Victim's father claims IRA's structures never dismantled

Gareth O'Connor who went missing in May 2003
Gareth O'Connor who went missing in May 2003 Gareth O'Connor who went missing in May 2003

The father of murder victim Gareth O'Connor has claimed IRA structures were still in place back in 2008 when a man suspected of involvement in his son's killing received an 'on-the-run' letter.

In January of this year an inquest into the death of the 24-year-old was dramatically halted after it was revealed that a suspect in the case was wrongly issued with a so-called comfort letter.

Mr O'Connor went missing in 2003 on his way to Dundalk Garda station to sign bail on a charge of Real IRA membership.

His body was discovered in Newry Canal two years later.

Mark O'Connor claimed denials by senior republicans following the murder of Kevin McGuigan that the structures of the IRA no longer exist are "a total nonsense".

He said the IRA was still active in 2003, five years after the Good Friday Agreement, when his son was murdered and structures were still in place five years later when the 'on the run' scheme was being administered.

He claimed that when the man suspected of the killing sought an on-the-run letter, he did so "as a member of the IRA and when he was handed the letter in 2008 it was also evidence of an IRA structure in place".

"It stands to reason that there was an IRA command structure in place that was able to negotiate and deal with on-the-run letters."

Mr O'Connor said they were only told of the existence of the letter the day before his son's inquest was due to take place.

The error was flagged up in a review of the controversial scheme agreed between republicans and Tony Blair's Labour government.

The letter was delivered to the suspect - believed to be from the south Armagh area - by Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly who acted as a conduit.

Mr Kelly said he didn't know who received the letter, a claim that was been dismissed by the victim's family.

The PSNI are now reinvestigating the case, but the O'Connors said they haven't received any update on progress.

"We would have hoped that we would have had more information by now but we've had no more information since January," Mr O'Connor said.