A convicted IRA terrorist accused of blackmailing two businessmen told a court yesterday that he was trying to stop the peace process from collapsing.
Ronald McCartney (56) is said to have threatened to kill the men and their families if they did not hand over £150,000.
McCartney, along with another former republican prisoner Nick Mullan (61), sent a series of letters and phone calls using the name ‘P O’Neill' — the alias used by IRA bombers during the Troubles.
They accused the businessmen of profiting from the IRA's name to the tune of £6m, and warned that “appropriate action” would be taken against them if they did not pay up, it is claimed.
But McCartney told Southwark Crown Court that the letter campaign was part of a “high risk strategy” to avert a setback for the peace process in Northern Ireland.
He claimed that he had been attempting to patch up a dispute between a bankrupt businessman called Declan O'Hara and one of the alleged victims.
McCartney told Southwark Crown Court that O'Hara had been so furious with the man — who had Sinn Fein connections — that he had blackmailed the party.
He claimed that O'Hara had threatened to contact the DUP with false information about Sinn Fein which would be potentially damaging to the entire political settlement.
McCartney said he decided to threaten the businessmen in a bid to alert senior Sinn Fein members so that the problem would be resolved “within the republican family”.
McCartney said: “This was a risky strategy.
“I believed he (O’Hara) has suffered from mental illness, and was very dangerous. I did not go to the police.
“I advised him to seek psychiatric help.”
He added: “I had studied politics in Ireland for 40 years and I believed that this here had the potential to undermine the peace process.
“I wrote a letter to a prominent republican with connections in the republican movement, and hoped that he would be angry and deal with it.
“I believed that this here would be resolved internally within the republican family. It’s a high-risk strategy, it’s a stupid strategy , it was ham-fisted, but I believed it was the only thing that would work.”
Prosecutor Mark Heywood accused McCartney of inventing his account, saying: “You have simply made this up in a desperate attempt to explain the obvious.”
Mullen, of Burlington Mews, Acton, west London, and McCartney, of Ross Road, Belfast, both deny two counts of conspiracy to blackmail.
The trial continues.