The IRA has denied any involvement “whatsoever” in his murder. A statement from P. O’Neill, the official name used by the IRA leadership spokesman, said that the IRA had not been involved in any way.
Denis Donaldson had been tracked down to the cottage by an Irish Sunday newspaper two weeks ago and had been secretly filmed during a short interview with a reporter during which he said he did not feel under threat.
He was, however, shot at the same cottage – reportedly by a single bullet wound to the head – on Tuesday afternoon
The murder throws a huge question mark over this week’s intended political developments. The British and Irish governments had hoped to push for the restoration of devolution and the recall of the Assembly – but all that will now take place under the shadow of Donaldson’s killing.
Donaldson, from the staunchly Republican Short Strand district of east Belfast, was sent to jail in the 1970’s for explosive offenses. There he became friends with the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who was interned in the same jail.
Donaldson was photographed in jail alongside Bobby Sands and on his release was a Sinn Fein election candidate becoming the head of the party’s international department, spending time in New York, and later a backroom operator.
Although not a member of the central Sinn Fein negotiating team, he was the party’s administrator at Stormont and was regarded as totally trustworthy.
Donaldson was one of three men arrested in October, 2002 following allegations of a republican spy-ring at Stormont. Both before and after his exposure as a British spy, he strongly denied any such spy ring existed and claimed instead it was a police Special Branch invention to save the then UUP leader, David Trimble.
Donaldson’s erstwhile home in west Belfast is now up for sale. It’s believed his wife, Alice, was making occasional visits to his hideout in Co. Donegal which was close to the village of Glenties. She remains well thought-of in her community where people believe she was as stunned by the revelations as his friends and colleagues.
Days after the IRA spying charges against him were dropped last December, Donaldson was exposed as an informer of 20 years standing, admitting his role to the amazement of all who knew him.
Two weeks ago, Donaldson was pictured in the Sunday World newspaper looking gaunt, with a wispy beard. He did not speak at length to the reporter, but claimed he had been sacrificed to save Trimble’s political career.
“The plan was to collapse the institutions to save Trimble – David Trimble was trying to out-DUP the DUP and in the end the DUP swallowed him up”, he told the newspaper. A secretly taped video recording of the encounter was later broadcast on Ulster Television.
“The whole idea was to get Trimble off the hook and get republicans the blame. But it didn’t work because Trimble is history now. There was never a spy ring at Stormont,” Donaldson told the reporter.
Donaldson also said he had no idea how allegedly incriminating documents came to be found in a rucksack in his west Belfast home and that he was not in contact with any of his former party colleagues.
He denied being in hiding and said he simply wanted to be left alone. Asked how he now felt about his former British paymasters he replied: “That’s a good question. I don’t know why they did it” (exposed him).
Asked how he felt about the public dismissal of him by his former friend, Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, Donaldson shrugged and said: “I don’t want to be in touch with anyone. As you can see, I’m in the middle of nowhere.”
He concluded the brief interview by saying: “All conflicts end in political solutions – it’s the only way.” Asked about his future he added: “This is it.”
Reacting to the murder, Gerry Adams was quick to condemn it.
“I want to condemn without reservation the murder of Denis Donaldson. I also want to extend condolences and sympathy to the Donaldson family. I want to disassociate Sinn Fein and all republicans who support the peace process from this killing.
“I have an entirely open mind as to who was responsible for this murder. Denis Donaldson worked for the Special Branch who ruthlessly used him to collapse a democratically elected government. Last year they were about to publicly expose him in a further effort to destabilize the process. It is likely that his death at this time is intended to undermine current efforts to make political progress.
“Those who carried out this murder are clearly opposed to the peace process,” Adams said.
Nigel Dodds of the DUP took a starkly different view.
“I am shocked and appalled by what early reports are suggesting is the vicious slaying of Denis Donaldson, Dodds, the MP for North Belfast, said.
“Mr. Donaldson is now dead. This awful act serves to highlight how anyone who falls foul of the Provisional IRA either ends up exiled abroad or dead,” Dodds said.
“Unionists will not be fooled into accepting the denials of Gerry Adams. People will demand explanations and answers from more credible sources than the Sinn Fein president,” he said.
In New York, where Donaldson worked for several years in the offices of Noraid and the Irish People newspaper, John McDonagh, onetime editor of the paper, said he was shocked at the news.
“We all knew him pretty well. He was a nice guy but was mixed up in a lot of things,” McDonagh told the Echo.