A Basque country journalist has described the former IRA man turned agent Sean O’Callaghan as an “Irish saint”.
Inigo Gurruchaga was speaking to the News Letter after this week’s memorial service for O’Callaghan in London.
Mr Gurruchaga, who works for El Correo newspaper in Bilbao, said: “I met Sean many years ago and he caused me a great impression, and we became regular friends.
“I found him a really likable person, a man who had done things that he repented and he was a thoroughly honest person, an Irish saint.”
O’Callaghan rose to a leadership role in the IRA before working as an informer for Irish police. In the 1980s, he handed himself to the police in England, and admitted two murders in Northern Ireland — UDR woman Eva Martin and RUC man Peter Flanagan (both remembered at Wednesday’s service).
Mr Gurruchaga said O’Callaghan did “it for free, he was walking around the city with no money, with all the history that he had”.
Mr Gurruchaga said it was “not legitimate for the IRA or the ETA in the Basque country to have put the threshold of human life so low, when there is freedom to print newspapers, to vote in elections, to organise political parties. Violence in those circumstances is completely illegitimate.”
The ex Ulster Unionist advisor Lord Bew, who was also at St Martin in the Fields church, said he came out of “respect for Sean’s legacy”.
“The significance of Sean’s work now is not so much the operations he aborted, because the whole thing was an abortive operation, the significance of Sean’s work is his books, which puncture the mood of self congratulation, reveal the very base levels of sectarianism that motivated the campaign.”
Aileen Quinton, whose mother Alberta was murdered in the IRA Enniskillen bomb, was also at the London service, to celebrate O’Callaghan’s “repentance”.
She noted that there was a service the same day to mark the anniversary of Martin McGuinness’s death: “Sean’s victims were mentioned at this service, and I doubt if McGuinness’s victims will be mentioned at his.
“If they were they would have to make it three or four hours longer.”
• More on the service below