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Friday 23 February 2018

IRA killer who became a garda asset and peace advocate dies

IRA man turned informer Seán O’Callaghan, pictured in 1998. His information prevented Princess Diana being killed in the 1980s. Photo: Getty
IRA man turned informer Seán O’Callaghan, pictured in 1998. His information prevented Princess Diana being killed in the 1980s. Photo: Getty
John Downing

John Downing

Seán O'Callaghan, a senior IRA leader and self-confessed killer, who later successfully helped the security authorities battle against the paramilitaries, has died, aged 63.

Mr O'Callaghan, a member of an old republican family in his native Tralee, Co Kerry, had later gone on to become an adviser to the then British prime minister Tony Blair and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

He was found dead in a swimming pool while on holiday in Jamaica. Friends said he had been visiting his daughter.

Seán O'Callaghan was only 15 when he joined the IRA in Kerry in the late 1960s, incensed by the surge of sectarian violence in the North and the flow of nationalist refugees southwards.

His father and uncle had previously been IRA members who were interned in the 1940s.

But he drifted out of the movement in the mid-1970s, only to return in 1979 as an informer for An Garda Síochána's special branch.

Seán O’Callaghan admitted the murder of an RUC detective
Seán O’Callaghan admitted the murder of an RUC detective

He headed the IRA in Kerry and later the entire southern command, becoming a member of the ruling IRA's army council.

O'Callaghan was among the most senior IRA informants working with the security forces. He was acknowledged as having helped avert many atrocities which would have involved a serious loss of life - including a planned bomb attack in the 1980s on the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana.

This was publicly acknowledged by a former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald.

As an informer, O'Callaghan lived a very tense double life which destroyed family relationships. Eventually in 1988, with his cover close to being blown, he walked into a police station in Tunbridge Wells in Kent and gave himself up.

In 1990, he was sentenced to 539 years for two murders and more than 40 other offences but was released on the so-called 'Queen's prerogative' in 1996. 

After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, O'Callaghan acted as an adviser to the British government, the Ulster Unionists and even the Orange Order, while also contributing to the British media.

His 1998 book, 'The Informer', was a bestseller. But he freely conceded that he could be murdered by the IRA, who reviled him, at any time. He lived a restless, anonymous private life in England, often moving about.

Journalist Gerard Colleran, who dealt with O'Callaghan while working with 'The Kerryman' newspaper, recalled receiving a two-hour phone call from him just before he gave himself up to British police.

Mr Colleran said O'Callaghan played a key role in helping avert calamity in incidents such as the 1982 Don Tidey kidnapping and several key gun-running expeditions.

"I believe he did the Irish State some considerable service and was pure gold for the gardaí. But I have serious reservations about his self-confessed killing of fellow IRA informant John Corcoran, which leaves unanswered questions for the Irish security services," Mr Colleran said.

Among the many ironies of his life was that he was unable to return to Tralee for his father's funeral.

The oration was delivered by Martin Ferris, whom he had helped jail for arms importation aboard the infamous Marita Ann in 1984.

Irish Independent

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