Pat Finucane Centre: Questions over ‘lack of transparency’

The director of the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) in Londonderry has faced further calls for transparency about his IRA past.

Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 7:30 am
Paul O'Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre

Paul O’Connor has been subjected to a barrage of questions about his role as a human rights advocate while failing to disclose he was involved with the IRA as a teenager.

Mr O’Connor has been a key figure within the PFC for many years – meeting regularly with government ministers and other senior policy-makers to lobby on behalf of those killed and injured by the security forces.

Last week, in a blog post written by former IRA bomber Shane Paul O’Doherty, it was claimed that Mr O’Connor had been sworn into the IRA along with Mr O’Doherty in 1970.

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In the same article, Mr O’Doherty called on the PFC director to reveal anything he knew about the murder of 16-year-old IRA member Jim O’Hagan in Londonderry in 1971.

Although the PFC initially said they would “advise people to take these allegations with a strong dose of skepticism,” within 24 hours Mr O’Connor had confirmed to a number of newspapers that he had in fact been in the IRA.

Mr O’Connor said he has no criminal convictions, and that he has never been questioned by the police about Mr O’Hagan’s death.

Speaking on BBC Radio Foyle on Monday morning, Irish News editor Noel Doran highlighted Paul O’Connor’s failure to declare his IRA past despite compiling reports on serious incidents involving the IRA – including the so-called ‘Good Samaritan’ murders in 1988.

“It’s claimed the police had some knowledge of the explosion which killed three members of the public and a considerable spotlight has been put on the circumstances, with Paul O’Connor’s involvement, but I suppose some people will say that the bomb was planted by the IRA.

“Surely Paul O’Connor needed to make clear from the start that he had a previous involvement with the IRA and there will be other cases like that,” Mr Doran said.

“I think it’s the calls for transparency that go right to the heart of the matter.”

Mr Doran praised the work of both Mr O’Connor and the PFC, but said many more questions will be asked about his track record.

“Paul O’Connor made a serious contribution in his own field, but...it is inevitable people will ask about the breaches of human rights that have been well documented on the part of the IRA,” he said.

Mr O’Connor has denied that he is any way linked to the death of Jim O’Hagan.

On Monday, a DFA spokesperson told the News Letter that the Irish Government had given the PFC a total of €665,918 since 2002.

The spokesman said: “The Department’s Reconciliation Fund has provided €60,158 in grant support...for its work in 2019. We are satisfied that the programmes of the Centre which have been supported by the Department are in full compliance with the criteria of the Reconciliation Fund.”

He added: “We will continue to keep this situation under review and we do, of course, expect that the staff of any organisation supported by the Reconciliation Fund would cooperate fully with any police investigation.”