Northern Ireland news

Police to consider IRA claims made against human rights campaigner Paul O'Connor

Paul O'Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre
Mairead Holland

POLICE are considering claims made by a former IRA bomber about prominent human rights campaigner Paul O'Connor.

The director of the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) has denied that he was present when a teenage IRA member was shot and fatally wounded in Derry in 1971.

However, he told The Irish News that he joined the IRA in 1970 as a 15-year-old youth but said he was ordered to leave less than two years later for failing to follow orders.

The Derry-based activist was responding to a series of claims made in a blog by former leading IRA man, Shane Paul O'Doherty.

O’Doherty served 15 years in jail for a letter bomb campaign in England in 1976. While in prison he turned against the republican movement and has become one of its greatest critics.

In a blog published last week, he claimed Mr O’Connor was a close teenage friend and that they were “sworn in” to the IRA together as 15-year-olds in 1970.

Paul O'Connor says he has no recollection of this photo which it has been alleged was him at a checkpoint in 1971.

He also alleged another teenage IRA member, Jim O’Hagan (16) died in Mr O’Connor's family home in 1971 after being shot in a in a nearby IRA bomb-making factory.

Unionist politicians have demanded answers.

Doug Beattie, the UUP's justice spokesperson, said the police must "robustly investigate" the activities of Mr O'Connor.

Mr Beattie, the Westminster candidate for Upper Bann in the forthcoming general election, said the Pat Finucane Centre "receives a great deal of funding from a variety of sources and I am sure that many of those will be watching anxiously and wondering just exactly who or what they have been financing".

Read More: Pat Finucane Centre established to campaign for human rights

"The Pat Finucane Centre claims to be interested in justice and human rights, so the admission from its director, Paul O’Connor, that he was a member of the organisation that for decades perpetuated massive human rights abuses, including murder, attempted murder, abduction, torture and exiling people under threat of death needs to be investigated as matter of extreme urgency," he said.

DUP Westminster candidate Gregory Campbell said on Saturday that the work of the centre had been called into question.

He said "virtually all" of its work centred on the actions of the state and its forces including the Army, UDR and Royal Irish Regiment.

"Questions now need to be asked after the main architect of many of the PFC's reports has revealed that he was once a member of the IRA," Mr Campbell told the Sunday Life.

"How can these PFC reports be trusted as unbiased after this admission? That's for them to reconcile.

"This man claimed to be a human rights activist when really he was a member of the organisation that created more victims than all of the other organisations involved put together. The irony of that will not be lost on people."

A spokesperson for the PFC said it had been aware of the allegations since they were first raised by a a loyalist commentator two years ago.

"None of the allegations which Shane Paul O'Doherty makes in any way constitutes reliable evidence. Apart from what he claims in terms of personal knowledge, the rest is hearsay and speculation, not credible evidence which could be put before a court."

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