Suspected agent Gareth O'Connor 'saved multiple lives'
Real IRA agent Gareth O’Connor is believed to have played a part in stopping more than 10 gun and bomb attacks, saving multiple lives.
Republican sources say the murdered 24 year-old was centrally involved in several planned attacks that were either abandoned or led to the arrests of paramilitary suspects.
The Irish News can reveal that the Armagh City man was present during a RIRA gun attack at a Co Derry polling station in June 2001 resulting in two police officers and a civilian being injured - a gun attack carried out while O’Connor was working as an agent.
Republicans believe that information provided by him resulted in the security forces disrupting other planned attacks.
While state agents were involved in paramilitary activity during the Troubles, the full extent of their role since the PSNI came into being in 2001 is less well documented.
Mr O’Connor disappeared in 2003 near Newtownhamilton in Co Armagh as he made his way to Dundalk Garda station.
At the time of his disappearance he was facing charges of Real IRA membership after being arrested in the Republic and was required to report to the border station as part of bail conditions.
His badly decomposed remains were found in a car which had been dumped in Newry Canal in 2005.
It is understood the authorities discovered his body after a priest was contacted anonymously and given the location of his remains.
And while the cause of his death has never been established, informed sources say that the Armagh man was not shot but died as the result of a severe beating.
Sources have also revealed that his kidnap and killing was not ordered by the leadership of the Real IRA or any other paramilitary group.
Mr O’Connor’s family has previously blamed the Provisional IRA for killing him but the organisation denied any involvement.
It is now believed he was killed by several former associates who suspected he was working as a security force agent.
Sources say that at the time of his death he had parted company with the Real IRA and established links with the Continuity IRA and is believed to have attended meetings involving senior members of the organisation.
Republicans believe Mr O’Connor was working for several state agencies, including customs and revenue, at the time of his death.
Mr O’Connor joined the Real IRA around 2000 at a time when the group was particularly active, carrying out a series of gun and bomb attacks across the north.
He is said to have quickly established a reputation as some who was “young, enthusiastic and mad for it”.
Known to “be good with a motorbike”, he often used it as a mode of transport while on Real IRA operations.
Republicans say he also supplied stolen cars used by the organisation known as ‘ringers’, which were used in planned attacks.
It is now suspected that high performance cars he claimed were ‘ringers’ were in fact bought with cash given to him by his handlers.
Former members of the Real IRA, which merged with other republican groups and independents in 2012 to form the ‘IRA’, believe Mr O’Connor received specialist training from British military intelligence.
“This was not your ordinary £5 tout,” a source said.
“He was trained.”
It is understood that on one occasion Mr O’Connor was taken to south Armagh to be questioned by the Real IRA’s leadership but refused to speak to his interrogators unless specific members of the group known to him were present.
In 2003 Mr O’Connor was arrested and charged with membership of the Real IRA in Dublin while helping to transport a vehicle for the group.
Republicans believe that he was also working as an agent for authorities in the Republic but because he was given no warning about the plan to move the vehicle he did not have an opportunity to warn Gardai he was part of the operation.
Republicans say that although he had already fallen under suspicion as an agent it was while in Garda custody that he made a fatal mistake.
While in custody he told Gardai he wanted to ring his “uncle” but it later became known he phoned Armagh PSNI station.
The number he dialled was recorded in case papers.
After his arrest both Mr O’Connor and three other men were granted bail.
It was while fulfilling bail conditions connected to the case that he was abducted and killed.
Charges against his co-accused were later dropped.
A former ‘operations officer’ with the Real IRA claimed that Mr O’Connor was an “agent provocateur” who worked for the PSNI after the force was formed.
“If they were using him as an agent provocateur, that means they are still doing it,” he said.
The republican believes that as a member of a paramilitary group Mr O’Connor should have been given his “rights and “questioned and court marshalled”.
He said knowing Mr O’Connor’s full role within the Real IRA may help bring closure for his family.
“He was a complete victim,” he said.