A QUICK round-up and few thoughts on the various reports, theories, conspiracies and sheer speculation published at the weekend on the Donaldson murder. To start off, the Garda’s main line of inquiry is reported to be former associates of an IRA man and ex-SF councillor, Jim Lynagh, who was killed in an SAS ambush with eight others on the way to bomb Loughgall police station in 1987. It was regarded as a severe body blow to the IRA at the time. On the other hand, other sources are saying Donaldson never provided military information, that it was restricted to political information. It’s also possible it shifted from the former to the latter through time.
Gardai seem to be working on the Lynagh theory after receiving intelligence that, the day before Donaldson’s murder, a number of former IRA activists were seen crossing the border at Belleek. Initially, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the Irish Government had no intelligence on the murder.
Another theory is that was revenge for the death of IRA commander Colum Marks in Downpatrick. Donaldson was associated with Sinn Fein in South Down for a time, and there’s a lot of bitterness about him there.
As previously noted, Ed Moloney, suggests the British and Irish authorities’ recent drive against IRA smuggling and criminality on the border could offer another motive by hardliners. He wonders that if the murder was a signal to Gerry Adams, what the SF president’s reaction will be – to appease his militant hardliners, or seek refuge in Stormont and cut the umbilical cord?
Eamonn McCann takes the latter suggestion and argues: “It is when they [Sinn Fein] endorse the PSNI, accepting the legitimacy and becoming part of the arm of the machinery of the partitioned state, that republican rhetoric will collide with reality and crumble.” Over at the Guardian they’re also raising questions about the grip of the Adams-McGuinness leadership on the republican movement.
Like Moloney, I doubt if it was dissidents; they have every reason to claim the murder. Eoghan Harris thought the dissidents had no reason to kill him, as he would serve as “a constant reminder that Adams had admitted a traitor to his inner circle”. Few commentators seemed to think it was an officially-sanctioned IRA killing.
Sinn Fein have been more vague than usual about their finger-pointing. The problem with SF blaming a disgruntled republican of any flavour is that they would be acknowledging a serious message had been sent to them. If a ‘traditional’ republican were to be responsible for Denis’ death, it would be taking a political slap in the face.
As David McKitterick wrote: “[K]illing Donaldson would have made a mockery of what republicans saw as solemn and historic pronouncements that the IRA had abandoned violence. The old procedure would have been to dispatch Donaldson with a bullet in the back of the head; instead, under the new dispensation, he was allowed to go free. The general assumption was that he was in disgrace, but not in danger of death.”
McKitterick also wonders why, if Donaldson’s alleged womanising was so well known, Sinn Fein didn’t regard him as vulnerable. Course, the question could be turned around: How, if, his alleged affairs were known about within Sinn Fein or more widely, could that have been used to recruit him as a spy? There were a few reports in the papers about his wife having visited Denis in the Glenties, suggesting an intensely loyal partner – particularly as the reports about his past affairs were widely published by then.
Another possible reason that popped up was about theft from Marks and Spencer when he worked there in security, but that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason. Former IRA hunger striker Marian Price doesn’t think he did it for the money in the Tribune, but because he wanted to. There were reports of a theory he had to hand over savings as part of a deal with the IRA, but there’s nothing to really back that up. Donaldson appeared to live a fairly modest lifestyle.
Jim Cusack mentions that any book in the future would have been damaging, citing four other books by informers as evidence – one author brutally murdered. Some of Cusack’s speculation appears a bit wild, in order to get a dig at Sinn Fein, but he provides one of two reports that the IRA held an emergency meeting after Donaldson’s death.
A final theory in passing I read somewhere was that he was a ‘walk-in’ agent, who did it to get a relative off criminal charges, and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Donaldson has acted to protect his family before.
Neil McKay has a pretty comprehensive round-up of theories here, and doesn’t entirely discount a British connection, as Donaldson may have been regarded as ‘expendable’ after allegedly lying or keeping information back from his handlers. He had embarrassed his handlers already by publicly denying there was a Stormont spy ring, so perhaps it was assumed future revelations would be similarly sympathetic to Sinn Fein’s position. “Had Denis outlived his usefulness?”, wonders Vincent Kearney. Secretary of State Peter Hain has already denied any British involvement in the Daily Mail, which unfortunately only adds to the suspicion that they were, such is his credibility – although the IRA has issued its fair share of implausible denials over informers’ deaths in the past too.
In Daily Ireland, Jude Collins noted: “The IRA could have done it but the odds and logic are against it. Then who did? Well, Martin McGuinness didn’t spell it out on Tuesday night but it was obvious who he had in mind when he spoke of “those opposed to the peace process”. In Mr McGuinness’s vocabulary, that usually refers to the British securocrats and the dirty-tricks department.”
Mud is already being thrown.
Collins argues that the intention may have been to destabilise Sinn Fein, which was pointless, as the prospect of SF entering a shadow Assembly wasn’t on the cards.
However, Gerry Adams said on Saturday: “On Saturday the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle met, following detailed consultation with our Assembly team, and after careful consideration, we decided to attend the reconvened Assembly on May 15th.”
I’m not sure I understand SF’s rush back to Stormont while simultaneously blaming British ‘securocrats’ for drawing the blame onto the IRA. So it’s a remarkable commitment for Sinn Fein to agree to re-enter an impotent Assembly in the hope the DUP will play ball by the November deadline without any apparent guarantee of success.
And perhaps the only columnist to praise Donaldson was Eoghan Harris, who argued that he “worked to an agenda that was common to both the Sinn Fein leadership and to the British and Irish Governments – the peace process”.
It’s still too early to be conclusive about who killed Donaldson and why. While many unionists will have perhaps instinctively blamed the IRA, I doubt many are entirely certain about where events are going, and so they’ll be cautious.
I’m sure you’ll all point out anything I’ve missed, and any interesting blog articles elsewhere can be highlighted in the comments boxes.