Northern Ireland news

Book suggests there were republican concerns about informer Denis Donaldson in late 1980s

Denis Donaldson
Connla Young

A new book about the history of the provisional republican movement suggests there were warning signs that Denis Donaldson was an informer.

Out of the Ashes: an Oral History of the Irish Republican Movement is based on dozens of interviews with high-profile figures carried out over three decades from the mid-1980s.

Compiled by American academic Robert White, and described as the “definitive history of the Provisional Irish republican movement”, it includes recollections from Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Seán MacStiofáin, Gerry Adams and former first minister Martin McGuinness.

Some were interviewed several times over the past 30 years and the book maps the shifting political landscape from the founding of the movement in 1969 to the emergence of Sinn Féin's peace strategy.

It includes the case of Denis Donaldson, who was close to the republican leadership but admitted to having worked for the British in 2005.

He was shot dead in Co Donegal several months later in an attack claimed by the Real IRA.

Former Sinn Féin director of publicity Brian McDonald, who was sent to America by the party to work with republican fundraising group Irish Northern Aid (Noraid) in the late 1980s, spoke of his encounters with Donaldson who replaced him in the US.

“I had to brief him for three weeks,” he said.

“He was never off the phone, never off the phone.

“He was the all-American boy after one day – reverse baseball cap, the sneakers with the tongue out and... And his attitude was absolutely atrocious, I thought, from the word go.”

Mr McDonald claimed it was clear that Donaldson was attempting to orchestrate the removal of a hardline Noraid leader Martin Galvin, who later parted company with Sinn Féin.

“I really do think he sowed the seeds of a movement against Galvin within Northern Aid... it would have been in the interest of the British military intelligence and the British government to see Galvin destroyed because Galvin was their thorn in the side.”

Martin Galvin also reveals he had concerns about Donaldson.

“He was someone who had been in jail in Ireland who normally wouldn’t have been allowed out and he just would go into the Northern Aid office, give his own name, brag about being in the IRA, do that over the phone,” he said.

“There were a number of things like that that struck me as very strange… I made a number of complaints about him and was very happy when he went back to Ireland.”

The book also publishes remarks by former Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin almost 30 years when he said he “wouldn’t say never” to republicans taking their seats at Westminster.

A decision by the Provisional movement to take seats in the Dáil in 1986 caused a split which resulted in the establishment of Republican Sinn Féin.

Speaking in 1990, Mr McLaughlin said his "frame of mind is now that I wouldn’t say never, even in respect to Westminster".

“There is a principle there – I have examined it – and my position now, having examined it, is that abstentionism [from Westminster] is the correct approach.

“But I’d be making my own kind of decision on that, there’d be nobody really handing it down to me.

“I’ll review that and if somebody could [make] arguments to us for attending to Westminster, or attending the Assembly, I think I would have a much more open mind about examining those issues.”

'Out of theAshes' author Robert White

Out of the Ashes by Robert White

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