A former Sinn Fein official recently exposed as a British spy was found fatally shot Tuesday after apparently being tortured, police said — a slaying certain to send shock waves through Northern Ireland’s peace process.
Denis Donaldson was Sinn Fein’s former legislative chief in the failed power-sharing government of Northern Ireland. He admitted in December he had been on the payroll of the British secret service and the province’s anti-terrorist police for two decades. He went into hiding because the traditional Irish Republican Army punishment for informing is death.
But the IRA denied responsibility in a one-line statement. “The IRA had no involvement whatsoever in the death of Denis Donaldson,” the outlawed group said.
Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell said the 55-year-old Donaldson had been tortured before being killed — apparently with one or two shotgun blasts to his head — inside his isolated home near Glenties, County Donegal, in northwest Ireland. He was last seen alive Monday while walking in the village, McDowell said.
“His right forearm is almost severed,” McDowell said. “He was shot in the head and mutilation was done to his body. It’s a murder we’re dealing with.”
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair both condemned the murder.
The killing comes at a pivotal moment in Northern Ireland’s 13-year-old peace process.
On Thursday, Blair and Ahern are to travel to Northern Ireland to reveal a new blueprint for reviving a Protestant-Catholic administration, the intended cornerstone of the province’s 1998 peace accord.
The plan — 3½ years of diplomacy in the making — would call for Northern Ireland’s legislature to reconvene in mid-May and face a Nov. 24 deadline to elect an administration.
The killing appeared certain to harden Protestant opinion against cooperating with Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party that represents most Catholics in Northern Ireland. But officials in both governments said Thursday’s announcement would go ahead anyway.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams — who in December initially defended Donaldson as an innocent man, then outed him as a British spy — said he did not know who killed him. But he suggested it might have been the work of IRA dissidents opposed to Sinn Fein’s peacemaking efforts.
“It is likely that his death at this time is intended to undermine current efforts to make political progress,” Adams said. “Those who carried out this murder are clearly opposed to the peace process.”
But Ian Paisley, whose Democratic Unionist Party represents most of Northern Ireland’s British Protestant majority, said someone within IRA ranks was the most likely culprit. “There is a finger-pointing tonight at IRA-Sinn Fein,” he said.
Spy scandal helped bring down administration
A Catholic-Protestant administration for Northern Ireland fell apart in October 2002 because of an IRA spying scandal involving Donaldson.
Donaldson and two others were charged with pilfering documents that identified the personal details of thousands of potential IRA targets. Protestants accused the IRA of plotting a potential resumption of its violent campaign to oust Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom.
But British prosecutors mysteriously dropped all charges in early December. A week later, Adams announced that Donaldson had confessed to being a paid British spy. Within hours, Donaldson admitted the same in a television interview.
During its 27-year campaign, the IRA’s internal security unit tortured scores of IRA members suspected of passing information to British intelligence. Typical IRA methods included drowning the interrogation victim in a bathtub, applying electric shocks, and administering cigarette burns.
Those who admitted informing had their confessions audiotaped before being shot in the head; their bodies were usually dumped — naked and with hands tied behind their backs — on rural roadsides.
The IRA last year declared it was renouncing violence for political purposes and backed the pledge by handing over its weapons stockpiles — moves supposed to spur a revival of power-sharing involving Sinn Fein.
But Paisley has refused to cooperate with Sinn Fein, citing the IRA’s refusal to disband and its alleged involvement in criminal activities.
Power-sharing rules require the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein to lead the next administration. It would receive substantial powers from the British government in London, which began governing Northern Ireland in 1972 during the bloodiest year of the province’s conflict.