An MI5 agent who infiltrated an IRA splinter group lured its suspected leaders by paying for Spanish holidays and Celtic football tickets, a court has been told.
Dennis McFadden, 54, is said to have severely weakened the New IRA group during a mission codenamed Operation Arbacia, a court hearing in Northern Ireland concerning ten people has been told.
The New IRA is said to have been identified as the most violent and active Republican dissident group operating in the country. The group was responsible for the fatal shooting of journalist Lyra McKee, who was killed while covering rioting in Derry in 2019.
McFadden, from Glasgow, often provided football tickets to acquaintances within the group, while also paying for travel costs and providing accommodation with his family, The Times reports.
Dennis McFadden, 54, is said to have severely weakened the New IRA group during a mission codenamed Operation Arbacia, a court hearing in Northern Ireland concerning ten people has been told
New IRA claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting of journalist Lyra McKee (pictured) in 2019
A republican mural on a side wall of Saoradh offices in the city centre of Derry, Northern Ireland in May earlier this year
He also took alleged senior figure Kevin Barry Murphy, 50, on holiday to Spain with their wives on three occasions.
On each trip, McFadden paid for the flights and villa – with the overarching aim of gleaning information from Murphy as the pair enjoyed the trip.
Brexit is helping us recruit says New IRA as it vows to continue its campaign of violence after gunning down journalist Lyra McKee, 29
A New IRA gunman (circled) who shot dead MsMcKee as she watched a riot in Londonderry last week
He also sorted travel and accommodation for members the group to attend political meetings abroad – including flights to both Brussels and Beirut.
McFadden, described as ‘the man who was always there but was never really there’, live with his wife Christine, 38, and their young son in Glengormley – a suburb of North Belfast.
Residents described him as a good neighbour, with one saying: ‘To be honest, he was overly pleasant, a bit too friendly — he was always asking you round for a drink.’
The MI5 agent told local residents that he was a hotel inspector who would have to travel often to carry out safety checks on tourist accommodation.
But for more than 15 years he had been infiltrating splinter groups who stood in opposition to the Good Friday agreement in 1998. And while locals believed he was away inspecting hotels, he was actually debriefing MI5.
His work culminated in being appointed to a leadership position in Saoradh – identified by police as the New IRA’s political wing.
McFadden would arrange meetings that were bugged by MI5, leading to the arrests of nine people suspected of creating the New IRA’s army council in August 2020.
While none of those in custody have yet been convicted in relation to the covert operation, security chiefs say McFadden’s activity had a huge impact on the group.
Details of the operation have been revealed in pre-trial hearings in Belfast.
Information regarding the proceedings can be reported because terrorism cases in Northern Ireland there is no jury to prejudice.
Instead, terrorism cases are heard without a jury due to fears dating back to the 1970s that jurors could be intimidated by terrorist groups.
McFadden had been living in Northern Ireland for 15 to 20 years, while he told different people he was working as a pilot, former soldier and bar owner.
A young boy runs past a loyalist paramilitary mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in October 2015
He first tried to infiltrate a local Sinn Fein branch, but members became suspicious and the agent instead began targeting dissident groups.
McFadden used a friendship with ex-IRA prisoner Tony Catney to secure the trust of members of dissident groups.
In meetings covertly recorded by MI5, McFadden was elusive and would often temporarily pop out of meetings to take work calls or to offer coffee and tea.
He joined a small group on a trip to Brussels to a meeting to discuss Palestinian prisoners in 2009, before later arranging travel to another political conference in Beirut.
Four years later, he co-founded Justice Watch Ireland – a group campaigning over supposed miscarriages of justice.
And when Saroadh was founded in 2016, McFadden was a member of the national executive overseeing finance and resources.
The group, along with the New IRA, were based in Darry – where McKee was shot dead as she stood by an armoured police Land Rover.
Her death led to a huge backlash towards the terrorist group and altered McFadden’s operation to an evidence-gathering mission.
The following summer, McFadden moved from their semi-detached property in Glengormley to a bungalow in a quieter neighbourhood around a mile away.
It became a meeting place for the group following the introduction of Covid restrictions in March 2020, with McFadden hiring a handyman to build an outside bar.
But the meetings upon which the prosecution case has been built around took place at two Airbnb properties he rented in Co Tyron in February and July 2020.
The meetings are said to have been gatherings of the New IRA’s leadership group.
The members allegedly introduced themselves by rank and position, with Murphy identifying himself as ‘chief of staff’.
Regularly discussed was a need to create international links that would assist with the supply of arms and explosives.
They included talk of getting money from ‘the Russians’ and an alliance with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Lyra McKee’s sisters Joan Hunter (centre-right), Nichola Corner (right) and family embrace on Fanad Drive in Derry earlier this year
Also discussed were attempts to obtain semtex, rocket launchers and rifles from South America.
The members also allegedly discussed an attack on an airport occasionally used by the US military in order to gain favour among Middle Eastern groups.
The meetings were bugged by MI5, but McFadden would also stay at the premises following their conclusions to collects DNA samples.
Leaving a review of one Airbnb property, McFadden wrote: ‘While working sometimes through the night for the NHS this place was a godsend.
‘It is somewhat remote but a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of work.’
A few weeks later, McFadden and his family vanished in a late night taxi.
A neighbour said a black SUV with blacked out windows arrived at the property days later to remove items from inside the house – including computers and electronics.
A removal van was also seen arriving at the property to remove single beds.
McFadden’s disappearance came shortly before the arrests of seven men and two women in Northern Ireland. A Palestinian political activist was also arrested at Heathrow Airport.
They all deny charges that include directing terrorism, preparation of terrorist acts and membership of a proscribed organisation.
McFadden and his family are now understood to be living in witness protection with new identities.