Sean O'Callaghan (born 26 January 1954) is a former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). Between 1979 and 1988, he was also an informant for the Garda Síochána's Special Branch. In 1988, he resigned from the IRA and voluntarily surrendered to British prosecution. Following his release from jail, O'Callaghan published his memoirs, The Informer: The True Life Story of One Man's War on Terrorism.
O'Callaghan was born on 26 January 1954 into a republican family in Tralee, County Kerry. His paternal grandfather had taken the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War. O'Callaghan's father, who had served in the IRA, had been interned during World War II at the Curragh Camp in County Kildare.
By the late 1960s, the teenaged O'Callaghan had ceased practising the Catholic religion, regarding himself as an atheist and a Marxist. He sympathised with the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. In 1969, violent attacks were perpetrated against civil rights organizers and many other Catholics by unionists. Believing that he would be helping to combat British imperialism, O'Callaghan volunteered for the newly-founded Provisional IRA at the age of 16.
Soon afterwards, O'Callaghan was arrested by local Gardaí after he accidentally detonated a small amount of explosives, which caused damage to his parents' house and those of his neighbours. After demanding, and receiving, treatment as a political prisoner, O'Callaghan quietly served his sentence.
After becoming a full-time volunteer, O'Callaghan was involved in various IRA operations, including a May 1974 mortar attack on a British army base at Clogher, County Tyrone in which a female "Greenfinch" Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier, Private Eva Martin, was killed. In his memoirs, O'Callaghan wrote that, although some individual UDR soldiers had had links to loyalist paramilitary gangs, he subsequently learned that Private Martin was not one of them. A secondary school teacher, she and her husband had both volunteered for the UDR. It was Martin's husband who found her body on a shattered staircase inside the base.
In August 1974, O'Callagan walked into a bar in Omagh, County Tyrone and fatally shot Detective Inspector Peter Flanagan of the RUC Special Branch. D.I. Flanagan, a Catholic, was regarded as a traitor by both the IRA and many local residents. Flanagan was also rumoured, falsely, to have used excessive force while interrogating IRA suspects.
Becoming an informant
In 1976, aged 21, O'Callaghan resigned from the Provisional IRA, and moved to London. In May 1978, he married a Scottish woman of Protestant unionist descent. For several years afterward, he ran a moderately successful mobile cleaning business.
O'Callaghan later recalled, "In truth there seemed to be no escaping from Ireland. At the strangest of times I would find myself reliving the events of my years in the IRA. As the years went on, I came to believe that the Provisional IRA was the greatest enemy of democracy and decency in Ireland."
In 1979, O'Callaghan was the target of an overture by his former IRA colleagues, who wished him to rejoin the organisation. In response, O'Callaghan decided to become an informer. In his memoirs, O'Callaghan described his reasons as follows, "I had been brought up to believe that you had to take responsibility for your own actions. If you did something wrong then you made amends. I came to believe that individuals taking responsibility for their own actions is the basis for civilization, Without that safety net we have nothing."
"The final straw," was O'Callaghan's disgust over the IRA's fatal bombing attack on the yacht of Lord Mountbatten, which also killed Mountbatten's 14-year-old grandchild and a 15-year-old "boat employee". After rejoining the IRA, O'Callaghan claims he heard allegations that the bombing was planned to obtain money from the Soviet military intelligence service (the GRU) and the East German Stasi.
In 1979, O'Callaghan and his wife moved to Tralee, where he arranged a clandestine meeting with a local officer of the Garda Special Branch. In Tralee's Roman Catholic cemetery, O'Callaghan expressed his intention to subvert the IRA from within. He insisted that he would only speak directly to his contact and would not be blackmailed into providing information, but would freely give whatever information was asked for. At this point O'Callaghan was still opposed to helping the British in a similar manner.
A few weeks later, O'Callaghan made contact with Kerry IRA leader Martin Ferris and attended his first IRA meeting since 1975. Immediately afterwards, he telephoned his Garda contact and said, "We're in."
According to O'Callaghan, "Over the next few months plans to carry out various armed robberies were put together by the local IRA. It was relatively easy for me to foil these attempts; an occasional Garda car or roadblock at the 'wrong time'; the routine arrest of Ferris or myself; or simple 'bad planning', such as a car arriving late -- a whole series of random stratagems."
Then, during the 1981 hunger strike in the Maze Prison, O'Callaghan attempted to start his own hunger strike in support of the Maze prisoners but was told to desist by the IRA for fear it would detract focus from the prisoners. O'Callaghan successfully sabotaged the efforts of republicans in Kerry from staging hunger strikes of their own.
In 1984, O'Callaghan informed his Garda handler of an attempt to smuggle seven tons of AK-47 assault rifles from the United States. The shipment had been purchased from the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American crime family based in South Boston, Massachusetts. The actual planning of the shipment was carried out by Patrick Nee, a South Boston gangster and staunch IRA supporter. The security on the American end of the shipment was handled by Kevin Weeks and Whitey Bulger, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informant.
Overseen by Bulger and Nee, the guns were loaded aboard the Valhalla, a fishing trawler from Gloucester, Massachusetts. However, O'Callaghan had already briefed his handlers on the shipment. As a result, the cargo was intercepted by a combined force of the Irish Navy and the Garda Síochána. The Valhalla's crew was arrested by US Customs agents immediately after returning to Gloucester. One of the crewmembers, John MacIntyre, agreed to wear a wire on meeting Bulger, Weeks, and Nee. After learning of MacIntyre's deal from FBI agent John Connolly, Bulger murdered him and buried him in a South Boston basement. Nee subsequently served a long sentence in the US Federal Prison system for his role in the shipment. In his 2006 memoir A Criminal and an Irishman, Nee compares O'Callaghan to Judas Iscariot.
O'Callaghan claimed to have been tasked in 1984 with placing 25lb of Frangex in the toilet of a theatre in London. At the time Prince Charles and Princess Diana were due to attend a benefit concert featuring Duran Duran and Dire Straits among other performers. A warning was phoned in and royal correspondent, James Whitaker noted later that the early departure of the Royal couple had seemed rude at the time. The theatre had been searched before the concert and a second search following the warning revealed no device.
O'Callaghan escaped to Ireland despite being hunted by British police and in 1985 he was elected as a Sinn Féin councillor for Tralee Urban District Council, and unsuccessfully contested a seat on Kerry County Council. He claimed to have been in regular contact with its leaders, Gerry Adams (now TD for Louth) and Martin McGuinness (now deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland).
Imprisonment and release
On 29 November 1988, after having again resigned from the Provisional IRA, O'Callaghan walked into a police station in Tunbridge Wells, England. He confessed to the murders of Private Eva Martin and D.I. Peter Flanagan and voluntarily surrendered to British prosecution. Although the RUC repeatedly offered him witness protection as part of the supergrass policy, O'Callaghan refused to accept. In his memoirs, he states that he intended to continue combating Sinn Féin and the IRA through the press after his release.
O'Callaghan served his sentence in prisons in Northern Ireland and England and foiled several planned escapes by imprisoned IRA members. While in jail he told his story to The Sunday Times. O'Callaghan was released as part of a Prerogative of Mercy by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997. In 1999, he published an autobiography entitled The Informer: The True Life Story of One Man's War On Terrorism.
O'Callaghan appeared as a Crown Prosecution witness in August 2006 during the trial of Yousef Samhan, 26, of Northolt, London, after an incident in which O'Callaghan was bound to a chair by two young men whom he met in a gay bar in West London. The court heard that O'Callaghan was held at knifepoint while the two men ransacked the property that O'Callaghan had been staying in at Pope's Lane, Ealing, London.
During the trial O'Callaghan stated that he had been looking after the property for a friend, the author Ruth Dudley Edwards, and he invited the two men back to the house for a drink after socialising with them in a nearby gay pub, West Five. O'Callaghan informed the court that had frequented the pub "only because it was the nearest" public house. He further outlined that when they arrived back at Dudley Edwards' home, he was then knocked to the floor, tied with an electrical flex to a chair and then held at knifepoint while Samhan and another man proceeded to burgle the property.
In his defence, Samhan claimed that O'Callaghan was a willing participant and had requested that he be tied up during a gay bondage session with the two men. Samhan was nevertheless found guilty of robbery on 6 September 2006.
He now lives relatively openly in England, having refused to adopt a new identity, and works as a security consultant, occasional advisor to the Ulster Unionist Party, and media pundit, usually whenever the IRA has made a major announcement.
In 1998, O'Callaghan declared, "I know that the organization led by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness would like to murder me. I know that that organization will go on murdering other people until they are finally defeated. It is my belief that in spite of IRA/Sinn Féin's strategic cunning, and no matter how many people they kill, the people of the Irish Republic expect, because they have been told so by John Hume, that there will be peace. There may come a time when their patience runs out. If that were to happen there would be no place for IRA/Sinn Féin to hide. We must work tirelessly to bring that day forward."
Many Irish republicans have strongly denied the allegations made by O'Callaghan in his book The Informer and subsequent newspaper articles. O'Callaghan stated that he had risen to leader of Southern Command and a substitute delegate on the IRA Army Council both in print and before a Dublin jury under oath. However, these claims have been disputed by Sinn Féin. A 1997 article in An Phoblacht alleges that O'Callaghan "...has been forced to overstate his former importance in the IRA and to make increasingly outlandish accusations against individual republicans."
O'Callaghan's claimed to have attended an IRA finance meeting alongside Pat Finucane and Gerry Adams in Letterkenny in 1980. However, both Finucane and Adams repeatedly denied being IRA members. In Finucane's case, both the RUC and the Stevens Report have said that he was not a member.
- O'Callaghan (1998), pages 8-9.
- Toby Harnden (1997). "the smearing by the green". The Spectator. Retrieved 27 August 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- O'Callaghan, Sean (1999). The Informer. London: Corgi Books. pp.95–99. ISBN 0-552-14607-2
- O'Callaghan, pp.103–113
- O'Callaghan (1998), pages 87–89.
- O'Callaghan (1998), pages 88–89.
- O'Callaghan (1998).
- O'Callaghan (1998), page 90.
- O'Callaghan (1998), page 89.
- O'Callaghan (1998), page. 92.
- O'Callaghan (1998), pages 103–104.
- O'Callaghan (1998), pages 92–93.
- O'Callaghan (1998), page 95.
- O'Callaghan (1998), page 96.
- O'Callaghan (1998), pages 109–112.
- Whitaker, James, John and Norma aghast at wedding, The Daily Mirror, 23 May 1998
- O'Callaghan, p.197
- O'Callaghan, pp.307–309
- David Sharrock (22 August 2006). "IRA informer 'tied up by men he met in bar'". The Times. London. Retrieved 13 October 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Cite error: Invalid
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- Brian Campbell. "O'Callaghan – the truth". An Phoblacht. Retrieved 5 February 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Ruth Dudley Edwards. "the naked truth about me, the IRA whistle-blower and the gay bondage orgy". Sunday Independent. Retrieved 27 August 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- IRA Informer Burgled by men he met in Gay bar
- "Ex-informer defends RUC against critics". News Letter. 25 January 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- O'Callaghan (1998), page 316.
- O'Callaghan – the truth
- BBC News