Sean O'Callaghan

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Sean O'Callaghan (born 26 January 1954) is a former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). Between 1979 and 1988 he worked against the organization from within as an intelligence agent for the Irish Government with the Garda Síochána's Special Branch. In 1988 he left the IRA and voluntarily surrendered to British prosecution. Following his release from imprisonment he published a memoir detailing his life in Irish paramilitarism entitled The Informer: The True Life Story of One Man's War on Terrorism.

Early life

O'Callaghan was born on 26 January 1954, into a family with a Fenian paramilitary history, in Tralee, County Kerry. His paternal grandfather had taken the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War, and his father had been interned by the Irish Government during at the Curragh Camp in County Kildare for I.R.A. activity during World War 2..[1]

By the late 1960s the teenaged O'Callaghan had ceased practising the Catholic religion, and adopted Atheism and had become interested in the theories of Marxist revolutionary politics, which found an outlet of practical expression in the sectarian social unrest in Ulster at that time, centered on the activities of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. In 1969 an outbreak of communal violence broke out in Ulster, and believing that British imperialism was responsible O'Callaghan joined the newly founded Provisional IRA at the age of 16. Soon afterwards, he 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.[2] After demanding, and receiving, treatment as a political prisoner, O'Callaghan quietly served his sentence.

Service with the Provisional Irish Republican Army

After becoming a full-time paramilitary with the IRA, O'Callaghan became involved in various operations, including a May 1974 mortar attack on the British Army's base at Clogher in County Tyrone in which a female "Greenfinch" Ulster Defence Regiment soldier was killed.[3]

In an assassination in August 1974 O'Callaghan murdered Detective Inspector Peter Flanagan, an Ulster Catholic officer of the RUC Special Branch, by shooting him repeatedly with a handgun in a public house in the town of Omagh in County Tyrone.[4]

Irish Government agent within the I.R.A.

In 1976, aged 21, O'Callaghan ended his involvement with the Provisional IRA and moved to London. In May 1978, he married a Scottish woman of Protestant unionist descent.[5] During the late 1970s ran a successful mobile cleaning business.[6] However he was unable to settle in his new life fully, later recalling: 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.[7]

In 1979 O'Callaghan was contacted by the IRA seeking to recruit him again for paramilitary terrorism.[8] In response he decided to commit himself to working against the organization as an agent within it for the Irish Government. 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.[9] In 1979 he moved back to Tralee, where he arranged a clandestine meeting with an officer of the Garda Special Branch in a local cemetery, at which O'Callaghan expressed his willingness to work with it to subvert the IRA from within. At this point O'Callaghan was still opposed to working with the British Government.[10]

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."[11]

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."[12]

During the 1981 hunger strike in the Maze Prison, he 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.[13]

In 1984 he notified the Garda of an attempt to smuggle in a fishing trawler named the Valhalla across the Atlantic seven tons of AK-47 assault rifles from the United States to Ireland for the arsenal of the Provisional IRA's units. The shipment had been organized by the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American crime family based in South Boston, Massachusetts. As a result, the cargo was intercepted by a combined force of the Irish Navy and the Garda Síochána.

O'Callaghan claimed to have been tasked in 1984 by the IRA with placing 25lb of Frangex in the Dominion Theatre in London,[14] to try to kill Prince Charles and Princess Diana who were due to attend a charity pop music concert there.[15] A warning was phoned into the Garda, and the Royal couple were hurriedly ushered from the theatre by their police bodyguard during the concert. The theatre had been searched before the concert and a second search following the warning revealed no device.[14]

In 1985 O'Callaghan was elected as a Sinn Féin councillor for Tralee Urban District Council, and unsuccessfully contested a seat on Kerry County Council.[citation needed]


On 29 November 1988, after becoming disillusioned with his work with the Garda after the death of another agent within the IRA that it had failed to prevent despite his warnings, O'Callaghan withdrew from the Provisional IRA, and traveling to England, walked into a police station in Tunbridge Wells in the county of Kent, where, presenting himself to the officer on duty at the desk he confessed to the murders of Private Eva Martin and D.I. Peter Flanagan in Ulster in the mid 1970s, and voluntarily surrendered to British prosecution.[16] Although the Royal Ulster Constabulary repeatedly offered him witness protection as part of the informer policy, O'Callaghan refused it.

O'Callaghan served his sentence in prisons in Ulster and England, during which he foiled several planned escapes by imprisoned IRA personnel. While in jail he published his story in The Sunday Times. He was released as part of a Prerogative of Mercy by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997. In 1999, he published an account of his experiences in Irish paramilitarism entitled The Informer: The True Life Story of One Man's War On Terrorism.

Post-IRA life

O'Callaghan 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,[17] and media commentator on Irish paramilitarism.

In 1998 he declared, shortly before the death in Ulster of Eamon Collins, another former Provisional I.R.A. member who had prominently turned upon Irish paramilitarism, "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."[18]

Robbery victim

In 2006 O'Callaghan appeared in a London court with regard to an aggravated robbery that had occurred in which he was the victim.[19]

Contested claims of O'Callaghan's account

Sources in Sinn Féin have publicly denied aspects of the statements made by O'Callaghan with regard to his IRA career, particularly the claim that he had attained the leadership of the IRA's Southern Command, and had been a delegate to the IRA Army Council, claims that O'Callaghan has made both in print and before a Dublin jury under oath. A 1997 article An Phoblacht alleged that O'Callaghan "...has been forced to overstate his importance in the IRA, and to make increasingly outlandish accusations against individual republicans."[20] O'Callaghan also claimed to have attended an IRA finance meeting alongside Pat Finucane and Gerry Adams in Letterkenny in 1980.[21][22] However, both Finucane and Adams repeatedly denied being IRA members.[23] In Finucane's case, both the RUC and the Stevens Report said that he was not a member.

See also


  1. ^ O'Callaghan (1998), pages 8-9.
  2. ^ Toby Harnden (1997). "The smearing by the green". The Spectator. Retrieved 27 August 2006. 
  3. ^ O'Callaghan, Sean (1999). The Informer. London: Corgi Books. pp.95–99. ISBN 0-552-14607-2
  4. ^ O'Callaghan, pp.103–113
  5. ^ O'Callaghan (1998), pages 87–89.
  6. ^ O'Callaghan (1998), pages 88–89.
  7. ^ O'Callaghan (1998).
  8. ^ O'Callaghan (1998), page 90.
  9. ^ O'Callaghan (1998), page 89.
  10. ^ O'Callaghan (1998), pages 92–93.
  11. ^ O'Callaghan (1998), page 95.
  12. ^ O'Callaghan (1998), page 96.
  13. ^ O'Callaghan (1998), pages 109–112.
  14. ^ a b Whitaker, James, "John and Norma aghast at wedding", The Daily Mirror, 23 May 1998
  15. ^ O'Callaghan, p.197
  16. ^ O'Callaghan, pp.307–309
  17. ^ "Ex-informer defends RUC against critics". News Letter. 25 January 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2012. 
  18. ^ O'Callaghan (1998), page 316.
  19. ^ 'Revealed, the naked truth about me, the IRA whistle-blower & the gay bondage orgy', 'Independent, Ireland', 27 August 2006, by Ruth Dudley Edwards.
  20. ^ O'Callaghan – the truth
  21. ^ Telegraph
  22. ^ Spectator
  23. ^ BBC News

Further reading

  • Howard, Paul Hostage: Notorious Irish Kidnappings (O'Brien Press)
  • The Sunday Business Post
  • Ryle Dwyer "The IRA informer who kept Gardaí on track in search for Shergar", Irish Examiner, 20 April 2000
  • O'Callaghan, Sean The Informer Corgi 1999 ISBN 0-552-14607-2
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