The family of a murdered senior IRA and Sinn Féin figure who was also a British spy walked out of a court in protest over the Irish Republic’s delay in holding a full inquest into his killing, which is linked to a secret journal he had written.
Denis Donaldson was once a close ally of the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, but was exposed more than a decade ago as a long-term MI5 agent inside the republican movement.
He was shot dead at an isolated cottage in County Donegal in 2006 by a relative of another top IRA man who had been killed by security forces during the Troubles. The Real IRA admitted they had murdered Donaldson.
His relations staged a walkout at Donegal coroner’s court on Wednesday after what was going to be the 20th delay to his inquest.
The Garda Siochána has been responsible for requesting the delays, which it says are due to its belief that Donaldson’s killers can still be caught.
However, the Guardian understands that what the Garda has described as “significant material” found in Donaldson’s cottage by Irish police officers is in fact a personal journal the former Sinn Féin administration chief in the Northern Ireland assembly was keeping. The information contained within this document is so sensitive that Irish detectives have continually asked for the delays.
Although the Real IRA tracked Donaldson down to his cottage near the Donegal beauty spot Glenties, the dissident republicans did not search the premises and failed to find the journal.
It was later discovered by the Garda, but despite repeated demands from Donaldson’s family it has not been handed over to their lawyers.
The contents could be made public and may contain potentially embarrassing information about Donaldson’s British state handlers, and political figures in Northern Ireland.
At the inquest in Letterkenny, Garda Michael Finan told the coroner Denis McCauley that his officers obtained the material last month. Finan asked for an adjournment of four months to enable detectives to pursue inquiries linked to this fresh evidence.
“I regret the number of adjournments but the investigation into the death of Mr Donaldson must be allowed to gain all available evidence and present it to the DPP,” Finan said.
But the Donaldson family’s lawyer, Ciarán Shiels, said they did not accept the “bona fides” of the application.
After the walkout, Shiels added: “There comes a point after so many adjournments, after the 10th anniversary, that the delay in commencing the inquest proper becomes intolerable.
“With that in mind the family instructed me to commence judicial review against the Garda commissioner, the coroner, the attorney general, the DPP and also the minister of justice. Today the family have walked out of the inquest and I have been instructed not to attend further until there is definitive ruling from the courts in the south.”
The family have also issued a complaint to the police ombudsman in Northern Ireland which includes a demand to have the journal made public during the inquest.
Donaldson was a key fixer for Adams and the Sinn Féin leadership. He was the party’s head of administration at Stormont when he was outed as an informer.
Before his exposure, he was used by Adams to undermine potential internal opponents within Sinn Féin. Donaldson saw to it that the former IRA gun smuggler Gerry McGeough did not win the nomination to stand for the party in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in a Westminster general election because the Sinn Féin leadership mistrusted McGeough.
Donaldson was also sent by the IRA leadership to hold talks with Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1990s with a view to securing the release of the Beirut hostage Brian Keenan.
All of Donaldson’s trips to the Middle East were known to both British intelligence and the RUC special branch at the time.