Sean O’Callaghan, who has drowned on a Caribbean holiday, was a man who greatly increased our knowledge of what happened during the Troubles.
There were many, many informers in the various paramilitary groups, but few who talked as candidly about their past as Mr O’Callaghan did.
Mr O’Callaghan did another thing that was extraordinarily rare among terrorists – he walked into a police station and admitted two murders. Later he used his inside information to do important work helping victims of terror groups.
According to the highly respected historian and commentator, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Mr O’Callaghan was “a man of exceptional ability and courage”. The pair became close friends.
Some people, including those whose lives have been shattered by the evil of terrorism, will never forgive those who made the decision to join the ranks of the paramilitary groups. Particularly not, if like Mr O’Callaghan did, they sent their victims to an early grave.
But Mr O’Callaghan was only aged 15 when he joined the IRA, as tensions in Northern Ireland were erupting.
Within five years he had realised, Ms Dudley Edwards says, that he was embroiled in a “squalid sectarian war”.
It is a tragic story of a life blighted by wrongdoing that later comes to torture the wrongdoer.
Only the person who has themselves gone through such a journey can possibly understand their own motives, and perhaps not even them. But Mr O’Callaghan seems to have made emphatic efforts to make amends, as the glowing tribute from – for example – Michael Gallagher suggests. Mr Gallagher, whose son Aiden was murdered in the Omagh massacre, told of how Mr O’Callaghan “assisted in every way possible” the families’ civil action.
Informers were crucial in countering the IRA in the Troubles. They will be crucial against the dissidents too, although there is no shortage of ‘human rights’ activists who are determined to make it almost impossible to run informers.