Paul Williams: ‘From baby-face psychopath to committed pacifist – how Dessie O’Hare tried to fool the world that he had turned to God’
When Dessie O’Hare was released in 2008 after serving half of a 40 year prison sentence for the kidnap and malicious wounding of a Dublin dentist, the country’s most notorious terrorist tried to convince the world that he turned to God.
To prove his Damascene conversion the baby-faced psychopath spent a weekend meditating in the Glencree Peace and Reconciliation while on temporary release.
During another period of temporary release in 2008 he went with his wife on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje.
But those who knew O’Hare best, knew that it was purely a ruse and that he would be up to his old tricks in no time.
Today the Special Criminal Court heard that the former INLA man, known as “The Border Fox”, said that he was employed by businessman Jim Mansfield Junior to evict an employee and his family from his home. He also pleaded guilty to assault and false imprisonment of the same employee.
To the innocent observer O’Hare presents as soft-spoken and inoffensive, yet the Border Fox was one of the most notoriously violent and dangerous terrorists to emerge during the Troubles who is believed to have been responsible for a string of murders during his time.
He led a gang of like-minded thugs on a crime and terror spree along the Border carrying out armed robberies and sectarian shootings. On several occasions the gang opened fire on gardaí and also exchanged fire with the Irish Army.
The Border Fox robbed weapons from a Provo arms dump in south Armagh and attempted to murder Official Unionist MP Jim Nicholson.
The Provos were concerned that his erratic and unpredictable behaviour was jeopardising their own operations in the border area and they warned the INLA leadership that O’Hare would be shot if they didn’t reign him in.
Born in County Armagh in 1958 he was a member of the IRA at the age of sixteen and quickly acquired a reputation as a ruthless and fearless killer.
In 1979 he switched sides and joined the INLA but was arrested by gardaí south of the border after he and an associate had been chased by the RUC. He was convicted of possession of a firearm and sentenced to nine years in Portlaoise prison where he was described as a loner and general odd ball.
When he was released in October 1986, O’Hare told gardaí that he had become a pacifist after studying the works of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Owen Sheehy Skeffington. But his pacifism did not last long.
On New Years Eve 1986 he shot and wounded a protestant neighbour, who was a part time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The shooting victim’s 72-year-old mother was shot dead in the attack.
At the same time O’Hare became involved in a bloody internal feud which claimed several lives.
In February 1987 O’Hare abducted Tony McCloskey, a member of the Army Council Faction and used bolt cutters to cut off McCloskey’s ear and some of his fingers. Then he and a female companion took turns pumping bullets into McCloskey’s mutilated body.
O’Hare later told the Sunday Tribune that he was happy to give McCloskey a hard death.
In the bloodshed that followed O’Hare was blamed for killing another three members of the Army Council faction.
Shortly after the McCloskey incident and attracting the ire of the Provos, O’Hare was expelled from the criminal organisation.
It was then that he plotted the kidnapping of Dublin dentist John O’Grady.
While demanding a ransom of IR£1.5 million O’Hare chopped off the dentist’s two little fingers which he then left in an envelope for his victim’s family behind a statue in Carlow cathedral.
After he was sentenced to 40 years for those crimes in the Special Criminal Court, O’Hare made a bizarre speech from the dock in which he declared:
“The time has come for republican freedom fighters to turn their guns on members of the Irish establishment particularly the judiciary, members of the prison service, the Navy, the Army and the Gardai.”