Denis Donaldson

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Person.png Denis Donaldson   PowerbaseRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Died4 April 2006 (Age 55)
County Donegal
Cause of death
Victim ofassassination
Sinn Féin member exposed in December 2005 as an MI5 employee. Assassinated in 2006.

Denis Martin Donaldson (Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1950 – 4 April 2006 in County Donegal, Republic of Ireland) was a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and a member of Sinn Féin who was exposed in December 2005 as an informer in the employment of MI5 and the Special Branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) (formerly the Royal Ulster Constabulary - RUC). The Provisional IRA denied responsibility for his killing and the "Real IRA" claimed responsibility for the murder almost three years later.

Political career

Donaldson had a long history of involvement in Irish republicanism. He joined the IRA in the mid-1960s while still in his teens, well before the start of The Troubles. [1] According to his former friend, Jim Gibney, writing in the Irish News, he was a local hero in Short Strand in 1970 because he took part in the IRA's defence of St. Matthew's chapel against a loyalist attack. He was a friend of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, and the two served time together in Long Kesh for paramilitary offences in the 1970s.

In 1981 he was arrested by French authorities at the airport at Orly along with fellow IRA volunteer, William "Blue" Kelly. The duo were using false passports and Donaldson said that they were returning from a guerrilla training camp in Lebanon. At the 1983 general election, Donaldson was the Sinn Féin candidate in Belfast East.

In the late 1980s, he went back to Lebanon and held talks with both Lebanese Shia militias Hezbollah and Amal, in an effort to secure the freedom of the Irish hostage Brian Keenan. He also represented Sinn Féin in the United States, isolating future hard-line dissidents such as Bronx-based Irish-American attorney, Martin Galvin. Galvin later claimed that he had warned the republican leadership that he suspected Donaldson of being a British government informer.[2]

In the early 2000s, Donaldson was appointed Sinn Féin's group administrator in Parliament Buildings. In October 2002, he was arrested in a raid on the Sinn Féin offices as part of a high-profile police investigation into an alleged Irish republican spy-ring — the so-called Stormontgate affair. In December 2005, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland dropped the spy-ring charges against Donaldson and two other men on the grounds that it would not be in the "public interest" to proceed with the case.

British agent

On 16 December 2005, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams announced to a press conference in Dublin that Donaldson had been a spy in the pay of British intelligence. This was confirmed by Donaldson in a statement which he read out on RTÉ, the Irish state broadcaster, shortly afterwards.[3]

He stated that he was recruited after compromising himself during a vulnerable time in his life, but did not specify why he was vulnerable or why he would risk his life as a mole for British Intelligence (sometimes referred to as "Tout") in an area such as West Belfast. [4] Common methods of recruiting informers include entrapment, assistance with criminal charges, financial inducement, or seduction and subsequent blackmail.

Donaldson's daughter Jane is married to Ciaran Kearney who was arrested along with Donaldson in the Stormontgate affair. The couple had two young daughters at the time of the arrest. Kearney is a son of the civil rights and MacBride Principles campaigner, Oliver Kearney.[5]

On 19 March 2006, Hugh Jordan, a journalist for the Sunday World tracked him down to an isolated pre-famine cottage near Glenties, County Donegal. The dwelling had not been modernised and so there was no running water or electricity, and Donaldson chopped his own firewood.[6] Donaldson was the latest in a string of informers found to be in senior positions in the IRA or Sinn Féin during the Troubles.


On 4 April 2006, Donaldson was found shot dead inside his cottage, where he had been living for several months. The extended Donaldson family had used it as a holiday retreat for several years. Gardaí (Irish police) said they had been aware of his presence since January and they had warned him of a threat to his life. They had offered him protection and exchanged phone numbers with him. The cottage was located in the townland of Classey, 8 km from the village of Glenties on the road to Doochary, County Donegal, Republic of Ireland.

The last person he is believed to have spoken to is Tim Cranley, a census taker, who spoke to him in the cottage around 8.30 p.m. on the previous day. His body was found by Gardaí about 5 p.m. after a passer-by reported seeing a broken window and a smashed-in door. Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn, the local Garda Commander, said that the cottage belonged to Donaldson's "son in law Ciaran Kearney" and that members of his family had been visiting him in the days before his death.

A statement by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain, referred to his death as a "barbaric act", while Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern condemned "the brutal murder" of Donaldson. Two shotgun cartridges were found at the threshold of the cottage and a post-mortem revealed that he had died from a shotgun blast to the chest. Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell initially said that Donaldson had been shot in the head.[7] He was dressed for bed when he died. The first two shots were fired through the front door, apparently as he attempted to bolt it, and the second two hit him as he retreated into the cottage.

His right hand was also badly damaged by gunshot. The Provisional IRA issued a one-line statement saying that it had "no involvement whatsoever" with the murder. The murder was also condemned by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley blamed republicans for the killing, saying that "eyes will be turned towards IRA/Sinn Féin on this issue". On 8 April 2006 he was buried in Belfast City Cemetery, rather than at Milltown Cemetery, the more common burial place for republicans.

In February 2009, Gardaí announced they had a new lead in the inquiry into his death.[8] On 12 April 2009, the Real IRA claimed responsibility for his death. [9]

Delayed inquest

The inquest into his death has been delayed at least 19 times, resulting in his family taking legal action against the authorities.[10]


  • 12 April 2011 - A 70 year old man arrested in county Donegal for the murder.
  • 16 April 2011 - A 31 year old man arrested[11]
  • 4 August 2016 - A "man in his 40's" arrested for questioning in county Donegal.[10]

See also

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  1. Sunday Times 18 December 2005
  2. The Soldier, The Spy, the U.S. Connection 21 December 2005 edition of Irish Abroad
  3. Donaldson admits role as British agent, by Laura Friel. An Phoblacht, 5 January 2006
  4. Veteran republican's spy statement BBC News, 16 December 2005
  5. Veteran Civil Rights Campaigner Oliver Kearney Fights for Bail for his Son
  6. 'Spy' Donaldson living in Donegal Derry Journal, 21 March 2006
  7. Donaldson Irish Times, 5 April 2006
  8. 'New lead' in Donaldson inquiry , BBC News, 6 February 2009, retrieved on 6 February 2009
  9. How Real IRA Killed Denis Donaldson Irish Tribune 12 April 2009, accessed 13 April 2009
  10. a b
  11. Second man arrested in Denis Donaldson murder investigation - The 16 April 2011

Sources/further information