Denis Donaldson inquest postponed for the fifth time

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Dennis Donaldson.
Image caption,
The inquest into Denis Donaldson's death has now been delayed five times

A decision on the holding of an inquest into the murder of a Sinn Fein member has been postponed for the fifth time.

The family of informer Denis Donaldson criticised the fact that an inquest had yet to take place more than four years after his death.

The family's solicitor, questioned the claim by Irish police that progress was being made in the murder inquiry.

Counsel for the State, Stephen Byrne, argued the Gardai were dealing with "a very complex investigation".

Ciaran Shields, the Donaldson family's solicitor, argued before Coroner Denis McCauley in Letterkenny, County Donegal, that any further adjournment would be unlawful in light of a European court ruling in another case.

Following a challenge by the family of Patrick Shanahan in Northern Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that any failure to hold an inquest within a four and a half year period was a breach of international and human rights commitments.

The Shanahan family were given a financial reward due to the inquest into his death not being completed.

Coroner McCauley scheduled a "pre-inquest" open meeting for 27 January where the Gardai and the family would exchange documents.

The arrangement of a date for a full hearing would follow.

The scope of the inquest would also be decided next year.

A preliminary inquest into Mr Donaldson's death opened in November 2007 but was delayed on four occasions as Irish police continued their investigations.

Mr Donaldson was expelled from Sinn Fein in December 2005 after admitting he had been a paid spy.

He then moved from his Belfast home to live alone in a cottage without electricity or running water. No-one has ever been charged with his murder.