Belfast Telegraph

Campaigner who lost wife in Shankill bomb defends Finucane Centre director as police 'consider claims' after IRA admission

Pat Finucane Centre director Paul O'Connor.
Pat Finucane Centre director Paul O'Connor.
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Police are considering claims surrounding Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) director Paul O'Connor after he admitted being a member of the IRA.

Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke said that police were aware of claims made in a blog from former IRA bomber turned arch-critic Shane Paul O'Doherty earlier this week.

He told the Belfast Telegraph that police were also aware of media coverage of Mr O'Connor's IRA past.

“We are aware of claims made in a blog published online earlier this month, and of subsequent press reporting in relation to those claims, and we will now consider them," ACC Clarke said in a statement.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke.

Victims' campaigner Alan McBride, who lost his wife in the Shankill bomb, said that he knew Mr O'Connor well and that he had dedicated his life to helping victims from both sides of the community.

He said that Mr O'Connor phoned him to tell him about his IRA past before the story broke and that he was not surprised.

"My own father was in the UDA, having grown up in a working class area of Northern Ireland in those days I can see how someone would be drawn into paramilitaries, many good people were," he said.

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"Paul did not play an active role in any violence or killings, if he did things might be different, he joined when he was 15, a boy, and left when he was 17.

"I feel some of the criticism has been unfair, 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 that while most of Mr O'Connors work was with the nationalist community he had gone out of his way to help victims from the unionist community.

"I've personally seen Paul go out on a limb to help victims from the Protestant and unionist community when asked, his work speaks for itself" he said.

He accused some of those criticising Mr O'Connor of being hypocritical due to many former paramilitaries playing a part in public life in Northern Ireland.

However, Mr McBride acknowledged that it may have been easier had Mr O'Connor disclosed his past membership of the IRA earlier. 

"Paul's work has earned him the right to be treated with some respect," he said.

Victims’ campaigner Alan McBride

UUP MLA Doug Beattie has called on police to "robustly investigate" the activities of Mr O'Connor "as a matter of extreme urgency".

He said that the matter could not be glossed over because of Northern Ireland's past.

“Anywhere else in Europe, if the Director of an organisation supposedly dedicated to the pursuit of ‘human rights’ and ‘truth recovery’ was found to have been a member of an illegal terrorist group that was guilty of thousands of crimes including the murder of children, there would be an uproar," the UUP justice spokesperson said.

"The fact that there is not, says a lot about the current situation in Northern Ireland, where we have become conditioned to the truth being twisted and subverted, as the local, self- appointed ‘human rights industry’ is given an almost free run in its campaign to rewrite history."

Mr Beattie said that organisations who fund the PFC, including the Irish government and European Union, may wish to re-examine their position following Mr O'Connor's admission.

“The PFC 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," the Upper Bann MLA said.

Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie

Mr O'Connor admitted joining the IRA as a 15-year-old after O'Doherty said he had joined the organisation alongside the long-time human rights campaigner in 1970.

However he denied creating victims while a member of the organisation and asked to be judged on his work "throughout my entire adult life".

He claimed he was told to leave the IRA in 1972 after failing to follow orders.

Mr O'Connor did acknowledge that his revelation could have an impact on his work with the PFC, but said it would be up to PFC staff and the families of victims to decide his future.

He also denied a claim from Mr O'Doherty that he had been present when 16-year-old IRA member Jim O'Hagan was shot and fatally wounded by another IRA man in Londonderry in 1971.

Mr Beattie called for a "thorough investigation" surrounding the circumstances of Mr O'Hagan's death.

The PFC is a registered charity and describes itself as a "a non-party political, anti-sectarian human rights group advocating a non-violent resolution of the conflict on the island of Ireland".

The PFC has been contacted by the Belfast Telegraph in relation to Mr O'Connor's admission of his IRA past.

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