John McDonagh (JM) comments on the BBC Spotlight NI programme ‘Spy in the IRA’ which first aired Tuesday 20 September 2016. (begins time stamp 0:00)
Audio: Portion of the BBC Spotlight NI programme ‘Spy in the IRA’ is played. The programme can be viewed here.
JM: And welcome to Radio Free Éireann. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost ten years since Denis Donaldson, IRA man, British agent for MI5, was shot dead in Co. Donegal. Now his death and work for the British government still casts a long shadow over Sinn Féin and the politics in Ireland. On Tuesday night the BBC progamme, Spotlight, which is the equivalent of 60 Minutes here in the United States, aired a programme about the tenth anniversary of Denis being killed and it’s caused a political earthquake with the claim in the documentary that Gerry Adams sanctioned the killing of Denis Donaldson.
Now a little history on Denis Donaldson: Here in the Republican Movement in New York City from, you could say, the 1800’s Ireland has always had out someone to represent the Republican Movement – at different times it’s been different people and at one stage in the late ’80’s and the early ’90’s the IRA sent out Denis Donaldson – not so much to keep an eye on what was going on in America but just to make sure everything was coordinated between the two countries. Now I happened to be the editor of the Irish People at that time and before Denis came into that position there was another Irish Republican called Hugh Feeney and he was working at the office up at 207th Street and Broadway.
And one day while I was working there the FBI crashed through the door and arrested Denis Donaldson – or not Denis – no, they wouldn’t have been arresting him – but Hugh Feeney. And at the time we didn’t know but this was a ruse to deport Hugh Feeney back to Ireland and put in the plant of an MI5 agent and Denis also worked with the FBI for many years here in New York City. So I was well-acquainted with Denis I used to go out drinking with him up in the Bronx with Brian Mór. I drove around a lot with him because, of course, he didn’t have a car and I was just driving around. When I went to Ireland I stayed at his house in Belfast of which I found out later when Gerry Conlon, the last time he was over in New York there before he died, was telling me he was talking to IRA people and about how, when they de-briefed Denis Donaldson, his whole house was wired up so any of the meetings that were held in Denis’ house were all taped.
But I just wanted to relay just a couple stories that have to do with WBAI and Denis Donaldson. Samori Marksman, who was the Program Director here, used to have a show on every evening around five o’clock, five to six, it was Behind the News and he had great contacts at the UN and he would always have ambassadors up at the studios on 35th and 8th. So one time Samori said: Listen, I’m having the Ambassador from Libya coming up and he goes: You want to go out with him afterwards and bring whoever you want. So I told Denis: We can go out and have dinner with the Ambassador to Libya – you wanna do it? And he was all game for it. So about a day before we were supposed to go Denis gets back to me and he is just completely freaked out. He says: Cancel it. No one can go to that. We have to stay as far away as possible. And I just thought: Well maybe the FBI might have been monitoring that but it was quite obvious that Denis had got word from his handlers that he was not to be meeting with the Ambassador to Libya.
Also, in the ’80’s when Sinn Féin couldn’t get on the BBC or RTÉ because of Section 31 ‘BAI was their only weekly outlet on Radio Free Éireann and Richard McAuley, who’s the right-hand man of Gerry Adams, used to call us every week with the news from Ireland. At this stage when Denis was there I kept having on here at Radio Free Éireann Joe O’Neill, lifelong Republican from Bundoran in Co. Donegal and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. And Denis had said to me that because of the split in 1986 you’re not to have on Joe O’Neill and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. And I said: There’s no way. These guys are friends of mine. I’m having them on. So Denis was able to get Richard McAuley pulled – that he would no longer do the news for us and he stated that we would last that long now that we weren’t connected with the Republican Movement. Well what happened after that is Brian Mór reached out to our friends in Ireland and we got Nollaig Ó Gadhra to do the news for us so that really did work out but they were turbulent times.
Now in the documentary that aired on Tuesday night when I was in Ireland in May I was in contact with the documentary and they wanted to me go on the show so I met with Jennifer O’Leary and I told her I had been on Spotlight ten years before when they did a documentary on Denis and my opinion hadn’t changed: I never realised that Denis was an agent. I thought he was a great guy and I was in the state of shock so I said there was nothing I could add to it.
But they ran a clip of a debate that was held at Rocky Sullivan’s on Lexington Avenue back in 2006 of whether Irish Republicans should join the police force or the PSNI of Northern Ireland. And Sandy Boyer and myself were saying: No, that Republicans shouldn’t join but this guy, Larry ‘The Chef’ Zaitschek was there in support of Liam Nelis and they used a clip of Larry Zaitschek, who happened to be a friend of Denis Donaldson’s, and the long story there about him working at RUC Headquarters in Belfast – they were raided by the IRA and they would try to draw that connection so they used that but when Martin Galvin was also over he did an interview with them that aired in that that Deputy Dawg First Minister Martin McGuinness commented on. So we’re going to have on Martin later on along with Ed Moloney to give us what exactly will be the fallout of that. (ends time stamp ~ 7:35)