An Ulster Unionist politician says he is proud to have called IRA informer Sean O'Callaghan his friend and will attend his funeral if he is buried in Ireland.
Chris McGimpsey said he had known O'Callaghan for more than 20 years and described the former terrorist as "haunted" by the killings in which he was involved, recounting how a policeman he shot dead had begged him not to do it.
The UUP councillor revealed that O'Callaghan had stayed with him in his east Belfast home, and had not been nervous about the possibility that republicans might kill him when he was visiting.
After handing himself into Kent police in 1988 and confessing to the 1974 murders of UDR Greenfinch Eva Martin and Catholic Special Branch officer Peter Flanagan, the informer was imprisoned in England and Northern Ireland.
Mr McGimpsey said: "He asked me to visit him when he was in jail here. He was being kept in solitary confinement and he embarked on a hunger strike in protest about prison conditions.
"He looked awful. He was drifting in and out of consciousness. Years later when I asked him about it, he had no recollection of our conversation."
The Belfast politician explained that the two men remained in contact.
"Sometimes when he visited Northern Ireland he would stay in my house in Ballyhackamore," he said.
"I never asked him what he was doing or who he was meeting. He didn't seem at all nervous about any threat from the IRA. He wasn't blasé about his security. He was aware of the dangers but he wasn't in hiding."
Mr McGimpsey said he found O'Callaghan "straight as a die, sharp, possessed of a good analysis, and very generous with his time".
He recalled: "Sean would openly discuss his life in the IRA. I believe he was truly contrite about what he had done and his desire to make atonement was sincere.
"He talked about the attack on Clogher UDR camp in which Greenfinch Eva Martin was killed. He told me how when he went with two others to kill Peter Flanagan in a pub the policeman had said: 'Don't do it son'. I believe Sean was haunted by those murders."
Mr McGimpsey added that O'Callaghan had tried to "make amends" for his actions.
"He dedicated his life to atonement. He worked for the Irish State supporting the democratic Government of the Irish Republic against the IRA," he said.
"I'm proud to have called Sean my friend. His information led gardai to intercept the huge IRA arms shipment on the Marita Ann in 1984, saving many lives."
The UUP councillor described O'Callaghan as a "warm, friendly person".
He added: "Sean was great craic and a brilliant singer. After a few drinks when he stayed with me in Belfast, he would sing a republican song and I'd sing a loyalist song.
"He was a real character. He never had a fag out of his mouth and he had a barking cough. If he is buried in Kerry, I will certainly be at his funeral."
by suzanne breen