A self-confessed IRA informer has been found dead in a swimming pool in Jamaica.
Sean O’Callaghan, who became a darling of the mainstream media for his far-fetched accounts of IRA activity and anti-republican political commentary, was aged 63. His cause of death remains unknown, although his family have said they believe he drowned after getting into difficulty while swimming.
O’Callaghan, from County Kerry, joined the Provisional IRA in the mid-1970s. By 1976, aged 21, he ended his involvement with the Provisional IRA and moved to London. But by the end of the decade, he had returned as an informer and started spying for the Irish Garda police.
In 1985, O’Callaghan murdered another informer in Kerry, John Corcoran, which he subsequently admitted but later denied. It is thought he used Corcoran as a scapegoat in order to protect himself and ward off suspicions that he was the informer.
Apparently haunted by his actions, in 1988 O’Callaghan walked into a police station in England and confessed to IRA involvement. He was jailed for life, but was freed by a royal pardon in 1996.
In recent years, he invented increasingly absurd tales of his IRA involvement for attention and cash. Among these was the claim he thwarted a plot to assassinate the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana in the 1980s.
His wilder inventions and commentary on the IRA were given front-page prominence. More recently, he featured in the British tabloids as a critic of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
All this time, he battled depression and alcoholism. In an interview two years ago O’Callaghan spoke of the threat he lived under. “I’m sure the Provos and dissident republicans would shoot me in an instant if they got the chance, so I keep looking in front of me as well as behind me,” he said. “That’s just how it is.”
Right-wing extremist Ruth Dudley-Edwards, a friend of Callaghan’s, explained how he dodged the IRA death sentence for being an informer.
“He always moved around. He had no fixed address or credit card. He left no trail,” she said.
“He received warnings from the police that he was under threat. After a certain period, he likely ceased to be a target for the Provos but the dissidents wouldn’t have hesitated to kill him.”
Former IRA prisoner and writer Anthony McIntyre rejected Callaghan’s depiction of himself and described him as a “calculating, self-serving and manipulative man.”
“I don’t buy the line that he had some sort of ‘Road to Damascus’ conversion and was turned because of the horrors of the past. Most people work for the security services for money or to save their own skin,” he said.