Northern Ireland news

Department of Foreign Affairs expects Pat Finucane Centre to cooperate with any police inquiry

Paul O'Connor said it was reasonable for people to think a youth pictured carrying a gun in 1970s Derry was him.
Seamus McKinney

THE REPUBLIC'S Department of Foreign Affairs says it would expect the staff of The Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) to "cooperate fully with any police investigation" after an admission by director Paul O’Connor that he had been an IRA member.

The department added the PFC's programmes are "in full compliance with the criteria of the reconciliation fund," but it will keep the "situation under review."

The department was responding to Mr O’Connor’s admission that he joined the IRA as a 15-year-old in 1970.

Shane Paul O’Doherty, who served 15 years or an IRA letter-bomb campaign, said he and Mr O’Connor joined the Provisional IRA on the same night in 1970. He also claimed another teenage IRA member, Jim O’Hagan (16) died in Mr O’Connor’s family home after he was shot in a nearby bomb-making factory in 1971.

In an interview with The Irish News on Saturday, Mr O’Connor said he was told to leave the IRA in 1972 for disobeying an order not to return to Derry from a safe house in County Donegal. He also denied any part in the fatal shooting of Mr O’Hagan and disputed Mr O’Doherty’s claims. Mr O’Connor said he was not present when the teenager was shot as he was sick at home.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that it had provided more than E60,000 to the Pat Finucane Centre this year.

Director of the Pat Finucane Centre, Paul O'Connor has admitted he joined the 1RA as a 15-year-old youth in 1970. PICTURE: Julien Behal/PA Wire

"The Department is aware of media reports concerning the Director of the Pat Finucane Centre, Paul O’Connor, as well as statements by the centre and Mr O’Connor," he said.

"The Department’s Reconciliation Fund has provided €60,158 in grant support for the Pat Finucane Centre for its work in 2019, primarily for its work in support of Justice for the Forgotten representing victims of the Dublin Monaghan bombings.

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

"We are satisfied that the programmes of the centre which have been supported by the Department are in full compliance with the criteria of the reconciliation fund.

"The Department supports groups from both communities who work to support victims of violence from the conflict and to build reconciliation including in some of the areas where the conflict was at its most intense and devastating. The Fund works with a range of partners in those communities, including ex-prisoners and people involved in the conflict from all sides, who are working to overcome the legacy of the conflict and build a reconciled future.

Shane Paul O'Doherty.

"We will continue to keep this situation under review and we do, of course, expect that the staff of any organisation supported by the Reconciliation Fund would cooperate fully with any police investigation."

A number of unionist politicians, including Ulster Unionist MLA, Doug Beattie,called on police to investigate Mr O’Connor. However, victims’ campaigner, Alan McBride, whose wife was killed in the IRA’s 1993 Shankill bombing, said some of the criticism of Mr O’Connor was unfair.

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

“We should judge a man on what he has done and Paul has dedicated most of his life to helping innocent victims,” Mr McBride said.

Mr O’Connor was also defended by Les Allamby, chief commissioner with the Northern Ireland Human Rights’ Commission, who described him as an “indefatigable and extremely effective campaigner for human rights”.

Following Mr O’Doherty’s claims last week and before Mr O’Connor’s admission that he joined the IRA, the PFC challenged the allegations, urging the public to view them with “scepticism”. The organisation has not updated its response since Mr O’Connor’s admission (published in Saturday’s Irish News). No-one from the PFC was available for comment yesterday.

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