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Sunday 8 July 2006

Revealed: the naked truth about me, the IRA whislte-blower and the gay bondage orgy

IF ONE occasionally harbours Martin Ferris's least popular IRA informer, one does not shout about it in Kildare St. But, hey, I see life as a succession of interesting challenges. So I shrugged last week when organs revealing my secret included the gay British and Irish press, the London Times, the Daily Mail, the Irish Star and on the Provo-loving Daily Ireland.

Actually I laughed too. Parts of the story about Sean O'Callaghan and the burglars are amusing. I didn't see the funny side when Sean rang me in Tuscany last September to report that two men he'd brought home for a drink had threatened him with a kitchen knife, tied him to a chair with an electrical flex and had then at a leisurely pace stolen whichever of my possessions took their fancy.

Cash, credit cards, jewellery, printer, scanner and various other odds and ends were one thing: the loss of my computer was another.

Lazily, I hadn't backed up most of the data. I've been burgled before, but I never thought anyone would want my three-year-old desktop. Like many crime novelists, I forget that most criminals are stupid - or stupefied with drink and drugs.

As was Yousef Samhan, sentenced last week to five and a half years for aggravated burglary: it was his claim that what had been going on in my house was a multicultural, gay, mini-orgy that caught the interest of the press. "I should have realised Sean was gay," said a chap who rang me the other day. "The moustache was a dead giveaway."

As Sean's ex-wife and ex-partner would testify, Sean isn't gay. (Indeed, he no longer even has a moustache.) Nor, however,is he homophobic, Islamophobic or racist.

Which is why he went to the pleasant gay pub across the road from my house which we've occasionally visited together, fell into conversation with an Asian Muslim and a West Indian (both straight) and found them so interesting that when the pub shut he asked them back to my place.

I got over the burglary a long time ago: after all, no one was dead. But last week I was somewhat riled: some of the press had claimed that I'd asked Sean to look after my house. You'd have to be more stupid even than Samhan to ask someone on the IRA hit list to be your house-sitter - especially one who is lousy at changing light bulbs and doesn't garden. I had merely given Sean keys so he could use my (don't laugh) computer.

A few words about Sean. Not long after I was taken to meet him in Maghaberry Prison in 1994, he became a friend. It wasn't just that he's one of the very few IRA killers who has confronted and admitted the evil that he did and has made amends. He's also a brilliant political analyst, generous with his knowledge, understanding and time, and funny with it.

I admire him: to become an (unpaid) Garda spy by way of atonement, rise to share the job of head of IRA Southern Command with Ferris, and among other good deeds help send that unpleasant dimwit to a well-earned 10 years in jail, were acts of exceptional courage. There are many unionists - even in Co Tyrone, where Sean was a terrorist in the Seventies - who feel as I do.

I find it appalling that a man who took such risks to help police save lives has so few admirers among nationalists. He certainly has no admirers among republicans. 'Infamous informer tied up during burglary' said the front-page story in Daily Ireland last week, a couple of days after Samhan was sentenced.

Their lengthy story was almost identical to that in the Star. Like the Star, it contained the phrase "O'Callaghan-has refused to take up a new identity despite being wanted by the IRA". Surely there's some mistake here. Daily Ireland frequently assures us that the IRA is now entirely devoted to peace, so how can Sean be 'wanted'?"

The West Indian wasn't found, but Yousef Samhan was. When his denial was contradicted by evidence, he admitted obtaining goods by deception but said the robbery happened after he left.

On the day of his trial, after many months on remand - and without any notice - the defence suddenly came up with the gay-bondage story and threw it at Sean. Like him, the jury found the allegation hilarious and took 20 minutes to declare Samhan guilty.

Sorry. Fact is sometimes duller than fiction.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards