formerly Regional Intelligence Advisor, Belfast, and the senior Special Branch officer working on the investigation of the break-in at Castlereagh Police Station which occurred in March 2002.

Following his resignation Lowry made an official complaint to the Policing Ombudsman who, while not substantiating the specific complaints made, issued a report on the complaint which included this time-line of events

Chronology of Events

The investigation mainly focuses on a period between Tuesday November 12 when Mr Lowry gave a briefing to journalists which was alleged to involve inappropriate and unauthorized disclosures, and the sequence of events which led to his decision on Monday, November 18 to retire. Prior to the meeting on 12 November 2002 two other relevant meetings occurred.

Friday, November 8 2002 and Monday 11 November 2002

Mr Lowry met a senior (BBC) journalist who said he had sensitive details about the Stormont operation, which he planned to broadcast. Mr Lowry believed the information to be “of some concern”. He accepts that during the meeting he inadvertently gave the journalist sensitive information. Mr Lowry reported back to his superior officer. After a second meeting on Monday 11 November 2002 the journalist refused to give an undertaking that he would not use the material he had, but offered the opportunity of a further meeting

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Mr Lowry and the PSNI Director of Media Services met senior (BBC) journalists in an attempt to prevent the broadcast of sensitive material. This meeting was authorized by the PSNI. Mr Lowry acknowledged that during the meeting he discussed further sensitive matters which “should not have been mentioned”. Later that evening, the Director of Media Services briefed the Assistant Chief Constable (Crime) because he was very concerned about what Mr Lowry had told journalists.

That evening the journalist broadcast an item on the news programme, which caused considerable concern among officers involved in the investigation of the Castlereagh raid.

Wednesday November 13, 2002

Mr Lowry was called to a meeting with ACC Crime, and the Head of Special Branch to discuss what had taken place at the BBC meeting. Mr Lowry claims that he was “paraded before the ACC” who said that, “the Chief had felt I said too much” and “had been too open and disclosed Special Branch methodology”. Mr Lowry said he considered himself to have been “admonished” on the direct instructions of the Chief Constable.

No written record was made anywhere of the admonishment. The ACC denied quoting the Chief Constable during the meeting. The ACC and the Head of Special Branch noted the meeting in their journals but did not indicate that an “admonishment” or any disciplinary action had been taken. The ACC, the Head of Special Branch and Mr Lowry all stated in evidence that Mr Lowry had been “admonished.”

Thursday, November 14 2002.

Afternoon In one of their ongoing conversations regarding leaks, MI5 recommended to the Chief Constable that there should be an investigation into the leaks of information, which led to the unwelcome broadcast. The Police Ombudsman has established that this conversation related to the issue of leaks generally and that no discussion took place regarding any individual. Mr Lowry’s name was not mentioned.

4.OOPM: A meeting was held to discuss the BBC Broadcast and PSNI leaks in general. The Chief Constable, the Acting Deputy Chief Constable, the Head of Special Branch, the Director of Media Services and the Senior Investigating Officer for the Castlereagh investigation were all present. The Head of Special Branch did not tell the Chief Constable in this meeting that Mr Lowry had been disciplined in relation to this and told the Chief Constable that Special Branch did not leak. He also told the Chief Constable that ACC Crime was conducting a damage assessment.

6.OOPM: The PSNI Director of Media Services told the Chief Constable of his concerns about what Mr Lowry had said at the meeting with the BBC on Tuesday. He says it was clear that this was the first the Chief Constable knew of the matter.

6.1OPM: The Chief Constable phoned ACC Crime and told him that Mr Lowry would have to be transferred from his post while an investigation was carried out. The ACC told Police Ombudsman Investigators that he told the Chief Constable he had already dealt with the matter. He did not, however, tell the Chief Constable that any disciplinary action had been taken.

Then the Chief Constable established that the Acting Deputy Chief Constable did not know about the concern raised regarding the BBC press briefing. The Director of Media Services then told the Acting Deputy Chief Constable what had happened. He said the matter should be investigated. He also told Police Ombudsman Investigators that he was “stunned and amazed that all this had been concealed from me by Senior Special Branch officers”.

The Chief Constable was totally unaware that disciplinary action had been taken against Mr Lowry and instructed the Acting Deputy Chief Constable to have the matter investigated.

6.30PM onwards – telephone calls were made arranging for an investigation into Mr Lowry’s conduct. Several officers were involved at this stage.

7:15PM: The Chief Constable paged a senior member of MI5 and requested that he call him back. This he did over a mobile telephone at 7.15 pm. He had a short conversation in which the Chief Constable told him that the Met. would be investigating leaks generally and Mr Lowry was to be moved to other duties. This was the first contact between the Chief Constable and Security Service in relation to Mr Lowry. It was important that the Chief Constable inform MI5 of Mr Lowry’s removal from his post given the frequent working contact between Mr Lowry and MI5.

Friday November 15 2002

Mr Lowry was transferred from his job in Special Branch and a disciplinary investigation was started. He was taken to his office in an ACC’s personal vehicle and given the opportunity to clear it of personal possessions.

15 – 17 November 2002

Mr Lowry said that over the weekend which followed he received further phone calls from “friends” claiming that at 7.30 pm on Thursday November 14, the Chief Constable had received a phone call from “people in London” which had left him agitated. Mr Lowry said his friends claimed that the Chief Constable then phoned ACC (Crime) saying that Lowry “had to go” because “they”, by which he assumed the callers meant the Security Service, would not work with him. Mr Lowry did not identify those “friends.” Conversations took place between Mr Lowry and his solicitor and the PSNI in relation to the terms of his retirement

Monday November 18 2002

Mr Lowry says that the manner in which the Chief Constable had dealt with the matter had left him feeling humiliated, degraded, embarrassed and betrayed. He said he believed “outside parties” had influenced the Chief Constable’s decision. He tendered his resignation and the PSNI agreed that he would retire with his full severance payment, his full pension and a Discharge Certificate of Exemplary Service. He could not be prevented from retiring as he had at that point an exemplary service record with the PSNI.

  • Agent 007

    To start the ball rolling….

    On three separate occasions and quite independently, it has been suggested to me that Donaldson has been scapegoated for a mole even higher up in the SF ranks. Normally this kind of carry on is to be expected but, knowing these people as I do and having read the story; I believe there may be some truth in it. A question being asked at all ranks of SF is, who is they highest ranking British Agent in SF?

  • Betty Boo

    Mirror, mirror on the wall …

  • Mickhall

    Mirror, mirror on the wall …

    Posted by Betty Boo


    “Don’t look for the brightest star, look to target the keeper of the door.”

    The east German intelligence officer who ran Gunter Guillaume,
    Willie Brandt’s chief of staff.

  • seabhac siulach


    “Don’t look for the brightest star, look to target the keeper of the door.”

    Okay enough oblique hinting…care to share with the rest of us who you think the “the keeper of the door” is?

  • Mickhall

    Oh no hawk, im not going there, is that not what certain people want us all to do.

    happy christmas

  • John Lecarre

    Adams: British must rein in ‘dissidents’

    Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will tomorrow meet the British Secretary of State Peter Hain.

    Mr. Adams asked for the urgent meeting following the revelations of Denis Donaldson’s role as a British agent.

    Adams said he will raise with Mr. Hain the “damaging role of those within the various British policing and intelligence agencies who are actively working to subvert and undermine the peace process.”

    Yesterday Adams held a lengthy conversation by telephone with Hain.

    Speaking today Mr. Adams said:

    “Sinn Fein has not been alone in identifying elements within the British system who have been involved for many years in a planned, systematic campaign to undermine the peace process.

    “Senator George Mitchell, Chris Patten and even Hugh Orde have all spoken of those within the British system working against the peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

    “Despite the intrigues of these dissident elements significant progress has been made.

    “However more would have been achieved, and more quickly but for their plotting.

    “Following the historically significant initiatives by the IRA in recent months a new opportunity has been opened up to make progress.

    “The New Year will see important efforts being made to restore the political institutions. All of this is at risk because of these dissident elements within the British system.

    “The onus to stop this lies with the British government. It has to take whatever steps are necessary to rein in the wreckers who are opposing British government policy. And there has to be an end to political policing.

    “If we are really in a process in which everyone is committed to purely peaceful and democratic means then that must also apply to the British

    “If the war is over for the British government then it has to end the war mentality and activities of elements of its own system.

    “Failure to do this condemns the process to a never ending cycle of crisis.”

  • Tiny

    Wasn’t it Bill Lowry who addressed the DUPes Conference a few years ago.

  • Pete Baker


    If you’re going to post a Sinn Féin press statement in its entirety, and I’d really rather you didn’t – that goes for any other party’s press statements btw – it would be appropriate to identify it as such.

  • pete, very good article,
    perhaps it’s time for MI5 to get out of Ireland completely, as they are doing more harm than good.
    Every political party spies in some way, its normal and has been going on since man first walked the earth.

  • Shore Road Resident

    No doubt all will be revealed in next Thursday’s Jim Gibney column. I’ve just read in the Sunday World and Donaldson and Gibney were both done for the east Belfast brewery bombing in the early 1970s.
    Should make for an interesting read, you would imagine…

  • Pete Baker

    “perhaps it’s time for MI5 to get out of Ireland completely, as they are doing more harm than good.”

    more harm than good, S-l?

    Only if you accept the more outlandish conspiracy theories, which grant MI5 et al almost supernatural powers.

    The more coherent version of events detailed above has MI5 advising against going down the route that led to the arrests and charges against the three individuals concerned.. a route that also led to the collapse of the Assembly.

    The problem is that, in doing so, they were, in effect, advising the police not to police.

  • Agent 007

    The problem is that, in doing so, they were, in effect, advising the police not to police.

    if this were true, you’d imagine there’d have to be a very good reason…

    mmm, I wonder what that could be? Now why would they do that – sacrifice one to protect another perhaps?

  • Betty Boo

    Mick Hall,

    I’m not sure if I’m getting you there but I was only hinting at the fairytale. The mirror gave a truthful answer. Not everything has to be necessarily sinister.

  • elfinto

    Surely the Slugger headline for this article should be ‘A More Securocrat Explanation!!’

  • Pete Baker

    “if this were true, you’d imagine there’d have to be a very good reason..”

    You’d be better off reading the post, Agent. If that advice had been followed, in this more coherent version, it would have protected Donaldson.

  • pete
    “The more coherent version of events detailed above has MI5 advising against going down the route that led to the arrests”
    Indeed, but when you get into a situation where the right hand doesn’t know what the left-hand is doing i.e
    “Donaldson apparently did not know that the spy ring was revealed to the RUC Special Branch by a lower-level agent whose information sparked a three-month surveillance operation known by the codename Operation Torsion”
    You have to ask yourself whose interests are being served here?
    How many arms of gov’t do we need:
    PSNI, RUC, MI5, MI6, LVF, UVF, Red Hands, Paras etc all armed vs the Irish.
    English fair play?

  • John Lecarre

    Pete Baker said: “If you’re going to post a Sinn Féin press statement in its entirety, and I’d really rather you didn’t.”

    Pete you are right it is better to wait until it is published in Monday’s newspapers. Strictly speaking it is not in its entirety. But lets not be pedantic eh?

    Pete Baker said: “it would be appropriate to identify it as such.”

    Would that really be necessary when the quotes are fully attributed to Gerry Adams?

    I guess it is better to wait until it appears ‘unidentified’ in Monday’s papers where it will then be linked to from here anyway.

    I thought many would be interested in the latest from Adams instead of having to wait.

    No pasting from press releases but it is acceptable to post lengthy quotations verbatim from Liam Clarke articles?

    One recalls how his paper The Sunday Times, was “laughed out of court” when appealing the libel decision against it.

    A libel case Sean McPhilemy won after Clarke wrongly claimed McPhilemy had created a ‘hoax’ when making a documentary exposing collusion in Northern Ireland. McPhilemy was awarded £145,000 for Clarke’s ‘faux pas’ I believe. I’m sure everyone remembers that one.

    So then, can’t over-quote/over-use material from press releases but can use anything/everything from Liam Clarke? Fine.

  • Pete Baker


    You seem to misunderstand, if you have a suggestion for a post then email it to Mick or myself or one of the other bloggers. But a comments thread really isn’t the place to copy-and-paste press releases.. every party would contribute their version and the threads would soon become jammed with badly written and illogical prose…

  • steve48

    getting back on track

    who else has been helping the oul enemy

    i know certain grassroots republicans are looking at some very senior people and tracking how they got their positions.

    my money is on a shinner mp but not sure which one of three

  • John Lecarre


    OK Pete. That’s big 10-4. I understand what you are saying with regards to posts. I’m somewhat of a newbie here.

    However I thought there was an inference that my post was some kind of a propaganda exercise for the Shinners.

    Which of course it wasn’t – I merely thought it would be of interest.

    So any idea on who the keeper of the door is? Northern Ireland’s very own Deepthroat eh? I bet the movie script is being written as we speak.

    Happy Christmas everyone!

    —– ——

  • elfinto


    SF has 5 MPs.

  • John Lecarre

    Naming people is not only stupid but dangerous. This person who has chosen the name “?” should have his or her post removed immediately.

    Aren’t these comments moderated before going live? Before tarnishing people’s name and reputation and putting their lives at risk?

    The poster obviously doesn’t have the slightest clue what he or she is talking about.

    You can almost smell the whiff of writs filling cyberspace when this ‘game’ is played.

  • Comrade Stalin

    All posters to this forum should be aware that they are not truly “anonymous” (the IP address which identifies your internet connection is logged), and that the website proprietors would be legally obliged to pass on all information collected about any poster at the centre of any possible legal proceedings.

  • steve48

    but its fine when suggesting names of loyalist suspected of being police agents !!!!!

  • kate

    It’s a bloke. The Sunday life were at HIS door last nite.. Jail in the early 70s and went on to hold a number of senior positions in the party, but has recently taken a back seat….

  • steve48

    hm mm that would rule out the mp’s if that was the case

  • John Lecarre

    The Sunday Life called at the home of a senior Sinn Fein activist on a SATURDAY night and he wasn’t home.

    WOW!! Well that’s all the proof we need then isn’t it?

    Also I think it is worth heeding Comrade Stalin’s post.

    It is possible that everyone is being fed a line (including the Sunday Life being fed a fat one from ‘security sources’). Still why let that get in the way of a story eh?

    It wouldn’t be the first time that the security services have sown the seeds of doubt to create paranoia.

    My advice: wait and see and let’s not get carried away with speculation.

  • Alan

    JL & CS

    You both appear eager to point to the legal implications here. You should note that no claim was made against Ms Ruane but your response to the posting by “?” may cause some readers to think there maybe some true to what you believe is implied. With regards to your IP reference this is true but I’m guessing such posts will be via communal based computers in business, shops, colleges etc I doubt the Dibbles would spend much time trying to trace computers for there IP address. Like I said, your reaction is interesting…

  • kate

    He lives in belfast according to the paper If you go to Members of the Legislative assembly site and check out the politicians rep SF and check you did the prison term in the 70s then BINGO!!!

  • Realist

    “It wouldn’t be the first time that the security services have sown the seeds of doubt to create paranoia.”

    They’ve done a pretty good job of it so far.

    The Provo Christmas parties will be great crack this year.

    A game or two of “I spy with my little eye, someone beginning with ???” perhaps?

  • John Lecarre

    Alan it is more than clear what is being implied by the posts. Perhaps you and others should perhaps familiarize yourself with innuendo when it comes to libel law.

    You yourself have even admitted that there were certain things being implied by those posts.

    Furthermore you are now implying that the reactions/responses from Comrade Stalin and myself lend credibility to the claims.

    This is stretching things a bit too far. If that is what you take from our responses then that is due to your own bias and/or delusion.

    I don’t care if the person being named is George Bush or the Pope – it is clearly foolish and leaves both poster, ISP and website open to possible legal action. This is an excellent website and would not want it to be punished for the stupidity of others.

    For future reference here are some notes on internet libel:

    The same rules apply for the internet. If the words published on-line are defamatory, the author and publisher can be sued.

    ISPs do not fall into the traditional categories of author or publisher. They can defend a claim for libel if: – It was not the author, editor or publisher; – If reasonable care was taken; – The ISP had no reason to believe that it caused the publication of the defamatory statement.

    A website may fall foul of the law if it knows about the defamatory statements but does not react fast enough to remove them.

    Also note that that the World Wide Web = Actions World Wide. This means your defamatory statement can appear on any internet terminal around the world. Therefore litigation can be brought in each country.

    I hope this helps.


  • elfinto


    I was under the impression that doing a stretch in prison during the 1970s was a pre-requistite for a SF politician. Many SF politicians from Belfast did time in the 1970s (Adams, Kelly, Maskey spring to mind immediately) so your tout-detecting logic is not as clearcut as you would like to think it is. Besides why would you take a Sunday Life report based on Special Branch sources at face-value. There is a lot of misinformation flowing around at present.

  • Pete Baker

    To all

    Speculation of the kind being suggestion is not only potentially libellous but also pointless.

    I’d appreciate it if everyone desisted from such speculation, and I think Mick, as the site owner, would echo that.

  • Pete and others are right. Please check the commenting policy at the top of the site, if you need clarification:


  • heck

    Why is everyone assuming the SF in the only party infiltrated by British spies?

    In their desire to influence events in Northern Ireland shouldn’t one expect the intelligence services to have spies peppered among a number of parties? (Speculate off line!!!) Wouldn’t it be in their interest to have “agents of influence” in the media to spin stories the way they want at election time to influence the results? If a spy was unearthed in the senior ranks of the Alliance party, the Unionist party or the SDLP I would not be surprised.

    I have said before on this site that I believe the McCartney tragedy was spun in the media, in a coordinated manner, to depress the SF vote. The idea that Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a dead US soldier, killed in Iraq, cannot see the president in spite of the support of her senators and tens of congressmen, yet two ladies from the Short Strand, whose brother was killed in a Belfast bar fight, can call the white house and just drop in, does not pass the laugh test.

    At the last election it seemed that there was an attempt to use the Northern Bank robbery in an organized propaganda campaign against SF. When this had no traction the media, almost on cue, switched to the McCartney murder, which did resonate with the nationalist electorate.

    Up until now I tended to the belief that republicans did carry out the NIB job and was waiting for proof that it was not a freelance operation. Now I am tending to the Shinner view that it was possibly a “securocrat” job to help the SDLP at election time.

  • Alan

    John Lecarre

    …you and others should perhaps familiarize yourself with innuendo when it comes to libel law.

    Such laws are difficult if not altogether impossible to enforce and your over zealous response, citing all the litigious, is worrying in itself. I note you pre-empt my observation that many will think you response reflects a willingness to deflect references away from Ms Ruane.

    …you are now implying that the reactions/responses from Comrade Stalin and myself lend credibility to the claims. Correct. (or rather what you perceive to be implied)

    …litigation can be brought in each country.
    Technically yes. Most likely not.

    N.I. is not the U.S.A.

    It would be a sad day on Slugger if anyone was scared off from posting opinion and reported speech for fear of litigation. Your attempts to warn people is misguided. After all, if charges can’t be made to stand against the Stormont 3 what are the chances of proving any one person, used any one computer on any one given day and, furthermore, an intention to libel! Wise up!

    Meanwhile, back on the blog….

    Who is the high ranking SF member being protected by MI5?

    Paddy Power to the rescue!

  • elfinto

    Where did this allegation about a high-ranking agent originate? It seems to be coming from the spooks to their favoured journalists in an attmept to push the Donaldson was double-agent line. If such an agent really exists are the security services preparing to out him? Or is it all just a load of bollocks designed to create paranoia amongst republicans?