The Replacement Republicans who Ruaned it…

CAITRIONA Ruane, Sinn Fein’s ‘human rights’ spokesperson, has been giving off about South Down MP Eddie McGrady not attending Parliament often enough. Maybe Caitriona wants into the House of Commons more badly than her recent poor performance in the last general election would indicate, dirty tricks campaign or not. Or could it be that Caitriona’s bid for the South Down seat was actually designed to fail? The Down Democrat reports that Sinn Fein activists are re-evaluating Ruane the Replacement Republican, parachuted into the constituency by none other than our old friend, Sinn Fein enforcer and British spy, Denis Donaldson. Of course, his vector of influence was much, much wider…The Democrat reported:

Disillusioned party activists have told the Down Democrat that they believe the former Sinn Fein Director of Elections, who before Christmas was unmasked as being a British agent for 30 years, has planted his own network of spies throughout South Down. They have also voiced strong criticism of the role played by Caitriona Ruane in the constituency, describing her as “a divisive figure who was always too quick to follow the Donaldson line.”

Party activists lamented that South Down Sinn is now riddled with informants thanks to Donaldson sidelining those who criticised the party line.

“We have no faith in promises that we will be listened to. The people at the top, the people close to the leadership, are the same individuals that have forced hard working members of Sinn Fein out of the party.

“They parachuted in Caitriona Ruane to fight the South Down seat in the General Election. This was done over the wishes of the rank and file membership who wanted to support a locally based candidate.

“We complained when Donaldson demanded that his own people were given priority in the last Local Government elections. “Francie Branniff had no say in being moved out of Down District to fight for a seat on Banbridge Council.

“Frank McDowell was another one that Donaldson wanted to get rid of. But Frank refused to budge, despite all sorts of dirty tricks. “Party headquarters tried to say he had a rough and ready image and that he didn’t fit the new profile they wanted in their Councillors.”

Typical of those ‘sidelined’ in South Down was Martin Cunningham, who told the Sunday Tribune:

Former councillor and Newry Institute lecturer, Martin Cunningham, joined Sinn Féin 30 years ago. He’d helped build the party in loyalist Kilkeel.

Selected at a local convention as the South Down Assembly candidate, he was later deselected by the leadership. “I’d taken risks for Sinn Féin but I was replaced by Catriona Ruane who had just joined the party and didn’t live in the North, let alone the constituency. Donaldson came down to enforce the decision.

Cunningham claims that Donaldson said, ‘Take it from me, this is coming right from the top.’ “I’d clashed with him over Orange marches. Kilkeel nationalists were tortured by parades every weekend night in summer. Donaldson opposed me organising protests, ” said Cunningham.

Just sour grapes, or was Sinn Fein really being restructured by a British agent from the inside, working with the imprimatur of the party leadership? Virtually every report of someone who had contact with Donaldson said he called on authority from above, leading to those people asking the Donnie Brasco question. Jonathan Freeldan reported: “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.”

The Democrat reported:

It was Donaldson who acted as the prime mover in pushing for the re-alignment of the Sinn Fein party structures across County Down. He made his formal move during September once the official ending of military activities was endorsed by the IRA Army Council. From Kilkeel through to Newry the party controls are now operated by the South Armagh leadership.

The same South Armagh influence controls the Mid-Down area including Newcastle, Castlewellan and Kilcoo areas.

The man in charge of the development of Sinn Fein from its South Armagh base is a close relation of Conor Murphy, the Newry and Mourne MP. East Down however, including the greater Downpatrick district, covering Killough and Ardglass, is now directly under the control of the Belfast area. The East Down area was viewed by Donaldson as a prime source of information that could be passed through the intelligence monitoring sieve.

According to information provided to the Down Democrat a senior ranking member of Sinn Fein in the East Down area has been working as a so-called mole for the past five years on behalf of Donaldson.

Of course, others were sidelined and complained to the SF leadership, whose authority Donaldson claimed to act under. When US republican hardliner Martin Galvin of Noraid complained to the leadership, he got short shrift. He told the Sunday Tribune recently:

Galvin said Donaldson had been sent with the “full endorsement” of a senior Sinn Féin leader whom he refused to name. “Given the importance of Irish-America to the British at that time, it was a great posting for Donaldson. He had access to all our strategy documents, to our political contacts, and to details on all the money we raised.

“I began to notice how he tried to push out people who had hardcore politics and would be more likely to ask questions about strategy and even challenge Sinn Féin policy changes.

“He would say these people were no good, and he would push forward those who were far more malleable politically. He tried to undermine a very senior Belfast republican living in New York and also the sister of a dead INLA hunger-striker.”

The Irish Times reported:

News that Donaldson was an informant has stunned New York republicans, who had seen him almost single-handedly restructure the US movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the request of Gerry Adams and the Sinn Féin leadership.

Gabriel Megahey, the US commander of the IRA in the 1980s and a hardliner, claimed to have seen Donaldson drinking with FBI agents in a Bronx bar. Megahey had been caught in an FBI sting operation while trying to buy surface-to-air missiles in Florida, and his suspicions had already been aroused by other events.

Former agent handler ‘Martin Ingram’ explained that the FBI largely handled informers in the US republican movement.

“Denis Donaldson went to America and gutted America,” said Ingram. “He put in his own people. He would have put in ‘helpful’ people, who would have been working with the FBI.”

Donaldson soon tried to plant division in Noraid, Megahey said. “He was always saying things like: “Oh, Ireland doesn’t like this person, Ireland doesn’t like that person. These were very hard-working people in Noraid being sidelined. Everyone was saying that he had directions from Ireland. But I was from Belfast myself; I wasn’t going to let him push me around”.

Another ‘dissident’ republican who was the alleged victim of Sinn Fein harrassment also complained to Denis Donaldson about death threats he had received, which he believed were from ‘mainstream’ republicans. Paddy Murray is not much of an angel, but what he was told by Donaldson in summer 2004 maybe makes more sense now.

In October 2004, The Blanket reported:

Paddy Murray took his complaint up with Sinn Fein’s Denis Donaldson who said he would get to the bottom of the matter but also stated that he did not believe that the party members named by Murray to him were responsible. In Murray’s view:

Denis definitely did not know that attack was going to happen and seemed really surprised about it when I raised it with him. But he seemed more concerned that party members had been spotted doing what they did than he did that the attack had taken place. He was more annoyed that they got caught than he was that they were carrying out this type of intimidation.

Aside from Anthony McIntyre, a well-known human rights lawyer was also highlighting alleged intimidation of ‘dissidents’ by ‘mainstream’ republicans in Rathenraw estate in Antrim where Murray lives – although I’m certain she would have helped anyone who asked her.

The Sunday Times reported recently that the documents seized in Donaldson’s house included “the details of thousands of prison officers, dissident republicans, civil servants and even a well known lawyer with the words “must go” written beside her name”.

This is in fact the same lawyer. By seeking to hold Sinn Fein to account, I think she was proving to be a bit of a thorn in their side. By sheer coincidence, the Law Society tried to close her office last year. It is bizarre to think that the upper echelons of Sinn Fein wanted to oust the lawyer from office, while a handful of grassroots republicans, including SF supporters, were campaigning against it.

Now unless I’m blind, there are clear patterns emerging here, unless a fairly broad range of disgruntled republicans have managed to grab control of the entire British and Irish media while singing off the same hymn sheet. What is apparently emerging is the story of how an agent of the British State managed to help steer a united Republican Movement away from violence and towards peaceful and democratic means, and was backed in what he did by the Sinn Fein leadership. Right up until he came ‘out’.

To achieve his aim meant putting efforts into marginalising militant ‘dissidents’ and sidelining the more peaceful, yet vociferous critics within the broad republican family.

For non-republicans, that might be something to be grateful for – after all the IRA is no more and Sinn Fein appears divided. In its weakened position, it may not be long until it sits on the Policing Board.

However, nationalists might ask if the ends justified the means – the Assembly collapsed and the SDLP was hit hard electorally. The UUP was almost destroyed in the aftermath of Stormontgate, and they might also be questioning the motives of Special Branch’s ‘political policing’, which busted Donaldson so publically and cost moderate unionism so dearly.

The British might ask if what they wanted – and what I believe most people want; a stable devolved government – could not have been achieved in a way that didn’t lead to the destruction of the same government.

The legacy is that the composition of the next Assembly, possibly in 2007, is likely to still be polarised – unless you vote Sinn Fein, in which case everyone’s on the same side.