Murphy `most senior Provo I met'
A FORMER IRA man told the High Court yesterday that Co Louth farmer Thomas Murphy was the most senior IRA man he had met.Eamon Collins said Thomas Murphy told him he was representing the IRA Army Council at an IRA inquiry into a botched shooting in Newry in October 1983. He said Mr Murphy was also present at a social gathering organised in Dundalk in November 1983 to impress IRA ``generals''.
Mr Collins (44), a native of Newry, was giving evidence on the fifth day of the action by Mr Murphy, who claims he was libelled in an article dealing with an IRA campaign to bomb seaside resorts in Britain, published by the Sunday Times.
In evidence, Mr Collins said he currently lives in the North with his wife and four children. In 1978 he began work as a customs officer there and became involved in the IRA.
In October 1983, he was involved in a plot to shoot an RUC detective in Newry but the operation went wrong and an innocent Catholic man was killed. On November 20, 1983 he attended a social function in an upstairs room of a bar in Dundalk.
His commanding officer, Len Hardy, told him it had been organised to ``impress the generals''. Asked who he understood them to be, Mr Collins said he understood them to be most significant players in the IRA Tom Murphy and another man.
That was the first time he saw Tom Murphy. Mr Murphy was identified during conversation by Len Hardy and by Brendan Burns, a senior IRA operative in South Armagh.
He saw Tom Murphy again at a house in Dundalk where he was brought for the purpose of continuing the inquiry into Mr Collins' involvement in the IRA operation in Newry which had led to the wrong person being shot dead. He said Mr Murphy introduced himself to him as Tom Murphy and had said he was there as a representative of the Army Council. He said Mr Murphy asked him to go over again the details of the Newry shooting and told him later he was fully exonerated.
Mr Murphy said he was extremely impressed by Mr Murphy's manner and professionalism.
Asked could he identify Mr Murphy, he pointed to the plaintiff seated in the public gallery. He never met anybody as senior as Tom Murphy again.
Mr Collins said he then returned to active duties with the IRA until he broke under interrogation following an IRA mortar attack in Newry in which nine RUC officers were killed. He was not involved in the attack but after interrogation over five days including physical beatings, he made a detailed statement about his IRA activities between 1978 and 1985.
He was eventually charged with offences outlined in his statement but was acquitted after the court ruled his statement was inadmissible because he was subject to inhuman and degrading treatment.
He was then debriefed by the IRA over a three-month period in 1985. More than 40 people had been brought in as a result of his statement and some made statements and were later imprisoned. After his release and debriefing he did not return to work for the IRA. He worked in a variety of jobs. He developed health problems and had a triple bypass operation.
In 1995 he was involved in a TV programme on his time in the IRA and also wrote an autobiography, `Killing Rage'.
He had apprehensions about his personal safety as a result of giving evidence. The Sunday Times had paid £15,000 towards security at his home and had offered to pay up to £10,000 if he felt he had to leave his home for a time.
He said he was taking on a very senior man in the organisation. ``If Tom Murphy decided I should be killed, I would be killed and that's the power he had at his fingertips.''
He found it very difficult to give evidence against Tom Murphy. Mr Collins said he had been ``part of the same struggle'' and came from the same people. He was not doing this out of any form of occupying the moral high ground.
Cross-examined by Eamon Leahy SC, for Mr Murphy, he said he had been charged with five murders and acquitted of those and could not be tried for them again. He outlined his involvement in those five murders.
He now believed his participation in those murders was wrong. He agreed he gave perjured evidence at his trial and said he was still under IRA orders at that time.
When he left court, he decided to spend the rest of his life working for peace and for an alternative.
He said he got an £18,000 advance for his book but no more money. The advance money went to his wife. His book did not sell very well. He never had psychiatric difficulties and denied he was an informer.
Mr Leahy suggested his evidence about seeing Tom Murphy at an IRA social in Dundalk was not true. Mr Collins said it was absolutely true. He also denied a suggestion that his evidence of seeing Mr Murphy on a second occasion in Dundalk was not true.