Northern Ireland

Concerns about suspected British agent Dennis McFadden raised with Sinn Féin 20 years ago

Former Sinn Féin councillor Monica Digney raised concerns about suspected British agent Dennis McFadden when he was a member of the party
Former Sinn Féin councillor Monica Digney raised concerns about suspected British agent Dennis McFadden when he was a member of the party

A FORMER Sinn Féin councillor has claimed that concerns were raised about suspected MI5 agent Dennis McFadden when he held a senior party role in Co Antrim.

Veteran republican and former Moyle and Ballymena councillor, Monica Digney last night said suspicions voiced by her and other party members two decades ago were dismissed.

She resigned along with 17 other party activists in 2016.

McFadden, a native of Glasgow, was exposed as a suspected agent last year after an MI5-led sting targeted the New IRA.

Ten people were arrested in a major surveillance operation codenamed Operation Arbacia.

It is believed that McFadden was responsible for renting two properties in Co Tyrone used for separate meetings allegedly involving senior members of the 'IRA'.

Conversations which took place at both meetings, alleged to involve members of the 'IRA Executive', were recorded using video and audio devices.

Ten people have been charged with a series of offences arising out of the major surveillance operation, including nine with directing terrorism.

A member of the Saoradh national executive, McFadden held the post of resource officer.

It is understood he was also involved in financial affairs.

Originally from the Gorbals area of Glasgow, he has not been seen in Belfast since fleeing along with his wife and child days before details of the sting came to light.

As well as being on the fringes of several republican groups and involved with Saoradh, it is also known that McFadden was also a former member of Sinn Féin and chair of its North Antrim Comhairle Ceantair - an important party role.

Ms Digney said suspicions about McFadden were raised almost immediately with officials at Sinn Féin's offices on Falls Road after he was parachuted into north Antrim.

"He appeared out of nowhere and claimed to be an airline pilot," she said.

"We went to Sevastopol Street several times but each time we were ignored.

"Then he just vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

"His story just didn't add up, he claimed to be a pilot, but people who worked for the same airline he claimed to work for had never heard of him."

Ms Digney said concerns were raised with several mid and senior level managers within Sinn Féin.

"Several suspicious things happened that made us really, really concerned," she said.

"Every time we went to talk about it we were told 'he's alright'.

"Nobody knew anything about him.

"Someone within the hierarchy of Sinn Féin OK'd him, OK'd him to sit in meetings at Sevastopol Street, OK'd him being there when huge decisions were taken - someone OK'd that.

"We were made to feel as if we were almost picking on him, looking for a reason.

"A blind man on a galloping horse could see what was happening."

Ms Digney said McFadden was involved in north Antrim during a breakthrough period for the party in the area.

However, despite his senior role he regularly failed to attend party organised protests.

"Often he would fail to turn up or turn up late and would always have an excuse," she said.

"Often we would keep details of protests fairly tight but when we would arrive the area would be saturated with police and loyalists.

"I believed he was working for the British during that time."

Ms Digney claims that some of McFadden's actions could have put the safety of Sinn Féin members at risk.

"When you go to a thing and the cops and loyalists arrive, that's scary, you think 'no, this is a set up'."

Ms Digney is convinced that McFadden was placed into north Antrim "to do and see what he could and then get him out - it was that blatant".

The former councillor also said that as Comhairle Ceantair chair, McFadden would have attended meetings with former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

"He sat with Gerry Adams at meetings," she said.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of Mr Adams.

The long standing republican said that some meetings attended by McFadden would have dealt with issues central to the evolving peace process.

"That was a critical time in the way things were going in terms of decommissioning and all," she said.

"These would have been a lot of heavy meetings and God knows what would have been discussed."

Ms Digney believes no background checks were carried out on McFadden.

"He was brought in, was never a cumman member, and he just appeared and we were told 'this is the new chair' of the Comhairle Ceantair and he came in and took over."

"I remember asking when he disappeared, 'where did McFadden go?' and was told 'ah, we don't know, he just went."

Ms Digney said that during the same period of time another suspected agent and well-known Co Antrim Sinn Féin member Paddy Murray was also active in the party.

Murray, a former Provisional IRA prisoner, later transferred allegiance to the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and fled the north in 2008 after it was claimed he was working as an informer.

He denied the claims.

Ms Digney believes the suspected agents would have crossed paths.

"Paddy was also wishy-washy, I was not surprised about Paddy Murray," she said.

In the years before Saoradh was formed in 2016 McFadden was linked to several hardline republican groups opposed to Sinn Féin's political direction.

A close friend of veteran republican and former Sinn Féin member Tony 'TC' Catney, McFadden moved between a number of anti-agreement organisations over a period of several years.

Mr Catney, who died in 2014, later emerged as a prominent figure in Republican Network for Unity and although McFadden has also been linked to the party, informed sources say he was never a signed up member.

Around the same period he was also involved with a group set up to support republican inmates at Maghaberry Prison.

He later sat on the 'Justice for the Craigavon Two' committee, which was set up to run a campaign on behalf of two men convicted of the murder of PSNI officer Stephen Carroll in 2009.

For a time he was also member of the 1916 Societies, which is opposed to Sinn Féin's strategy.

Sources say McFadden sat on the group's officer board and was involved with its 'education department'.

Although linked to Saoradh since its establishment, McFadden was viewed with suspicion by some within the party before his role as a suspected agent was eventually revealed last year.

Sinn Féin said: "Dennis McFadden was a member of North and East Antrim Sinn Féin for a short time almost two decades ago.

"Like all Sinn Féin members he attended local party meetings which routinely discussed political developments."