Magazine article The Spectator

It Wasn't Sean Who Was Mad

Magazine article The Spectator

It Wasn't Sean Who Was Mad

Article excerpt

OLLIE NORTH, of Contra, Iranianhostage-deal and beautiful-blonde-secretary-shredding-documents fame, reminded me of our very own David Mellor: disgraced one day, bouncy, confident media star the next.

His cheery braggadocio has won millions of listeners for the Oliver North Radio Show, which was for me the most amusing of all the dozens of media events focusing on Sean O'Callaghan, the IRA terroristturned-informer with whom I've just completed a three-week, seven-city, IRAbashing tour of America. In all that time, the only occasion on which I saw Mr O'Callaghan dodge a question was when - apropos of his criticism of Jean Kennedy Smith (US ambassador to Ireland in theory, Irish nationalism's ambassador to the US in practice) - a listener phoned in and asked, `Why are the Kennedys pro-IRA when they're trying to take the guns away from the patriotic militia at home?'

Even Ollie realised this was a no-win question and signalled to Mr O'Callaghan that he was dealing with a nut. Mr O'Callaghan for once took a mildly mendacious way out: `I've been in jail for eight years, so I'm afraid I don't know much about militias.'

Ollie was palpably delighted with Mr O'Callaghan, for he identifies with celebrities who are also men of action: he spent much of his programme metaphorically slapping his guest on the back. Mr O'Callaghan was still new to the frisky enthusiasm of Americans, so the souvenir of this tour that I most want is a copy of the photograph of Ollie shaking hands exuberantly with a dazed-looking O'Callaghan.

The next most entertaining event involved another energetic publicityhound, Congressman Peter King, whose support for the IRA recently garnered him a peace award at a Freedom for All Ireland dinner. King has a secure place in the IRA's pantheon of useful idiots: in the National Review he recently compared Gerry Adams to George Washington and Sean O'Callaghan to Benedict Arnold, which so amused the editor, John O'Sullivan, that he instigated a King-O'Callaghan public debate on Capitol Hill under his magazine's auspices.

King obediently read out the most recent Sinn Fein briefing on Mr O'Callaghan (mentally deranged agent of British imperialism) and added a coda of his own: an IRA prisoner had told him, he explained, that in jail O'Callaghan had been observed eating light bulbs. The British ambassador, Sir John Kerr observed helpfully afterwards that British prisoners were not allowed to eat light bulbs: more prosaically, Mr O'Callaghan points out that for obvious reasons prisons do not in fact have light bulbs. Even the Sinn Fein organ An Phoblacht/Republican News, which in a recent hysterical attack has accused Mr O'Callaghan of everything short of breakfasting on sauteed Republican babies, balked at that.

The trouble with those who allege that Mr O'Callaghan is a fruitcake is that he comes across as sane and they come across as mad. King's cheerleaders were no exception. Although beefed up by the chap who explained that he was Jewish and believed that the Irish too should have their homeland, they were mainly typical of the malcontent fringe of Irish America - a daft breed I know well since I did an East Coast lecture tour in the mid-1980s. I still vividly remember Julia, Ann and Big Al, who would rise after every lecture to drone interminably and irrelevantly about colonial oppressors, Saxon yokes and the historic suffering of the heroic Irish people under the British jackboot. …

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