Gardai and the family of murdered Republican double agent Denis Donaldson today clashed in front of a coroner over when the inquest will take place more than four years after his death.
Solicitor Ciaran Shields, for the Donaldson family, accused the gardai of hiding behind the cover of the Coroner’s Act when, despite their claim progress was being made in their murder inquiries, there was no indication whether there would be criminal proceedings.
Mr Shields claimed at an inquest in Letterkenny – as the hearing was adjourned for the fifth time – that any further adjournment would be unlawful under a European court ruling in another death. That court said that after more than four years the Northern Ireland family of Patrick Shanahan were given a financial reward in lieu of the inquest into his death not being completed.
Counsel for the State, Stephen Byrne, argued before Coroner Denis McCauley that the gardai were putting together a criminal prosecution in “a very complex investigation” to bring the killers to trial.
He added that Superintendent Michael Finan was “obviously restrained in what he could put publicly” before an inquest at this stage.
Mr Shields said there was a pattern that every time the inquest was about to sit there was “a flurry of activity” in which the family were told there was development.
Earlier, Mr Shields said that initially the family was treated almost as suspects until there was a meeting with a Garda Assistant Commissioner when they accepted there was progress in the investigation.
Mr Shields complained most of the family’s later information came from newspaper reportage which would appear to be in the context of briefings given to the media but Mr Byrne intervened to deny gardai leaked information to the media.
Coroner McCauley fixed January 27th for a “pre-inquest” open meeting between the sides for an exchange of documents and he would hope to fix a full hearing a month or so after that. Whether it would be a “standard” inquest to decide who died, when and where or whether it would be a more extensive inquest sought by the family would also be decided next year.
Donaldson, 56, was murdered in his remote home at Classey, Cloghercor, near Doochary, Glenties, Co. Donegal, on April 4th, 2006.
He was a senior Sinn Fein figure who headed his party’s support team at Stormont and who had been operating as a British spy for 20 years.