Sean O’Callaghan, one of the most contentious figures in the history of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, has died in Jamaica aged 63.
Sean O’Callaghan, one of the most contentious figures in the history of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, has died in Jamaica. He was born in County Kerry, Republic of Ireland, in a strongly republican family, which sided with opponents of the Ango-Irish treaty and fought against the official Irish government in the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923. In 1971, aged just 17, O’Callaghan joined the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which fought to unite British-controlled Northern Ireland with the independent Republic of Ireland. Not long after, O’Callaghan was arrested by the Garda Síochána (Irish police) in his home county of Kerry, when a small quantity of explosives he was hiding in his parents’ house accidentally detonated.
After serving his prison sentence in Ireland, O’Callaghan returned to active duty as a Provisional IRA volunteer, and even pulled the trigger in the killing of Detective Inspector Peter Flanagan, a Catholic officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the police body of Northern Ireland, who was assassinated by the Provisional IRA in 1974. Gradually, however, O’Callaghan became disillusioned with armed militancy and distanced himself from the Provisional IRA, eventually moving to London. By 1979, when the Provisional IRA contacted him and asked him to return to active service, O’Callaghan had become an ideological opponent of militant Irish republicanism. He contacted the Irish government and offered to become an agent-in-place for the Special Branch of Garda Síochána.
O’Callaghan operated as a spy for the Irish government within the Provisional IRA from 1979 until 1988. During that time, he continued to participate in Provisional IRA operations, including an attempt (which he claimed to have foiled) to murder the Prince of Wales and his then wife, Princess Diana. He also remained a member of Sinn Féin, a republican political party that was widely viewed as the political wing of the Provisional IRA. In 1985, he was elected county councillor representing Sinn Féin. Three years later, fearing for his life, O’Callaghan turned himself in to British authorities. He was prosecuted, convicted, and served a prison sentence, during which he wrote his best-selling memoir, published under the title The Informer: The True Life Story of One Man’s War on Terrorism. In it, he details his ideological change from a socialist republican to a pro-unionist, who occasionally advised the Ulster Unionist Party, a pro-British conservative political party in Northern Ireland.
After he revealed his pro-unionist sympathies, O’Callaghan was disowned by most of his family and did not even attend his father’s funeral in 1997. He lived openly in England, refusing police protection and rejecting pleas from his supporters to change his name and hide his whereabouts. He died last week from a suspected heart attack while visiting his daughter in Jamaica. He was 63.