Northern Ireland news

Dennis McFadden: The MI5 agent at the heart of the New IRA

As a double agent in the deadly world of violent dissident republicanism for almost a decade, Dennis McFadden was at the centre of the formation of the New IRA and is now in protective custody following a sting designed to take out that organisation's leadership. Security Correspondent Allison Morris investigates the man behind the infiltration of the most active of the armed dissident groups

Alleged MI5 agent Dennis McFadden.

Long standing MI5 agent Dennis McFadden plotted with veteran IRA man Tony TC Catney to overthrow the leadership of established dissident groups, in a plan designed to take control of all members and weaponry in the north.

In March 2010 a number of newspapers carried articles claiming that veteran IRA man Catney was a special branch informant.

It was claimed at the time that the information came in the form of an anonymous letter from a former Special Branch member, who said Catney was on their payroll.

However, that was not the case. The information against Catney had been leaked by his former comrades in the Provisional IRA, and came from confidential documents stolen eight years earlier from Castlereagh police station.

Catney, along with a group of then independent republicans from Armagh and Tyrone, was actively involved in trying to start a 'supergroup' to rival Sinn Féin politically and the Provisional IRA militarily.

This collection of former IRA men was considered a serious threat to peace, however, the plan was always compromised as his constant companion throughout this time was MI5 agent Dennis McFadden.

Around the same time as it was claimed Catney was an informer two other men were also named in the press as Special Branch agents. More recently one of those men provided a people carrier used to transport Palestinian doctor Issam Bassalat, in July of this year, to a meeting bugged by MI5.

Despite this, the man, whose identity as a police informant was also said to have been revealed in the files stolen from Castlereagh, has yet to be arrested.

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Dr Bassalat (62) is currently remanded in Maghaberry charged with one count of preparation of terrorist acts. He claims to have been entrapped by McFadden.

Speaking to the Irish News in 2010, Catney, who died from cancer in 2014, called the allegations against him "spurious".

"To those erstwhile republicans who peddle such gossip, I suggest they question where this so-called 'evidence' originated and take a long hard look at what they have become", he said.

Catney was a member of republican pressure group Republican Network for Unity at the time, but shortly after the informer allegations surfaced his involvement with RNU took a strange twist.

The Irish News can reveal that steps were taken to try and infiltrate already established groups in a bid to take them over and incorporate them under the umbrella of what is now known as the New IRA.

As part of this plan a Lurgan republican joined the growing left wing party eirigi, however, his arrest in connection with a murderous republican attack, ended that involvement

The Lurgan republican was later acquitted of the charges.

Catney was in a senior position in RNU, widely believed to be the political wing of Oglaigh na hEireann, an organisation that had acquired large amounts of weaponry and bomb making equipment from former South Armagh Provisionals.

Members of RNU were first introduced to McFadden when they arrived at a meeting in west Belfast to find the Glasgow native already seated, a guest of Catney.

When questions were raised about his presence, he stood up and introduced himself as a "good republican," however, established members of the organisation were not convinced and walked out of the meeting.

In the months after this confrontation, rumours were spread about the leadership of ONH and an attempt was made to replace them with people loyal to Catney.

When that backfired, Catney announced to ONH he now took his "orders from the IRA" taking his sidekick McFadden with him.

In July 2012 a merger group calling itself the IRA was announced. It was not the supergroup that had been planned but it did involve a collection of republicans from Belfast, Derry, Tyrone and Armagh.

Catney was the New IRA’s 'Chief of Staff', the organisation’s commander, responsible for directing military operations in conjunction with General Headquarters (GHQ) staff.

McFadden by this stage was already established as a 'trusted republican' and was at times living with Catney in his west Belfast home, an agent at the highest level in the new republican terror group.

When Catney died he was given a full paramilitary funeral. Masked members of the New IRA carried his coffin and fired a volley of shots in Milltown cemetery.

McFadden attended the funeral and as one of Catney's closest friends was treated like a dignitary at one of the biggest republican funerals seen in the north in many years.

He had also involved himself in a campaign launched on behalf of two Lurgan men jailed for the murder of police officer Stephen Carroll, shot dead in March 2009.

He had attended court on the day John Paul Wootton and Brendan McConville were found guilty of the murder, accompanied by Catney who at this stage was in a wheelchair battling cancer.

McFadden would show up at protests, fundraisers and white line pickets.

He claimed to be a safety inspector, a job that paid him well enough to account for his lifestyle and took him away from home frequently.

No one ever questioned this explanation for his lengthy absences.

A former altar boy, his family came from the Gorbals area of Glasgow, on the south bank of the River Clyde.

His father had hosted Celtic events in the old St Francis Church Hall and was well respected in the area. McFadden was also a regular face in the republican band community in Scotland.

His ability to provide cars, houses and finance, which he claimed came from republican sympathisers in Scotland, helped him gain the trust of New IRA members in Belfast, Lurgan and Tyrone.

However, the Derry leadership of the organisation had expressed concerns, and he was also careful to avoid a number of veteran republicans who he felt might ask too many questions about his back story.

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