Jonathan Freedland adds to the insider dealing scenario when he argues that the strangest motif in the whole Donaldson affair is the way in which Sinn Fein seems content to blame faceless men, and let the Prime Minister off the hook:He asks why Blair has not been in Sinn Fein’s frame as Britain’s head man:
..no one is really asking the question. And that is the strangest aspect of this strange saga. Sinn F�in, who should be climbing the roof of Belfast’s Waterfront Hall screaming their vindication, are oddly muted. Alone among Northern Ireland’s parties, they are not calling for an inquiry into the Donaldson affair. McGuinness has spoken of learning lessons, rather than pointing a wild, admonishing finger at London. The rhetorical dial has been set on cool.
Why might that be? A first explanation is embarrassment: it is mighty awkward for the Sinn F�in leadership that a traitor could have got so close for so long. It plays to the most toxic of republican hardliners’ accusations against the Adams-McGuinness peace strategy – that it’s all a British plot to still the IRA’s guns.
There are other reasons for republicans to be wary of delving any deeper into this murk. I’m told that, internally, Sinn F�in folk are asking the Donnie Brasco question. In that Al Pacino movie, about an FBI infiltrator in the mafia, the mole’s sponsor is told: “You brought him in here, you’re responsible.” Whoever initially brought Donaldson into Sinn F�in will be feeling the heat. [quotation removed, pending possible legal action]. Things could get very nasty.
Alternatively, it’s possible that the Stormont spy ring was not a fiction or even British-inspired, but a genuine IRA scheme – as Northern Ireland’s chief constable insisted yesterday – and that Donaldson had to go along with it in order to preserve his cover. Confirmation of that would also be a disincentive for Sinn F�in to seek any further inquiry, for it would vindicate their enemies.
Or, more complicatedly, it’s conceivable that Donaldson was a double agent – that he had “turned” back to Sinn F�in after his initial betrayal. Standard IRA operating procedure in the past was for an informer to receive a bullet to the head on a lonely country road – and then for an amnesty to be offered to any others. Message: come back to us, or you’ll get the same treatment. Donaldson may have been one to take up the offer. If he was, that would explain the tenor of his Friday statement, when he spoke in the language of an avowed, ideological republican rather than someone who had crossed sides.
No one, save a few key players, really knows what happened (and most I spoke to do not include Blair as one of those privy to the truth). But this episode does reveal three things quite clearly. First, that for some people the war in Northern Ireland has not ended. There are still more British troops there than in Iraq; and there are still “securocrats” consumed with fighting the IRA, even if that organisation has officially stood down. Second, that though peace has held, more or less, for seven years, self-government for the province has been thwarted time after time. And, lastly, that a strange kind of common interest, if not collusion, has evolved between Downing Street and Sinn F�in.
Please note, as noted in a later edition of the Guardian that certain details were incorrectly included in the original piece quoted here.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty