Friday 28 November 2014

'On-the-run' defends role as border school principal

Published 12/05/2014 | 02:30

Owen Carron (circled) carries the coffin of hunger striker Bobby Sands at his funeral in 1981. Mr Carron, who was the republican’s election agent, fled Northern Ireland after he was charged with possession of an AK47, and later took up post as principal in two separate national schools in Co Leitrim. Picture: PACEMAKER
Owen Carron (circled) carries the coffin of hunger striker Bobby Sands at his funeral in 1981. Mr Carron, who was the republican’s election agent, fled Northern Ireland after he was charged with possession of an AK47, and later took up post as principal in two separate national schools in Co Leitrim. Picture: PACEMAKER
Former Sinn Fein MP Owen Carron

AN 'on-the-run' wanted in the North on firearms charges has defended his role as principal of a primary school just 10km from the Border.

For more than a decade, Owen Carron worked as a principal in two separate national schools in Co Leitrim, while there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest just miles away in Northern Ireland.

Mr Carron, from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, fled Northern Ireland in 1986 after he was charged with possession of an AK47.

The spotlight was back on Mr Carron following the revelations earlier this year that the UK Government had struck secret deals with some republicans who were suspected of crimes during the Troubles.

An inquiry led by Lady Justice Hallett has been established in the UK to look into the issuing of these "letters of assurance", and is due to conclude later this month.

However, Mr Carron told the Irish Independent he was had never personally requested amnesty.

Mr Carron was an MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, as well as the election agent for hunger striker Bobby Sands. He delivered the oration at Mr Sands's funeral and helped to carry his coffin while the funeral cortege surrounded by a guard of honour made up of masked men in black berets.

He told the Irish Independent that his past had never been an issue for parents at the school.

"Why would it be an issue?" he said. "I have the 100pc support of the parents. I am a fully qualified teacher and my school has been reviewed by the department."

The Board of Management and Parents Association of his current school, Carrigallen National School in Co Leitrim, also defended his appointment and insisted they supported him wholeheartedly.

There is a huge grey area surrounding the legal status of 'on the runs' whose cases date back to the Troubles. Controversy over the scheme emerged in February, when it was revelead that about 200 letters of pardon had been sent to republican paramilitary suspects.

Mr Carron was asked by the Irish Independent whether a warrant for his arrest was still live in Northern Ireland, and replied: "I don't know."

However, he said he had never personally requested an amnesty, stating: "That never was the case. Not at all."

He also denied any knowledge of his name being put forward for amnesty by Sinn Fein.

When asked if there was an outstanding warrant for the arrest of Mr Carron, a PSNI spokesperson confirmed that the investigation was ongoing.

Local parish priest and member of the Board of Management Fr Denis Murray said Mr Carron had been eligible for the role of principal.

"Owen Carron was already a principal of another school when he applied. His record of work in that school had been excellent and remains excellent," he said.

"There is nothing here in the south of Ireland to stop him from going for the role.

"There wasn't any discussion with parents or the community about it. It simply went through the normal process," he added.

Mr Carron is set to retire from his position this year, but Fr Murray insisted the retirement was routine, as Mr Carron had reached retirement age.

The priest refused to elaborate on whether the Board of Management had been aware of his background when he was appointed.

But Paddy O'Rourke, local FF councillor and member of the Parents Association at the school, insisted that parents had been aware of Mr Carron's background.

And he said that while the Parents Association had no role in choosing teachers, they had always supported the decisions of the Board of Management.

"Mr Carron is an extremely agreeable, competent person and we would have no issue, good, bad or indifferent as to his past. We are approximately 10km from the Border here and there is a huge exchange of people coming and going across. This issue never impacted on Mr Carron's ability to fill his role," he added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: "The recruitment, selection and appointment of teachers to all primary schools is a matter for each individual school board of management as employer."

Irish Independent

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