Republican News · Thursday 27 February 1997

[An Phoblacht]

O'Callaghan - the truth


Brian Campbell rubbishes the claims of informer and anti-peace process campaigner Sean O'Callaghan. For the first time, details of O'Callaghan's life before he surrendered to British police in 1988 are revealed along with new information about his mental instability while in Crumlin Road Prison.


Seán O'Callaghan clearly enjoys the spotlight. Released early from a double life sentence he is a star reborn. And for some media outlets, his act is irresistible. He says he was OC of the IRA's Southern Command, that he attended Army Council meetings, that he knows the IRA and he knows their strategy. His is the real inside story.

In the best tradition of doomsayers he has come - just in time - to warn the world that the IRA is fooling them and will lead them to ruin.

Of course, Sean O'Callaghan's opinion of Sinn Féin and the IRA and of the peace process is exactly that of British Intelligence. It is also exactly that of the foremost group of anti-republican journalists, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Eoghan Harris, Ruth Dudley Edwards and Liam Clarke. O'Callaghan has even won praise from Joe Hendron for his anti-republican crusade.


During almost eighteen months in Crumlin Road Sean O'Callaghan's mental health was a cause of concern to the prison authorities. He tried to commit suicide on at least two occasions and he was taking regular medication

 
But it is a crusade based on deception. In order to keep his name in the headlines and inflate the significance of his comments O'Callaghan has been forced to overstate his former importance in the IRA and to make increasingly outlandish accusations against individual republicans.

One story goes to the heart of O'Callaghan's credibility. It is his account of a conversation with Sinn Féin's former Director of Publicity, Danny Morrison, in Crumlin Road Jail in 1990. He claims that Morrison told him of a secret IRA Army Council strategy which proves that the peace process is a sham. O'Callaghan's account of that conversation is a fiction which attempts to cover up his true worth - a minor figure whose information about the IRA is twelve years out of date.

O'Callaghan was in Crumlin Road after surrendering to British police in Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, in November 1988, three years after he fled from an IRA investigation into his role as an informer in Co Kerry.

His friends in the media have said he gave himself up in Kent because he was remorseful for his actions as an IRA Volunteer in Tyrone in the early seventies. O'Callaghan himself has given three contrasting reasons for surrendering.

Last year, he wrote: ``My reasons for giving myself up were fairly straightforward. I wanted to give evidence against the IRA leadership both in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.''

This explanation does not bear scrutiny, not least because it risked what eventually happened - he'd end up serving a life sentence without getting the opportunity to give supergrass evidence against anyone.

It also disregards the fact that the state had effectively abandoned the supergrass strategy after it was discredited as the use of ``paid perjurors''. Why offer to participate in a strategy which had only a small chance of being revived?

Furthermore, if O'Callaghan wanted to go supergrass, wouldn't it have been logical for him to approach his MI5 handlers, who debriefed him when he left Tralee in 1985, and once more offer his services? That route carried the bonus that he wouldn't have to serve a life sentence if his offer was rejected.

O'Callaghan's second explanation for surrendering to police is even more bizarre. It is that he did it to prove to the IRA that he wasn't an informer. He has yet to explain what proof could possibly be offered by handing himself in and confessing.

His third explanation, however, is perhaps closest to the truth. He told the Sunday Times he handed himself in while he was suffering from depression. This explanation fits a pattern of crises in his life associated with problems with his mental health (his late father told the Sunday Business Post that he took Seán for a psychiatric examination when he was fifteen years old and an Irish Special Branch detective told the Sunday Times that O'Callaghan ``cracked up'' at the time he left Tralee in 1985).

Phoblacht has learned that throughout 1988 O'Callaghan was drinking heavily and becoming increasingly depressed at the turn his life had taken. He was living with his partner, Lesley Moore, and their son, Rory, in a smart, middle-class housing estate near Tunbridge Wells. Lesley was working in Curry's electrical shop in the town and O'Callaghan was doing little except drinking. MI5 had cut him loose. His only reward was the house and a dwindling Isle of Man bank account. He realised he had outlived his usefulness for his British handlers - that was why he did not offer his supergrass strategy to MI5 - and he could not return to Ireland. He was a lonely man - during 1988 he made several attempts to contact former friends in Kerry.

The Sunday Times on 16 February had a similar story about another informer - Martin McGartland from Belfast. In 1991 McGartland was resettled in England, provided with a 53,500 house and 40,000 in a bank account and cast adrift by his MI5 handlers. He is, according to BBC journalist John Ware, ``alone, homesick and virtually friendless''. He has been treated with antidepressants and ``his neighbours say they have heard him shout at night and seen him tearing down curtains and smashing a door. He says he has nightmares and walks in his sleep.''

In November 1988 O'Callaghan's depression came to a head. He walked into a pub in London where a former friend from Tralee worked. According to this man, O'Callaghan was ``a physical and mental wreck''. When O'Callaghan offered to buy him a drink, the man said, ``I don't want a drink from you.'' ``Why not?'' O'Callaghan asked. ``Because you're a spy,'' he told him. The man then walked out. Later that day O'Callaghan handed himself in to the police at Tunbridge Wells. At the time he was wearing only a pair of trousers. He told a bewildered desk sergeant that he had killed two people in Ireland in the 1970s.

O'Callaghan was taken to the Six Counties and interrogated by the RUC Special Branch before being charged with, among other things, the killing of two members of the Crown Forces in Tyrone in 1974 - UDR woman Eva Martin in Clogher and Special Branch detective Peter Flanagan in Omagh. He was then remanded to Crumlin Road Prison.

During almost eighteen months in Crumlin Road Sean O'Callaghan's mental health was a cause of concern to the prison authorities. He tried to commit suicide on at least two occasions and he was taking regular medication. He was also seeing a psychiatrist. He was withdrawn and was often reluctant to come out of his cell. His prison security book had red stars, warning screws that he was potentially suicidal and was to be checked regularly.

At first he was in a cell in the D Wing annexe. This was an area set aside for prisoners who were informers, potential supergrasses or otherwise in need of protection. During his time there O'Callaghan attempted suicide by hanging himself by his shoelaces. The laces broke and he fell, incurring a head wound which needed eight stitches. He also attacked Michael Stone, the loyalist who killed three people in Milltown Cemetery during the funerals of the three IRA volunteers killed in Gibraltar.

In early 1989 O'Callaghan's family approached Danny Morrison. Danny wrote a letter to the Irish Times last January explaining what happened: ``They said that they were extremely concerned for Sean's mental state and felt that in isolation he was being manipulated - ``brain-washed'' was the term they used. They asked was he under any threat from the IRA and could I get an assurance that he would be safe if he came on to the republican wings.

``I went to the IRA. I was told that they had proof he was an informer but that they preferred him on the republican wings, away from his MI5 handlers, because they were concerned that he might turn ``supergrass'' and take the witness stand. They gave an assurance that he would not be harmed, that the OC of the jail would be acquainted with this instruction.''

Similar assurances have been given to informers over the years and particularly to potential supergrasses.

Sean O'Callaghan remained on C Wing with republican prisoners from February 1989 until January 1990. He was a lonely, reclusive prisoner. Every day he queued to collect his medication - a tablet called Melleril - from the prison medic (a warder). Melleril is a drug prescribed for psychotic illnesses, schizophrenia, mania and behavioural disorders such as paranoia, sociopathy and anxiety disorders. It is also used to dampen down hallucinations and to sedate people who are aggressive. O'Callaghan has denied that he was on medication in Crumlin Road Jail but it is a denial which is easily countered. Medication in the jail was given openly on the wing. There are dozens of witnesses, among both prisoners and warders.

During the summer of 1989 O'Callaghan made another suicide attempt, again by trying to hang himself with his shoelaces. His cellmate was woken in the middle of the night by the sound of a locker falling over and looked up to see O'Callaghan hanging by the neck from laces attached to conduit above the cell door. The cellmate rang the bell to summon a screw. O'Callaghan was purple in the face and semi-conscious. Shortly after, a screw arrived with a medic called Herbie Walker. The screw cut the noose with a penknife and Walker asked O'Callaghan to go to the prison hospital but he refused.

O'Callaghan claims that the prisoners in C Wing did not suspect him of being an informer. But O'Callaghan's debriefing began soon after he arrived in C Wing. One prisoner had regular sessions with him for six months. ``At first,'' the prisoner said, ``I didn't know who he was but the OC told me he was the guy who gave away the Marita Anne.''

One incident casts doubt on O'Callaghan's claim that the IRA did not suspect him of being an informer.

During 1989 a major escape was planned from C Wing. O'Callaghan was not asked to take part. If, as he claims, he was a former OC of the IRA's Southern Command and was not under suspicion, he would have been asked to take part in the escape.

In late January 1990 Danny Morrison arrived in C Wing. He had been arrested two weeks earlier and held in A Wing as a `Top Risk' prisoner. His classification was reduced to `High Security' and he was moved to C Wing. He was being held on a charge of conspiring to kill another informer, Sandy Lynch. On his first night in C Wing Morrison met O'Callaghan and had a one and a half hour conversation with him in the wing canteen.

In his Irish Times letter Morrison wrote: ``What Seán talked to me about that night - apart from a ridiculous proposal that if I got him cyanide he would kill the loyalist Michael Stone - was his personal life and the people whom he had loved and hurt.''

For O'Callaghan, this conversation now has enormous significance. He told journalist Vincent Browne last December that Danny Morrison told him secret details of the ``peace process strategy'' and it is this which he is using to paint the strategy as a cynical attempt to fool nationalist Ireland. In other words, without his claim to have heard details of the peace strategy from Danny Morrison, O'Callaghan's critique of the Republican Movement would be worthless because it would be at least twelve years out of date.

Is it credible for O'Callaghan to say Danny Morrison revealed secrets to him in a conversation in a canteen in Crumlin Road Prison in 1990? He is probably the least likely person for any republican to confide in. At the time O'Callaghan was mentally unstable and under suspicion of being an informer - O'Callaghan himself has admitted that he was under suspicion when he left Tralee in 1985 (he was also being investigated by Tralee Sinn Féin for embezzling several thousand pounds of party funds).

But even if Danny Morrison had told O'Callaghan of some secret, underhand republican strategy, its relevance to today would be minimal. In January 1990 secret contacts with the British were six months away and it would be two years before Gerry Adams and John Hume began their contacts. When Danny Morrison spoke to Seán O'Callaghan, the peace process had not begun and could not be foreseen.

The morning after the conversation in the canteen O'Callaghan asked his cellmate to ring the bell and get the medic. He was taken out on a stretcher and returned to D Wing annexe. The medic told the republican prisoners O'Callaghan had taken an overdose.

In May 1990 O'Callaghan pleaded guilty on charges which included the two killings. He was sentenced to two life terms and 539 years.

O'Callaghan's account of his conversation with Danny Morrison is just one instance when he has lied in order to boost his credibility.

His most recent ``revelation'' is that in 1982 Gerry Adams asked his advice about killing John Hume. O'Callaghan tells us, of course, that he advised against it. It is a story which reveals how O'Callaghan's claims are becoming ever more outrageous in order to keep himself in the headlines. In June 1996 he wrote in the Guardian: ``I remember the days when the Provisional leadership seriously discussed killing John Hume.'' No mention of Gerry Adams and it didn't make headlines because it was one outlandish claim among many. Then last month O'Callaghan added Gerry Adams's name to the story and a compliant media ran it as front page news. One person who was sceptical was a journalist from Boston who had interviewed O'Callaghan at length in Maghaberry Jail. O'Callaghan had talked a lot about Adams but he had never mentioned any plot to kill Hume, he said.

other story which has made headlines is that O'Callaghan infiltrated the IRA's England Department and foiled an attack on British Royals Charles and Diana at a Duran Duran concert in the Dominion Theatre in London's West End in 1983.

O'Callaghan claims that he was given 2,000 by the IRA to finance the operation, that he travelled to London, went into the Dominion Theatre and ``found it would be easy to put a bomb into a lavatory behind the Royal Box.'' He claims the bomb was to have a 32-day timer. In order to thwart the plan O'Callaghan claims he asked his handler to place a story in the British press that Scotland Yard was hunting him. He then made his way to Paris and flew back to Dublin. He had been in England for little over a week.

The story broke in the British tabloids with his photograph on the front pages along with headlines such as: ``Jenkins target of IRA Jackal''. O'Callaghan posed in Tralee with copies of the papers to ``prove'' that he was not in England.

If it was true that O'Callaghan had infiltrated the England Department it would have been an enormously significant coup for British and Irish Intelligence. They would have had an agent at the heart of one of the IRA's most effective departments, a department which within eighteen months would come within a whisker of killing the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

But if O'Callaghan had infiltrated the England Department and if he had been sent to England on active service in 1983, why did he arrange for his cover to be blown after just ten days, making it impossible for him ever to be used in that way again? If O'Callaghan's version is to be believed, British and Irish Intelligence gave up the chance of an agent in the IRA's England Department and returned him to a relatively minor position in Kerry. It just doesn't make sense.

Other parts of his story also don't stand up to scrutiny. His claim to have been OC of the IRA's Southern Command and to have attended two Army Council meetings covers the period when, it has been reported, massive shipments of arms were landed in the 26 Counties. It must have been one of the biggest logistical operations the IRA has ever undertaken, yet O'Callaghan was not aware of any details of it. He claims he got word that something was afoot and warned his handlers, but nothing was done.

It is an excuse he has used repeatedly to explain how his ``inside knowledge'' did not translate into defeats for the IRA.

He claims he warned his handlers that an attempt was to be made on Margaret Thatcher's life at the Conservative Conference in Brighton in 1984 but that British police didn't take his warning seriously.

He has also claimed - in interviews with three different newspapers - that he shot informer John Corcoran from Cork. Once again, he says he forewarned his handlers but no action was taken. Therefore, if O'Callaghan is to be believed, he tried to prevent Corcoran's death and then he himself shot him.

It is a killing which has profound implications for the 26 County state. No one has ever been charged with it even though a self-confessed agent of the state has admitted to carrying it out.

Seán O'Callaghan's Special Branch handler at that time has now retired from the Garda. He is a man who developed close links with British Intelligence and is now running a security firm in London.

O'Callaghan is an impressive media performer - one newspaper report says the British government paid for him to undergo media training, at a cost of 10,000. But media training gives style, not substance, and O'Callaghan is struggling to sustain a story riddled with lies. This week, senior gardai told the Irish Independent that O'Callaghan's story was ``highly exaggerated'' and they dismissed many of his claims. He is currently in the United States on a publicity trip. It is a complete disaster. No major newspaper or prime time television show will meet him. The White House and the National Security Council won't return his calls. The Irish Embassy has shunned him. The State Department, the secret service, the FBI and the police refuse to provide protection.

No-one likes informers. They tell lies.


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