Statement from PFC re allegations against Paul O’Connor

22 November 2019

About 15 years ago the Pat Finucane Centre, a human rights organization in Derry, began to investigate the activities of a Loyalist paramilitary gang based in Glenanne, County Armagh. This investigation eventually culminated in two ground breaking books authored by PFC staff members, Anne Cadwallader’s Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland and Margaret Urwin’s A State in Denial: British Collaboration with Loyalist Paramilitaries. Anne’s book subsequently became the basis for Sean Murray’s award winning documentary Unquiet Graves.  Together these works, based on well sourced and impeccable witnesses, have established that collusion between Loyalist paramilitaries and the British state was extensive and widespread.


The Centre has always been aware that as our work became accepted, attempts would be made to discredit the Centre by those close to the British state including Loyalist paramilitaries.


The first rumblings of this began two years ago with Loyalist commentator close to the UVF.  He suggested that Paul O’Connor, the PFC’s Director, was a former IRA volunteer who had been in receipt of an On The Run (OTR) letter.


The Centre chose at that time not to respond to these allegations as few would give them any credibility.


Since then a more substantial piece has been published as a blog by Shane Paul O’Doherty.


In essence the allegations are that Paul is a former IRA member and that he was involved in some unspecified way in the death of Jim O Hagan, an IRA volunteer from the Waterside in 1971.


At the time of these allegations (48 years ago), Paul was a 16 year old schoolboy. Just over a year later he left Ireland to live in Germany and the USA.


Since 1980 Paul has lived openly in Derry.  He has never been questioned by the RUC or PSNI about any matter relating to the death of James O’Hagan.


It follows that he has never been charged or convicted of any troubles related offences. Paul has never asked for, or required, or received an OTR letter.


Ultimately it is not for the Centre to judge the accuracy of the allegations made by Shane Paul O’Doherty. They are a police matter.  However we would make the following additional observations.


Since 1980, with one short break, Paul has resided in Derry. In the 1980s Paul was active in the formation and subsequent activities of the Derry Anti Nuclear Group and worked in Bookworm, the local community bookshop. Hardly the actions of a fugitive.  Had the police wanted to question him about any of the allegations contained in Shane Paul O’Doherty’s blog they could have done so. The fact is they didn’t.


As an employer the Pat Finucane Centre scrupulously follow equality and employment legislation and make appointments only on the basis of the suitability of the candidate, i.e. that they were the best applicant in terms of relevant knowledge and experience. Of course we have a statutory obligations to ask staff about any convictions. Paul has none.


In conclusion we would advise people to take these allegations with a strong dose of skepticism. None of the allegations which Shane Paul O’Doherty makes in any way constitutes reliable evidence. Apart from what he claims in terms of personal knowledge, the rest is hearsay and speculation; not credible evidence which could be put before a court.


If at some point the PSNI choose to reopen the case of the killing of Jim O’Hagan and the investigators wish to speak to Paul, we would expect him to fully cooperate and to provide, if he has any, any information which he has.


We would also want to say that we care very much about what this is doing to the O’Hagan family. Our thoughts are with them and will continue to be so.