By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — A man who claimed to be a former member of the IRA and who was interviewed by dozens of radio, TV and newspaper journalists as an expert on Irish republicanism has been jailed for child sex abuse.
Vincent McKenna, originally from County Tyrone, who was an outspoken critic of the peace process and a stalwart defender of the RUC, was jailed after being convicted in Monaghan on 31 counts of sexually abusing and assaulting his daughter.
McKenna, director and spokesperson of the self-styled Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau, will be sentenced on Nov. 21 for abusing his daughter, Sorcha, over a period of eight years, between 1985 and 1993.
He has appeared on CBS’ high-profile "60 Minutes" show and has been the source of dozens of newspaper articles in Britain, Europe and the U.S. almost universally hostile to Sinn Fein, the IRA and the peace process.
McKenna’s daughter waived her right to anonymity in order that McKenna be identified as her abuser. His ex-wife fainted on the steps of the courthouse as he was taken away to jail in chains pending sentence.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Sam Cushnahan, a founder of the British government-funded but now defunct Families Against Intimidation and Terror, said he believed McKenna had only become active in its work, against paramilitary punishment beatings, in preparation for the day he knew would arrive when he would come before a court charged with sex abuse.
A jury of seven men and five women last week found McKenna guilty of the charges after only two hours of deliberations, following a three-day trial. His mother-in-law said, after the verdict, that she had been amazed he had conned so many people, including journalists and top politicians, in the North.
His claim of having been a "reformed IRA man" was disputed as fantasy by republican sources. Journalists with reliable IRA sources were convinced he would never have been admitted into that organization.
A senior Irish police officer who had been working on the case said that Garda officers were "astounded" at the amount of publicity McKenna generated in his crusade against the IRA.
"One could have their suspicions about where this publicity is being generated from and there are many directions you could look for that," the officer said. "In this case, I think we all know where this is being generated from and directed from."
When McKenna was arrested on the abuse charges in January 1999, he claimed the IRA was responsible. "It is a foul lie and slander that I have been interviewed by the gardai regarding sexual abuse allegations. It is Provo propaganda", he said. "I will not be charged with anything by the Monaghan gardai."
He boasted of his top-level political and media contacts, once saying, "I can pick up the phone and talk directly to David Trimble, Ronnie Flanagan and leading British politicians."
In one story, published in The Observer newspaper, McKenna claimed that "an intelligence officer in the Irish defense forces helped the IRA in the Monaghan-Armagh border region during the 1980s."
In June this year, he told the Daily Telegraph that "IRA gunmen sought medical advice on how to administer punishment shootings without killing their victims." He also claimed that 40 percent of IRA weapons were now in the hands of dissidents.
He received a standing ovation two years ago when he spoke to a Save the RUC rally in Belfast alongside the former RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon and the editor of the anti-Agreement Sunday Telegraph, Charles Moore.
In a remarkably short period, the articulate McKenna had catapulted himself from being a nobody to a media star who was regularly called on to comment as an expert on republicanism.
He was opposed to the peace process, which he referred to as merely an attempt to appease the IRA.
A senior IRA source who has known McKenna for many years said at the time of his arrest: "If anybody thinks we’d hand over a spent bullet, never mind perfectly good carbines, to set up Vincent McKenna, they’re crazier than he is.
"He gets his stories in because that is what the media want to hear. He is fed stuff. We know it has to be coming from the British security forces. They’ve used him and he’s been willing to be used."