Public Inquiry Into Our Greatest Scandal

We return once more to the murder of John Corcoran in Kerry 13 years ago. The cover up of that murder and the obvious complicity of the Gardai in that murder remain by far the greatest scandal of our public life. And yet, apart from a brief intervention by Dick Spring and a broken promise by the now Justice Minister, John O'Donoghue, not a single public representative has sought as yet to make an issue of this.

The Gardai had a special responsibility to protect the life of John Corcoran for he too, along with O'Callaghan, was an informer, giving the Gardai information about the operation of the IRA in the Cork area. That makes the Garda complicity in the crime, or his murder, or at least in the crime of the cover up of his murder, all the more outrageous.

The prime source for information on the murder of John Corcoran, the IRA informer Sean O'Callaghan, is an inveterate liar. He has directly contradicted several times his account of how John Corcoran was murdered. But he has, perhaps unwittingly, provided enough information for us to appreciate that the Gardai bear a great responsibility for what happened.

Amidst the mountain of lies that Sean O'Callaghan has told and probably remains telling about his involvement in the IRA, there are some things we know for sure about him. The first is that he was a high-ranking member of Sinn Féin and the IRA in the 1980's. The second is that he was a high ranking Garda informant during this time. We also know that John Corcoran was murdered in that area of the country for which O'Callaghan had responsibility as an IRA operative.

Without believing anything at all that O'Callaghan now says concerning the murder of John Corcoran, we can be reasonably sure that he was somehow implicated in that murder or at least would have been aware that John Corcoran was about to be or had been kidnapped and was about to be murdered.

If it were the case that O'Callaghan told the Gardai nothing at all at the time about the kidnapping of John Corcoran and the imminence of his murder, then Gardai would have known themselves that O'Callaghan had been involved somehow. Or at least that the kidnapping and murder of John Corcoran could not have taken place without his knowledge and, almost certainly, his acquiescence.

On that basis alone, O'Callaghan should have been charged with the murder of John Corcoran in 1985. There is no evidence that O'Callaghan was even interrogated about that murder at the time.

But of course it stretches belief that the man said by Gardai to have been “the most important intelligence agent in the history of the State,” did not tell the Gardai at the time what was happening.

O Callaghan says in his book—and he has said repeatedly since he gave himself up to British police in 1989—that he kept his Garda “handler” fully informed at all stages of the John Corcoran kidnap, detention and murder. The consistency of his account on this score—which contrasts with the flagrant contradictions in his accounts of other events and indeed other aspects of this murder—is impressive and plausible.

And on the basis of that account the Gardai knew fully about the imminence of the detention of John Corcoran. They knew where he was being held over a series of days and of the likelihood of his murder. They knew of the decision to murder him and or where he was to be murdered and yet they did nothing.

The institution charged with the protection of the life and liberty of citizens of this state, the Garda Siochána, stood by while a citizen, who happened also to have been one of their own informants, was murdered. And they had an obvious motive for refusing to intervene to protect John Corcoran's life: the protection of their flow of information from “the most important intelligence agent in the history of the State”.

Sean O'Callaghan has claimed variously that he personally shot John Corcoran in the head and that he was not present when John Corcoran was shot in the head. But even in his sanitised version of what happened, O'Callaghan acknowledges that he was instrumental in the kidnap and detention of John Corcoran, that he took part in the decisions to murder him, that he even took those whom he now claims were the direct murderers to where John Corcoran was being held and that he advised them on where they would find a “quiet place” at which to commit the murder.

On the basis of what he himself now says happened, the only possible defence that O'Callaghan could have to a charge of murder could be that he had informed the Gardai all along about what was happening.

If it is the case that Sean O'Callaghan did not keep the Gardai fully informed of what was going on in relation to the kidnap, detention and murder of John Corcoran, then why hasn't he been charged with the murder or at least as being an accessory to the murder?

The only possible explanation for the failure to charge O'Callaghan with the murder, given what he has now said about the role he played, is that he did indeed keep the Gardai fully informed.

John O'Donoghue ordered an inquiry into this affair when he became Minister for Justice in July of last year. Eventually in January of this year a report on the matter was submitted to him. But that was done before Sean O'Callaghan was even spoken to—via telephone—by the Garda undertaking the investigation. Indeed, it was only following repeated pressure from Magill that the investigating Garda made telephone contact at all. And it wasn't until O'Callaghan turned up in Dublin to give evidence in the Thomas Murphy-Sunday Times libel case in May was he interviewed.

Clearly, the Gardai have no stomach for a proper investigation of this scandal. Anyway they are not and could never been the proper agency for an inquiry into themselves.

There is a proper reluctance in calling for Tribunals of Inquiry into public scandals, given the cost and feebleness of some of the previous such enquiries. But there is hardly an alternative in this instance. We have a right to know whether our police force was complicit in the murder of a fellow-citizen and we have no way of knowing that other than through a public inquiry.

Let's have it.