Death of former IRA man and author Sean O’Callaghan

Sean O’Callaghan in a 2012 RTE interview photo

By Irish Echo Staff

Sean O’Callaghan, a onetime IRA member who became an informer, and then wrote about his experiences in a book entitled “The Informer,” has died.

O’Callaghan, 63, died last week in Jamaica, reportedly in a swimming pool.

He was visiting his daughter, the Irish News in Belfast reported.

O’Callaghan, a native of Kerry, told of his IRA years in his book “The Informer,” which was published in 1999.

He toured the U.S. to promote the book and at one point visited the Irish Echo office where he was interviewed by reporters including the paper’s longtime Northern Ireland columnist, the late Jack Holland.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

Among O’Callaghan’s assertions in his book was that he foiled a plot to murder the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana in the 1980s.

O'Callaghan was jailed in the 1990s after walking into a police station in England and admitting two IRA murders. He was released in 1997. As a free man he lived under the threat of reprisal from former IRA associates ever since he went public about his life as an informer.

Senior republicans, the Irish News report stated, dismissed O'Callaghan as a Walter Mitty character.

O'Callaghan joined the IRA in the mid-1970s. By the end of the decade, he had turned informer and started providing information to the Garda Siochana. He was close friends with historian and author Ruth Dudley Edwards who accompanied him on the 1999 U.S. tour.

The Irish News reported Dudley Edwards as stating: "He was a man of exceptional ability and courage, and he spent most of his life finding ways of atoning for the crimes he had committed.

"He and I were very close friends for more than twenty years. And, like all his friends, I loved him very much and owe him a great deal for his insights, his wise advice, the depth of his knowledge of politics, history, and the human condition."

The Irish News report stated that O'Callaghan had supported relatives bereaved in the 1998 Real IRA Omagh bomb in taking a landmark civil case that resulted in four republicans being held liable for the outrage.

"My experience of Sean O'Callaghan was always a positive experience," said Michael Galalgher, whose son aidan died in the bombing.

"He did a great deal to help the Omagh families get some form of justice."

Earlier this year, O'Callaghan gave evidence, from a secret location, to a Belfast inquest examining the sectarian murder of 10 Protestant workmen near the South Armagh village of Kingsmill in 1976.

He named two senior IRA men as being responsible for the massacre.

O’Callaghan was living in England in recent years.

In December, 1999, Jack Holland wrote of O’Callaghan in one of his columns: “Back in the mid-1990s, one of those who fueled (a) paranoid response to the cease-fire was Sean O’Callaghan, the former Provisional IRA man from Kerry-turned-informer. He and his handler, the historian Ruth Dudley Edwards, went around telling anyone who wanted to listen that the Provisionals’ engagement in the peace process was just another diabolical ploy to deceive honest Protestants and well-meaning Brits.

“Now I am delighted to see that Sean has completely changed his line and joined the real world. In a commentary in The Daily Telegraph last week, the former Provisional gunman wrote that: ‘No ifs, no buts — the leadership of the republican movement has abandoned the ‘armed struggle’ . . . The mainstream IRA is not going back to war.’ He proclaims that unionists should except this and get on with the political battle against republicanism.

“I found his change of line very interesting because of what it revealed about the reliability of O’Callaghan’s previous assertions.

“O’Callaghan had said that his previous claims about IRA intentions were based on a conversation he had had with republican leader Danny Morrison in Crumlin Road jail in 1990.

“O’Callaghan was in jail after having confessed to involvement in two murders in the 1970s. Morrison was being held on charges of conspiracy to murder an informer, Sandy Lynch.

“According to O’Callaghan, he and Morrison spoke for 90 minutes or so, during which Morrison revealed to him the IRA’s secret peace strategy plan, which was intended to deceive nationalist Ireland and the Brits and lull them into a false sense of security.

“Morrison derided the notion that he would have revealed such a plan if it had existed to someone who the IRA believed was an informer. According to Morrison, Sean talked about ‘his personal life and the people whom he had hurt.”

If O’Callaghan was telling the truth about this conversation, what has become of the Provisionals’ grand plan?.....he does not say upon what his skepticism was founded. Surely, if we are to believe what he said in 1997, it had been based on what he was told by Morrison in January 1990. That was why the enemies of the peace process used him to prove that they were right — after all, O’Callaghan had the inside information about IRA plans, didn’t he?

“This is not the first time that O’Callaghan has changed his tune or made dubious claims. He claimed that he was O/C of the Southern Command of the IRA from 1984-85, when he was also an informer.

“Yet, as this reporter was the first to point out, he did not seem to know about the Libyan arms shipments the first of which arrived in Ireland in August 1985. (O’Callaghan subsequently covered himself on this one by dating his tenure as O/C from October 1984 to July 1985.)

“He claimed that he was operating in the IRA’s England Department in 1983, yet his ‘handlers’ allowed him to blow his cover after a few weeks and return to Ireland, thus losing what would have been a source of vitally important information about IRA attacks on the ‘mainland.’

“He claimed to have murdered Sean Corcoran, a suspected informer, near Cork, yet before the High Court in London in 1998, he denied murdering Corcoran and said he had only made those claims to have the crime investigated.

“He claimed to have been involved the bombing attempt on British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and that his information had helped snare the man behind the attack six months later. Yet the information that led to that arrest had come as a result of an RUC surveillance operation that was not linked to the Thatcher attack.

“However, the past is past. Sean’s latest conversion is at least a positive sign — for it means that (David) Trimble no longer wants to be told about diabolical IRA plots. Instead, he wants to hear that the war is over. And Sean is — as ever — willing to oblige.”