Northern Ireland news

Former bomber Shane Paul O'Doherty claims human rights campaigner Paul O'Connor was fellow IRA man

Shane Paul O'Doherty alleged that a youth (right) photographed carrying a gun at an IRA 'checkpoint' in 1971 was human rights campaigner Paul O'Connor
Seamus McKinney

A former bomber has claimed human rights campaigner Paul O’Connor was a member of the IRA along with him in the early 1970s.

Shane Paul O’Doherty alleges he was sworn into the IRA in 1970 along with the Derry man, who heads the Pat Finucane Centre.

He also published a photograph of a youth carrying a gun at an IRA checkpoint which he claimed was a teenage Mr O’Connor.

Established in memory of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, the Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre has represented relatives of many of those killed or injured by British forces during the Troubles.

As its director, Mr O’Connor has been the main driver of the organisation, regularly meeting Irish and British government ministers to lobby on behalf of victims and their families.

Mr O’Doherty, once a close friend of the late deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, served 15 years in prison when he was convicted on 31 counts of attempted murder in 1976 following a letter-bomb campaign in England.

While in prison he turned away from republicanism and is now one of the movement’s most vociferous critics.

Paul O'Connor is a human rights campaigner with the Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre

In a blog published earlier this week, he claimed Mr O’Connor was a childhood friend when they joined the IRA in 1970.

Mr O’Doherty said: “He told me he had discovered the nascent Provisional IRA and was going to join the Provos the very next evening. He asked me if I wanted to come with him.

"On a whim that was to change my life and the lives of many others, I replied that I would go with him.”

He claimed that at the age of 15, the two teenagers went to a flat in Derry’s Waterloo Street where two prominent republicans “swore us in”.

The group then met for meetings at the home of a Derry republican.

“These meetings were incredibly boring, consisting of largely standing to attention and turning left and right to commands in Irish. There were no guns or explosives as yet."

Mr O’Doherty said the Derry IRA would be involved in a bombing campaign targeting shops and businesses in the city centre, while the number of gun attacks increased as they obtained more weapons.

“We 16-year-olds were sent out nearly every week to plant duffel bag bombs and also incendiary devices. At times, with almost no experience of firing guns, we were sent out with small revolvers to shoot at soldiers armed with rifles. I was doing all three of these things.”

He claimed the teenage Mr O’Connor took part in various IRA activities, including patrolling the “Free Derry” no-go area and taking part in attacks as he was “on the run” in the Bogside.

“You couldn’t just be allocated safe house billets and a weekly wage (very small) and do nothing,” he said.

“As I walked through the Bogside to school at St Columb’s College wearing my college blazer, armed IRA volunteers manning a patrol car – including Paul – from time to time stopped their car beside me for a chat."

Arrested in 1972, Mr O’Doherty claimed Mr O’Connor was released following appeals by leading Catholic business and political leaders to the then head of the RUC in Derry, Frank Lagan.

He said he was then ordered by the IRA to leave Derry and after spending time in Dublin, Mr O’Connor eventually moved to Germany.

He returned to Derry in the early 1980s and has remained in the city since.

Mr O’Doherty claimed that Mr O’Connor’s role as the director of a human rights organisation was compromised because of his alleged IRA past.

Both the Pat Finucane Centre and Mr O’Connor declined to comment on the claims.

Shane Paul O'Doherty served 15 years in prison following an IRA letter bomb campaign in London.

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