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Cluedo in Donegal

Anthony McIntyre • 18 April 2006

If all those with a motive or a desire to kill Denis Donaldson were to be rounded up as the usual suspects, cross border policing would take on a new dimension as PSNI holding cells were quickly commissioned to accommodate the overflow from detention centres run by a Garda unable to cope. Motive and desire in this case, being as wide as they are deep, would render any inquiry based on those factors a non-starter; a case of hoping to pull the right bee from the swarm.

Investigators, whether police or press, may be tempted to conclude that a more productive avenue is to examine those willing to take the risk. Such a mechanism would not in itself lead to verification of who killed Donaldson but it would eliminate certain categories from serious scrutiny. The two most likely to benefit from this formalistic exoneration would be the Provisional leadership and British spooks.

Many of those invited to comment on the killing of Denis Donaldson, presuming it was the work of republicans, claimed it was inevitable and that they had expected it. I was shocked when I learned of it. I had heard no one else predicting it in advance. Most that I spoke to since his public confession in December were ruefully of the view that Donaldson had got away with it and that a life in Donegal was more than he had any right to expect. Nobody was predicting that either the Provisional leadership or British spooks were keeping him for a more propitious moment down the road.

Theoretically, spooks could have been the perps. The record of the British security services in Ireland is not the envy of other European governments. But their method of getting rid of Franko Hegarty in 1986, rather than sign the substantial cheque for his relocation, would have been to engineer a situation in which Donaldson's own movement colleagues could be moved by the hidden hand. Rather than bounce him into rushing forward to admit his role and acquire some discount from the IRA, they would have allowed him to be discovered by the IRA, where his pleas of mitigation would likely fall on deaf ears. Or they could have given Donaldson 'the measles', making his death look like suicide.

Alternatively, the Provisional leadership could easily have ordered their former colleague dead. But for what strategic purpose? If for destabilising political life and sabotaging the return of the political institutions, it made more sense, as pointed out by Ed Moloney, to wait until premium political crunch time in November and then strike for maximum effect. There was little strategic prudence in killing Donaldson this month in order to prompt Ian Paisley to do what he was going to do anyway. Donaldson's death will at most allow the DUP to indulge in a little shroud waving for the purposes of concealing their intent, long visible before the Donegal killing.

What benefits there were for Sinn Fein were dwarfed by the costs. The Provisional leadership would have foreseen the party's already dented credibility in the Republic erode even further. It would be prescient enough to understand that the US would have dismissed it completely as a serious peace broker, despite Gerry Adam's protestations that he, as its leader, had been invaluable to the White House. And it would discern that even the current occupant of 10 Downing Street would be forced to conclude that continuing to work with Adams/McGuinness had as much chance of producing success as efforts to fashion a rope from sand. One senior British source told the Irish Times that, 'if there is evidence that it was the IRA then we will face up to that, and if there is evidence then, that's it as far as the process is concerned.' In such a scenario, a new leadership with no connections to the armed struggle, as recently suggested by Tommy McKearney, would be the logic dropping from the skies on top of those still hopeful of a return to devolved government.

The long moment for hoping to benefit from continuously destabilising the Northern political institutions has passed. A viable strategy, certainly, but one that was always dependent on an ability to depict an intransigent unionism forever finding ways to prevent the anchoring of the Good Friday Agreement. In turn the electorate in the Republic would reward an ostensibly blameless and conciliatory Sinn Fein, allowing it to expand into regions hitherto unimagined.

Prior to the Northern Bank robbery, when that long moment could be endlessly stretched, it may have made sense for the IRA to carry out but deny the type of killing that occurred in Donegal. It would have served as the weed in the peace process flower preventing unionism - but not the governments - from admiring its beauty, inhaling its fragrance and pressing it to its bosom. At that juncture a Donegal style killing would have guaranteed the instability in the political process on which Sinn Fein thrived, providing the electorate North and South blamed the unionists rather than it, and responded accordingly. No matter what the fall out from the killing then, by May 2005, after the British general elections Sinn Fein would have been back boogying at the peace process ball with the DUP two-stepping alongside it. Experience being a good teacher, all the key players knew the template: only six months after the IRA were accused of kidnapping Bobby Tohill both the DUP and Sinn Fein were waltzing around Leeds Castle together.

Since December 2004 Sinn Fein has watched the political terra firma shift beneath its feet. It could easily have got over the Northern Bank fallout but for the intervention of the Robert McCartney killing which caused the party serious problems. These complications were admitted to by Declan Kearney at this year's internal Northern party conference and by Alex Maskey in the aftermath of last year's British general election. In that contest Sinn Fein needed to do to the SDLP what the DUP did to the UUP. It didn't happen. Sinn Fein now finds itself in a position whereby it has united unionism, helped maintain a divided nationalism, and is facing incremental rather than exponential growth in the Republic. In this context it seems likely that the expansionist strategy fuelled by manufactured crises in the peace process has run its course. The law of diminishing returns has reduced Sinn Fein's 'Lebensraum' potential dramatically.

If so, the only option left to the party is to cut its losses and follow the line of least resistance. That means a shift in orientation, looking North rather than South; getting into the institutions rather than devising crises in order to ensure there are no institutions. With Paisley commanding the entrance fee, handing him a reason via Denis Donaldson to hike the price even further, and having the moral high ground from which to do it, would amount to gross strategic folly.

Not so many years ago, the name Donaldson figured at the heart of the peace process. Speculation was endless about Jeffrey's intentions. Today, speculation about a Donaldson remains as vigorous as ever. Denis certainly took some secrets to the grave with him. Who killed him remains, at present, the most sought after of them all.





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Index: Current Articles

18 April 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Grave Secrets
Anthony McIntyre

Spoiled Rotten
David Adams

Let Bygones be Bygones
Mick Hall

Urgent Memo — Judas Was One of the Bad Guys!
Dr John Coulter

Cluedo in Donegal
Anthony McIntyre

Easter Message
John Kennedy

Óglaigh na hÉireann Easter Statement
The Sovereign Nation

IFC Easter Statement, 2006
Joe Dillon

Lincoln's Despair
John Kennedy

Fred A. Wilcox

Hamas Being Forced to Collapse
Sam Bahour

Profile: Philippe Val
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index

11 April 2006

Shed No Tears for the Donaldson Family
Geraldine Adams

Buried in Secret
Anthony McIntyre

The Donaldson Dilemna
Bill Ashe

Motive for Murder
Mick Hall

Victim or Pawn?
Dr John Coulter

Agent of the Peace Process
Anthony McIntyre

Happy Easter
John Kennedy

Where, O Where, Is Our James Connolly?
Paul Maguire

Nice One, Tony
John Kennedy

Putting on the Poor Mouth
Seaghan O Murchu

Spare Us the Cures from Quacks
Dr Seamus Kilby

Profile: Antoine Sfeir
Anthony McIntyre

The Letters page has been updated:

Standing Up to the Enemies of Free Speech


Irish Republicanism and Islam


Real human rights - without any religious blackmail


Resisting Censorship


and more...

Freedom of Speech index



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