DUBLIN — A second employee of Sinn Féin, the Northern Ireland political party linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), has emerged as a long-time British agent, the second such revelation in recent weeks.
Richard Lavelle from Fermanagh, near the border with the Irish Republic, admitted on Thursday that he was an agent for the Special Branch of the UK security services, which worked to counter the activities of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (P-IRA).
The statement follows the 9 December revelation that Denis Donaldson, a senior Sinn Féin official and former IRA man who served a prison sentence for an attempt to bomb a distillery and government buildings, had been a British agent for over 20 years.
Lavelle is said not to be a current Sinn Féin party member, but had, by the party’s own admission, worked on electoral campaigning. Donaldson ironically had been one of three Sinn Féin workers suspected of intelligence gathering on behalf of the P-IRA at the Belfast headquarters of Northern Ireland’s devolved government. He also claimed that the spy ring was a fiction created by British intelligence.
Lavelle made his statement through a solicitor, saying he had been pressured by the British to do so after being arrested in 1980, and that he regretted his activities as well as the hurt caused to friends and family.
Since the Donaldson story emerged, vague leaks from former senior security service sources point to the likelihood that Donaldson was forced into the open to protect a more senior Sinn Féin politician.
The issue, likely to be ongoing, means that a divided society and polity will find it harder than ever to attain the inter-communal and trans-national trust needed to ensure that the Northern Ireland stop-and-start peace process remains on track
Ulster Unionist Part (UUP) representative Tom Elliott is from the same county, Fermanagh, as Lavelle. He told Security Watch that there was “concern from a unionist viewpoint about the veracity of these claims and revelations.”
“How did these men remain in the IRA for all these years while working as agents of the [UK] state? We cannot figure out just what the IRA agenda is here, but surely they are out to undermine the security forces,” he said.
When the original espionage story broke in October 2002, it led to the suspension of Northern Ireland’s devolved government and assembly. At the time, Donaldson was deemed the lead Sinn Féin/IRA spy in the Belfast devolved government buildings.
The devolved government institutions were the institutional centerpieces of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, and now await restoration based on agreement between Northern Ireland’s two largest parties: Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
On Tuesday, Ian Paisley Jr., the son of the DUP leader, stated that it could take several years for a new agreement to be reached, after three of Northern Ireland’s anti-crime agencies stated that the IRA was still engaged in crime, putting it in breach of its ceasefire obligations.
This contradicted the assertion last week by Shaun Woodward, the British lawmaker who serves as security minister in Northern Ireland, that all IRA activity had ceased.
Last July, the IRA announced the end of its nearly 40-year campaign to forcefully end British rule in Northern Ireland. This was followed by the confirmation that the IRA had destroyed its arsenal of weapons, verified by the commission set up to monitor “decommissioning” of paramilitary weapons and backed up by the Irish and British governments.
However, lingering distrust of the IRA and Sinn Féin remains in unionist circles, and the latest outing does little to dispel that.
Elliot told ISN Security Watch that most unionists felt that Sinn Féin men working as British agents had in fact been working as double agents, adding that “they would to my mind have been revealing more to their own side than they were to the security forces.”Show