Top republican expelled from Sinn Fein admits he was a spy

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The Independent Online

A top republican, who once headed Sinn Fein's Stormont offices, admitted last night he had been a British agent for two decades.

Denis Donaldson, an important republican activist since the Seventies, said he was recruited as a paid agent in the Eighties and claimed he was used by Special Branch to bring down Northern Ireland's political institutions.

The announcement came just hours after Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's leader, announced Mr Donaldson, 55, had been thrown out of the party following his confession to party officials. In a statement to RTE News last night, Mr Donaldson said: "I was a British agent at the time. I was recruited in the 1980s after compromising myself during a vulnerable time in my life.

"Since then I have worked for British intelligence and the Royal Ulster Constabulary/Police Service of Northern Ireland Special Branch. Over that period I was paid money.

"My last two contacts with Special Branch were as follows ­ two days before my arrest in October 2002 and on Thursday night, when a member of the Special Branch contacted me to arrange a meeting."

In October 2002, Mr Donaldson was working as a Sinn Fein Assembly group administrator in Parliament Buildings at the time of a high-profile police raid on the party's offices. The Stormontgate affair, as it became known, led to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly and its devolved administration.

Last night Mr Donaldson stressed he was not involved in any republican spy ring in Stormont, adding that "the so-called Stormontgate affair was a scam and a fiction, it never existed, it was created by Special Branch" . He said: "I deeply regret my activities ... I apologise to anyone who has suffered as a result of my activities as well as to my former comrades and especially to my family who have become victims in all of this."

The Government had said the raid on Stormont was to prevent paramilitary intelligence-gathering. Mr Donaldson, his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney and William Mackessy, a civil servant, were arrested on suspicion of operating a spy ring at Stormont. After the raid, John Reid, the then Northern Ireland Secretary, suspended devolution in an attempt to stave off a unionist walkout from the power-sharing executive. Mr Donaldson was originally accused of having documents useful to terrorists.

Charges were dismissed against all three, with the director of the Public Prosecution Service saying eight days ago that the cases were being dropped as they were "no longer in the public interest". The fact that neither the DPP nor Tony Blair would provide any explanation of what this meant led to a proliferation of conspiracy theories. Among these was the suggestion that the authorities were intent on protecting an informer or agent embedded in the republican ranks.

Last night Mr Adams moved to distance Mr Blair from the scandal. "I would be shocked if for one moment I thought that the British Prime Minister was part of any plot to take down a power-sharing executive he had spent a considerable amount of time, along with the rest of us, putting in place," Mr Adams said.

Mr Adams admitted: "Some of us were very suspicious when the events of 2002 unfolded ... More recently when the British did not prosecute, that suspicion was deepened. I had no specific suspicions about Denis Donaldson."

However Sir Reg Empey, the Ulster Unionist leader, asked for an immediate meeting with British officials to discuss the affair. Sir Reg said: "It actually debunks the claims by Sinn Fein there was no spy ring operating inside Stormont, when in fact there was."

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