MI5 agent lured new IRA leaders with tickets to Celtic matches and luxury Spanish holiday

An MI5 agent who infiltrated a pro-IRA terror group lured its suspected leaders by paying for a holiday in Spain and Celtic football tickets, a court has heard.

Dennis McFadden, 54, is believed to have severely weakened the New IRA group during a mission dubbed Operation Arbacia, a Northern Ireland court hearing involving ten people has emerged.

The New IRA has reportedly been identified as the most violent and active Republican dissident group operating in the country. The group was responsible for the shooting death of journalist Lyra McKee, who was killed while covering riots in Derry in 2019.

McFadden, from Glasgow, often provided football tickets to acquaintances within the group, while paying travel costs and providing accommodation with his family, Time reports.

The New IRA claimed responsibility for the shooting death of journalist Lyra McKee (pictured) in 2019

A Republican mural on a side wall of the Saoradh offices in Derry city centre, Northern Ireland, in May earlier this year

A Republican mural on a side wall of the Saoradh offices in Derry city centre, Northern Ireland, in May earlier this year

He also took alleged senior official Kevin Barry Murphy, 50, on vacation to Spain with their wives on three occasions.

On each trip, McFadden paid for the flights and the villa — with the primary purpose of gleaning information from Murphy while the couple enjoyed the trip.

He also arranged travel and accommodation for band members to attend political meetings abroad – including flights to Brussels and Beirut.

McFadden, described as “the man who was always there but never really there”, lives with his wife Christine, 38, and their young son in Glengormley – a north Belfast suburb.

Residents described him as a good neighbour, with one saying: ‘To be honest he was too nice, a little too friendly – ​​he always asked you for a drink.’

The MI5 agent told local residents that he was a hotel inspector and had to travel often to carry out security checks at tourist accommodation.

But for more than 15 years he had infiltrated dissident groups who opposed the Black Friday deal in 1998. And while locals thought he was out inspecting hotels, he was actually debriefing MI5.

His work culminated in his appointment to a leadership position in Saoradh – identified by police as the political wing of the New IRA.

McFadden would organize meetings which were bugged by MI5, leading to the arrest of nine people suspected of establishing the New IRA’s army council in August 2020.

Although none of those detained have yet been convicted for the covert operation, security chiefs say McFadden’s activity has had a huge impact on the group.

Details of the deal were revealed at preliminary hearings in Belfast.

Information about proceedings can be released as terrorism cases in Northern Ireland do not involve a prejudicial jury.

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 lived in Northern Ireland for 15 to 20 years, as he told different people he worked as a pilot, ex-soldier and bar owner.

A young boy walks past a loyalist paramilitary mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in October 2015

A young boy walks past a loyalist paramilitary mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in October 2015

He first attempted to infiltrate a local branch of Sinn Fein, but the members grew suspicious and the agent began targeting breakout groups instead.

McFadden used a friendship with former IRA prisoner Tony Catney to gain the trust of members of splinter groups.

In meetings secretly recorded by MI5, McFadden was elusive and often temporarily walked out of meetings to take work calls or offer coffee and tea.

He joined a small group on a trip to Brussels for a meeting to discuss Palestinian prisoners in 2009, later organizing a trip for another policy conference in Beirut.

Four years later he co-founded Justice Watch Ireland – a group campaigning against alleged 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 while standing next to an armored police Land Rover.

His death caused a huge backlash against the terrorist group and turned McFadden’s operation into an evidence-gathering mission.

The following summer McFadden moved from his semi-detached property in Glengormley to a bungalow in a quieter area about a mile away.

It became a hangout for the band following the introduction of Covid restrictions in March 2020, with McFadden hiring a handyman to build an outside bar.

But the meetings the accusation was built on took place at two Airbnb properties he rented from Co Tyron in February and July 2020.

The meetings would have been rallies of the New IRA leadership group.

Members reportedly introduced themselves by rank and position, with Murphy identifying himself as “chief of staff”.

There has been regular discussion of the need to create international ties that would assist in the supply of arms and explosives.

Among other things, they talked about 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 hug on Fanad Drive in Derry earlier this year

Lyra McKee’s sisters Joan Hunter (centre right), Nichola Corner (right) and family hug on Fanad Drive in Derry earlier this year

There were also reports of attempts to obtain semtex, rocket launchers and rifles from South America.

The members also reportedly discussed an attack on an airport occasionally used by the US military to curry favor with Middle Eastern groups.

The meetings were bugged by MI5, but McFadden would also remain on site following their findings to collect DNA samples.

Leaving a review of an Airbnb property, McFadden wrote: ‘While sometimes working all night for the NHS, this place was a godsend.

“It’s a bit remote but a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of work.”

A few weeks later, McFadden and his family disappeared in a taxi late at night.

A neighbor said a black SUV with blacked-out windows arrived at the property days later to remove items from inside the home, including computers and electronics.

A moving van was also seen arriving at the property to remove single beds.

McFadden’s disappearance came shortly before seven men and two women were arrested in Northern Ireland. A Palestinian political activist was also arrested at Heathrow Airport.

They all deny charges which include directing terrorism, planning terrorist acts and membership in a banned organization.

McFadden and his family are now supposed to live in witness protection with new identities.

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