Northern Ireland

Former Sinn Féin councillor and his wife receive pay out to settle legal action

Former Sinn Féin councillor Joe O'Donnell. Picture by Arthur Allison.
Former Sinn Féin councillor Joe O'Donnell. Picture by Arthur Allison.

A FORMER Sinn Féin councillor and his wife are to receive an undisclosed six-figure sum to settle legal actions over alleged security force collusion in repeated loyalist assassination attempts.

Joe O'Donnell, who served as Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, claimed police officers and soldiers failed to warn him after a British agent targeted him for gun attacks on his home.

His wife, Jacqueline, also sued the PSNI and Ministry of Defence for alleged negligence in a series of suspected paramilitary murder bids between 1987 and 1989.

Both actions were stayed at the High Court with no admission of liability by either defendant.

But a lawyer for Mr and Mrs O'Donnell confirmed the total settlement of the two actions will see them receive a combined six-figure sum.

The couple's landmark lawsuits were based on the 2012 findings of a government-ordered review by Sir Desmond de Silva into state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

Central to the case was the clandestine role played by Brian Nelson, a UDA man said to have been recruited by British intelligence.

Nelson's handlers in in the Force Research Unit (FRU) were aware of his role in selecting Mr O'Donnell and other Sinn Féin representatives as potential victims, it was alleged.

But it was claimed that neither warnings nor other preventative steps were taken.

Mr O'Donnell's home in the Short Strand district was repeatedly attacked, with shots being fired in through windows of the property, according to legal papers.

One of his children was showered by glass in one of the loyalist gun attacks.

Some of the incidents were described as drive-by shootings.

Reinforced doors, locks and steel shutters had to be fitted as the family lived in continuous fear of further assassination attempts on Mr O'Donnell.

Following the resolution reached in the two actions the 68-year-old ex-councillor said: "This brings closure for my family and I after a difficult period of more than 30 years.

"It's been a very stressful time for us, but there's also mixed emotions because there are many other people who weren't fortunate enough to survive attacks of this kind.

"Our thought are with their families because they deserve closure."

Mr O'Donnell's solicitor, Setanta Marley of KRW Law, said the settlements were among the first in actions based on Sir Desmond's review of alleged collusion and the role of Brian Nelson.

He added: "These cases are an endorsement of the O'Donnell family's determination to challenge the state on the findings contained within de Silva."