THE Stormontgate arrest of Sinn Féin special adviser Denis Donaldson was orchestrated to protect the senior republican after his cover as a double agent was blown when the IRA stole classified documents from Castlereagh, it has been alleged.
Senior IRA sources have claimed that it was his own associates and not Special Branch who 'outed' Donaldson forcing him to make a shock public confession in 2005, four months later he was shot dead at a rural cottage in Donegal.
During the IRA break in at Special Branch offices at Castlereagh on St Patrick's Day 2002, hundreds of classified documents detailing agent codenames along with information including their Special Branch handler's contact details fell into the hands of republicans.
Millions of pounds were spent rehousing police officers and others whose security was compromised by the stolen information.
Several high profile republicans were questioned including Bobby Storey and Declan Kearney, but no-one was charged over the major security breach.
The Police Ombudsman is already investigating claims by a former Special Branch officer that the break in was permitted to take place to protect a high level IRA informant.
Most of the stolen documents were encrypted, however, the Irish News understands a small and trusted circle of IRA members were recruited to embark on the painstaking process of decoding the information by linking, dates, times, areas and information with possible agents to reveal their identity.
The break in was a source of serious embarrassment for the PSNI and just seven months later in October 2002, in what was a very public policing operation, Sinn Féin adviser Denis Donaldson was arrested along with his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney in what became known as the 'Stormontgate' spy ring case.
Allegations that the men had been gathering information for the IRA brought down the devolved assembly less than two weeks later.
On December 8, 2005 the case against Donaldson and Kearney unexpectedly colapsed, eight days later on December 16, Donaldson made a dramatic public confession that he had been a British agent.
It was claimed he had been advised by Special Branch that a journalist had details about his double life and was about to out him in the media. However, no journalist has ever come forward to say they were preparing to write any such story.
It is now believed that the IRA had known about Donaldson's double life since his arrest in 2002 when they deciphered the stolen Castlereagh documents and that his arrest may have been orchestrated by the PSNI to protect their agent.
Information Donaldson had passed on during his time as an informer was politically rather than 'militarily' sensitive. His codename P O'Neill appears repeatedly throughout the stolen Castlereagh documents.
He was said to have been the British government's mole within the party during the Good Friday peace negotiations.
As a close friend and confidant of Gerry Adams, his outing as a double agent made him the most high profile member of Sinn Féin to have been discovered working as an informant.
In April 2006 Denis Donaldson was shot dead and three years later the Real IRA claimed to have carried out the murder although this has been dismissed by republican sources as an opportunist publicity stunt by the dissident organisation.
In February 2008, Roy McShane, a former IRA commander turned chauffeur for Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams fled the Divis Tower flat he was sharing with his his girlfriend after also being outed as an informer.
Again it was said he'd been tipped off by an anonymous caller that he was about to be outed in the media. However, the Irish News has learned that it was members of his own organisation that threatened to out him after he was discovered to be an informer and was named throughout the stolen Castlereagh documents under the codename 'Chiefy'.
While dozens of other informants, some low level, others higher up, were unmasked when the classified Castlereagh papers were decoded by the IRA, only those close to the Sinn Féin leadership have so far been 'outed' others were quietly told to leave the country for their own safety or left to get on with their lives as 'retired' IRA members.
Until now information that has been in the hands of republicans for many years, that the IRA commander in charge of the organisation during the Shankill bomb was in fact a high level informant, has remained cloaked in secrecy.