A South Armagh man has admitted to working as a paid informer for the last ten years. Twenty-nine-year-old John McKeown from Mobane, near Crossmaglen told a packed press conference in Dundalk on Thursday 12 August that he was given a total of £10,000 by his RUC Special Branch handlers for passing on information since 1989.
McKeown admitted his activities after being questioned by republicans about stolen cattle in the South Armagh area. He then phoned Assembly member Conor Murphy on Thursday morning and asked him to make his case public.
McKeown's activities began in 1989 when he was caught stealing meat while he worked for a meat plant in Newry. The management of the plant called the RUC and McKeown was arrested and later charged. At this point, two RUC detectives offered to drop the charges if McKeown agreed to inform on named individuals. The charges were dropped and McKeown began to pass on information to his handlers, whom he named as Brian and Gerry.
He phoned or met the two RUC men at least once a fortnight and passed on information about various individuals and vehicles. He was told to note who certain people were seen with, to note down car registrations and to watch houses and note who visited. He was regularly shown photographs and asked to identify the people in them.
For each piece of information he claims he received from £20 to £50. He was also given £200 when going on holidays and at his last meeting he was given £500 for his wedding.
On a number of occasions, McKeown was taken to houses in Portadown and Tandragee and to Gough Barracks in Armagh, where he was shown videos and asked to identify individuals. The videos included footage of demilitarisation protests in South Armagh organised by the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee. Speakers at the protests included Seamus Mallon and former Fianna Fáil Minister Rory O'Hanlon. He was also shown video footage of a failed car bomb.
The RUC Special Branch asked McKeown in recent years to turn his attention to Sinn Féin. He was asked to note who canvassed for the party and who put up posters and flags. He was also asked to monitor the Sinn Féin office in Crossmaglen and to gather intelligence on Sinn Féin Youth.
McKeown got married last Saturday and he said that when he was questioned about the cattle-stealing he decided to tell of his activities as an informer because he wanted to make a break with the past and start a new life.
At the press conference, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy said that John McKeown had done the right thing by coming forward and he urged anyone in a similar situation to do the same.
``The RUC Special Branch deliberately put this man's life in danger,'' he said. ``They care nothing for him or for the community from which he comes. And as we have repeatedly said, they ignore criminality in order to recruit informers. There are lessons here for businesspeople and others who think they can depend on the RUC to fight crime.
``There are questions to be asked of the management of the meat plant about why the charges against this man were dropped and whether they knew about it.
``But the main questions are directed against the RUC. They must explain what right they have to use informers to target legitimate political activity. Sinn Féin - and I'm sure the Farmers and Residents Committee - will have questions about that. It must also be remembered that a number of Sinn Féin members have been killed over the years, all as a result of information passed to loyalists from RUC files.''