Magazine article The Spectator

Shopping and Singing

Magazine article The Spectator

Shopping and Singing

Article excerpt

THE INFORMER by Sean O'Callaghan Bantam, 16.99, pp. 340

Either Sean O'Callaghan is the biggest charlatan in the history of the IRA, or he is its most devastating informer. My guess is the latter, and that he is one of the primary reasons why the IRA under Gerry Adams has gone down the political road from which for the last eight years it has been negotiating the terms of its defeat.

Even when writing this book O'Callaghan seems to have been unaware of the imminence or nature of this defeat. His penultimate sentence about the IRA of Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams runs: 'I know that that organisation will go on murdering people until they are finally defeated.' That now appears to be the kind of historical error to which others as well - and I in particular plead guilty here have been prone. The IRA was militarily locked into a purposeless stalemate which its leaders realised it could not fight its way out of. They wanted a dignified, orderly end to the war, without surrender of their arms, much as the German Grand Army of 1918 sought a mannerly departure from the field of battle.

We must conclude that the Provisional IRA's campaign of terror is over. What terrorism awaits us will come from other republican groups which, as did the Provisional IRA before them, will don the mantle of the inheritors of the True Believers and seek unity of the island of Ireland by purposeless war and purposeless death. What we shall not see is the IRA of Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams going back to war. Some other IRA, maybe; but that IRA, no.

In his retreat in England, Sean O'Callaghan may take some pride in this defeat, though he will take little enough pleasure from the manner in which it was consummated, with two of the leaders of the IRA, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, possibly soon helping to govern the very state they have spent over a quarter of a century trying to overthrow. What their consciences say when they look at that field of death behind them, we must leave to their memoirs, and trust they will be a little less amnesiac than Gerry Adams was in his recollections last year. What Sean O'Callaghan's conscience did was to turn him into an informer against his former colleagues in the IRA after a terrorist career which involved him in many violent deeds and in two murders.

To judge from the apparent absence of fear in these recollections, Sean O'Callaghan is a mightily cool man: he was as calm a terrorist as he was an imperturbable informer. In his IRA days, he murdered a Catholic RUC man in the coldest blood in a pub, and then reloaded beside his victim's body while other drinkers watched in horror. Interestingly enough, the RUC Special Branch men who remained most adamantly against forgiving him for this were, apparently, also Catholics. O'Callaghan does not draw attention to their religion: perhaps he was unaware of it.

His subsequent informing days ended when he decided he had had enough. He turned up at Tunbridge Wells police station and told an astonished bobby that he was a terrorist murderer. Prison, of course, was no guarantee that the IRA could not get to him, once it discovered the viper it had nursed in its bosom. There was one concerted attempt to poison him there, and he survived that; but had he been uncovered as a police agent while working within the highest councils of the IRA, his end would have been unspeakable, well worthy of the Gestapo, probably concluding with a secret burial at midnight. …

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