Denis Martin Donaldson (Short Strand, Belfast, 1950 – 4 April 2006 in County Donegal) was a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a member of Sinn Féin who was murdered following his exposure in December 2005 as an informer in the employ of MI5 and the Special Branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly the Royal Ulster Constabulary). It was initially believed that the Provisional IRA were responsible for his killing although the Real IRA claimed responsibility for his murder almost three years later.
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. 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 gun battle between loyalists and republicans at St. Matthew’s Chapel. (See Battle of Saint Matthew’s). He was a friend of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, and the two men served time together in Long Kesh for paramilitary offences in the 1970s. Donaldson has been accused, by an unnamed Republican source, of being part of the IRA team that carried out the La Mon restaurant bombing in 1978, one of the most horrific atrocities of the Troubles.
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 travelled to Lebanon again and held talks with both Lebanese Shia militias Hezbollah and Amal, in an effort to secure the freedom of the Irish hostage Brian Keenan.
As the Sinn Féin leadership under Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness turned toward a “peace process” strategy, Donaldson was dispatched to New York City, where he helped establish Friends of Sinn Féin, an organisation that solicited mainstream political and financial support for the new strategy while attempting to isolate hard-line activists in Irish Northern Aid and other traditional Republican organisations in the US Martin Galvin, a Bronx-based Irish-American attorney and future Republican “dissident,” later claimed that he had warned the Republican leadership that he suspected Donaldson of being a British government informer.
In the early 2000s, Donaldson was appointed Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland Assembly 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 village of Glenties on the road to Doochary, County Donegal.
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. 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 leader Ian Paisley blamed republicans for the killing, saying that “eyes will be turned towards IRA/Sinn Féin on this issue”. In May 2005, Minister McDowell advised a US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland that he believed the outing of Donaldson as an informant was a clear message from the British Government that it had another, more valuable, source of information within the republican leadership. On 8 April 2006 Donaldson 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. On 12 April 2009, the Real IRA claimed responsibility for his death.
In April 2011, 2 arrests were made in County Donegal in connection with the murder – a 69-year-old man and a 31-year-old man. They were subsequently released without charge.