Belfast Telegraph

Ciaran Barnes: Police face difficult task of identifying suspects from victim's murky world

Detective Chief Inspector Pete Montgomery
Detective Chief Inspector Pete Montgomery

By Ciaran Barnes

To shoot someone in broad daylight outside a school on a road clogged with bumper to bumper traffic takes a huge amount of audacity.

Add to that the fact that Jim 'JD' Donegan's murderer was unmasked and causally ran from his victim, bears all the hallmarks of a professional killing.

It has striking similarities to the 2015 execution of IRA leader Jock Davison in the Markets area of Belfast.

His assassin, ex-Provo prisoner Kevin McGuigan Snr who himself was murdered a short time later, was an experienced hitman who had carried out dozens of shootings during his time in the IRA.

There is an inescapable belief, among both republican and security sources, that Jim Donegan's killer has drawn blood before due to his professionalism.

Early indications suggest that after pumping up to six bullets into his victim the gunman, wearing a high-vis vest, escaped on foot down a walkway linking the Glen Road to Clonnelly Avenue.

That would have taken him into Rosnareen, a rabbit's warren of side streets and cul-de-sacs leading to Shaws Road.

A stranger would have no hope of finding his way out of this mini-maze which points to the killer, or at least an associate, having local knowledge.

The fact the PSNI has yet to state that a getaway vehicle was found burning after Tuesday's murder is another indicator that the gunman remained in the area afterwards.

In a press conference just hours after Jim Donegan's death, detectives refused to rule out dissident republican involvement.

But that is par for the course for any fatal shooting that occurs in west Belfast. There have been some suggestions of New IRA involvement, however that should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

The organisation's last gun attack was in January 2017, almost two years ago, and last month it lost two AK47s, a rifle and two sawn-off shotguns in a boiler-house fire - almost its entire arsenal in Belfast.

Its main gunman, the man believed to have murdered Kevin Kearney in 2013 and who allegedly put the bomb under prison officer Adrian Imsay's van, is on bail wearing an electronic tag monitoring his movements.

Given this, it is highly unlikely that the New IRA was involved.

The same can be said for ONH (Oglaigh na hEireann), which is on ceasefire and the Continuity IRA, which has little presence in Belfast.

The INLA would certainly have the capability of carrying out the Jim Donegan murder. It has gunned down targets outside schools before, most notably Kevin McAlorum Jnr in 2004.

But in the 14 years since the organisation has undergone significant changes and today its Teach Na Failte ex-prisoners group will receive a £400,000 grant as part of the Government's Open Doors project.

There is no way it would risk losing this six-figure sum by becoming involved in a gangland spat.

This leaves the vigilante group Action Against Drugs (AAD), which has the tacit support of some senior Provos and access to IRA glock pistols, as possible suspects.

But if you look at their previous killings in Belfast, those of Dan Murray and Joe Reilly, they were very different to that of Jim Donegan.

Murray was lured to an after dark meeting in a secluded area, while gunmen burst into Reilly's home at night.

The most plausible scenario, at this early stage, is that Jim Donegan was murdered as part of a drugs feud. He was certainly a big player in that world, driving an £80,000 Porsche Panamera sports car and never without bundles of cash on his hip. The father of two, who owned a successful haulage business, arrived at his wedding last year in a helicopter and was known to take regular trips to Spain.

He flaunted his wealth, something that did not go unnoticed by rival criminals and paramilitaries.

Donegan spent much of the early part of his life in Dublin after his father moved there from Belfast in the 1980s.

Due to his links to the city there has been speculation that he is the latest victim of the Kinahan/Hutch feud that has so far claimed 18 lives.

It is well-known that the Kinahans have been using professional hitmen to murder targets.

This was evidenced last month when Estonian ex-soldier Emre Arakas pleaded guilty in a Dublin Court to plotting to kill Hutch associate James 'Maggo' Gately, who at the time was living in an apartment at Belfast's Titanic Quarter.

The problem the PSNI now face is working out this conundrum of potential suspects - a difficult task given the murky world in which Jim Donegan lived and the amount of enemies he made.

Belfast Telegraph


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