Magazine article The Spectator

The Smearing by the Green

Magazine article The Spectator

The Smearing by the Green

Article excerpt

IF PROOF were needed that truth is stranger than fiction, then the story thus far of Sean O'Callaghan -- variously an IRA murderer, double agent and now vehement critic of Irish pan-nationalism would certainly do for a start.

There is, however, more. The latest about O'Callaghan, according to much of the Dublin media, is that he is a lunatic who deserves only pity. His recent release from prison was part of a British conspiracy to wage `psychological warfare' against Gerry and the Peacemakers. O'Callaghan, the argument goes, is being coached by MIS. He is lying about his former rank within the IRA. His opinions about republican aims have no value. And, for good measure, the Irish judiciary should bang him up for a murder he confessed to nearly ten years ago.

The beginning of the O'Callaghan story is unremarkable enough. Like so many of his generation, the teenager who joined the Provisionals in his home town of Tralee, Co. Kerry in 1970 was inspired by the civil rights movement in the North to take up arms in pursuit of the romantic ideal of a united Ireland free from the yoke of British imperialism.

But the reality, he later discovered, was not so noble. He killed Eve Martin, a 28year-old UDR officer, in a mortar attack and Detective Inspector Peter Flanagan in a bar-room shooting in 1974. He became disillusioned with the IRA's methods and aims and, shortly after the murders, got out. Disillusionment turned to a sickened guilt about the murders, however, and he embarked upon an obsessive mission to atone for them by returning to Ireland to strike back at the IRA, his former comrades.

He rejoined the Provisionals in 1979 and became, in the words of his Garda handler, `the most important intelligence agent in the history of the Irish state'. Rising to become head of the IRA's Southern Command and Sinn Fein's national executive, he prevented numerous atrocities and saved dozens of lives.

In 1985, as suspicion about him grew within the IRA, he fled to England and a new life. Three years later, racked by conscience and determined to inflict further damage on the IRA, he gave himself up. In 1990, he pleaded guilty to 42 terrorist offences and was sentenced to a total of 539 years in prison.

Emerging from Maghaberry prison's special unit in December, he was whisked off to London for a series of media appearances and briefings that would have taxed the stamina of Baroness Thatcher in her prime. The `peace process', he said repeatedly, was a sham. The IRA had not changed, it had simply become more sophisticated. `If the IRA has its own way, decency and democracy on this island will perish,' he warned. Its intent, however smooth the presentation, is evil.'

As if to prove this point, it did not take long for a campaign to discredit O'Callaghan to gather pace. Richard Ingrams, writing in the Observer, said O'Callaghan's television appearances were 'fishy'. His message was 'unconvincing' and little more than `an insight into the thinking of certain diehard sections of British Intelligence'. The SDLP leader John Hume, who has repeatedly said he would talk to anybody, suddenly found someone he would not talk to `in any shape or form'. The timing of O'Callaghan's release was `rather strange', he said on Irish radio. `He is saying the same thing that John Major says British intelligence is telling John Major.'

Mr Hume's deputy, Seamus Mallon, claimed the judge who sentenced O'Callaghan had said he was living in a fantasy world and had difficulty `telling fact from fiction'. …

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