Eamon Collins (1954 - 27 January 1999) was a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) paramilitary in the late 1970s and 1980s. He turned his back on the organisation in the late 1980s and later co-authored a book called Killing Rage telling of his experiences in the IRA. He was killed in 1999, it is presumed by his former IRA colleagues, for testifying against Thomas 'Slab' Murphy in a civil trial in Dublin.
It was in Camlough, a small town in south Armagh, that Eamon Collins grew up. After finishing school, he worked for a time in the civil service in London before he started studying law at Queen's University. On Easter, 1974, as Eamon Collins walked home to his parents' home in south Armagh, he saw his father being beaten by British soldiers. He was himself badly beaten when he tried to stop them, and then they were both detained.
However, he was contemptuous of the Provisional IRA in the early 1970s, seeing them as representing a simplistic Irish nationalist, militarist programme. Collins himself was attracted to Marxist politics.
He never completed his degree. After working in a pub for a period, he joined the Customs Service of Northern Ireland. Around this time, Collins also got married. He and his wife were later to have four children together. At the same time he was also preparing to become a republican paramilitary.
He joined the IRA at the height of the blanket protest by H-block prisoners in the late 1970s, who wanted Special Category Status for republican prisoners. Collins became involved in street demonstrations at the time and was impressed by the left-wing politics of the new generation of republican leadership that had emerged in the late 1970s.
Collins joined the South Down Brigade of the IRA, based around Newry. This was not one of the organisation's most active units, but it sometimes worked with the South Armagh Brigade, which was the most effective of the IRA's command areas. Collins says in his book Killing Rage that he never felt able to kill anyone himself, but instead became the South Down Brigade's "intelligence officer".
This involved gathering intelligence on intended assassination and bombing targets. His planning was directly responsible for at least five killings, including that of Ulster Defence Regiment Major Ivan Toombs. Many of the bombing targets of Collins' unit were of limited significance. For example, they destroyed the public library in Newry and a pub where a police choir drank after practice.
Collins became noted for his hard-line views on the continuance of armed struggle within the IRA and later becoming part of the nutting squad. On the promptings of the South Armagh Brigade, Collins became a member of Sinn Féin in Newry. The South Armagh IRA wanted a hard-line militarist in the party as they were opposed to the increasing emphasis of the republican leadership on the political over the military wing of the movement. Collins was not, however, selected as a Sinn Féin candidate for local government elections. In part, this was due to his suspicion of the IRA and Sinn Féin leadership, whom he suspected of running down 'the war'. He had a public dispute with Gerry Adams at the funeral of an IRA man, killed in a failed bombing, where Collins was accused of calling Adams a 'Stick' (a derogatory name for Official IRA members, who were considered traitors by Provisional IRA supporters). In Killing Rage, however, Collins denies the claim, instead suggesting that he only accused Adams of taking actions likened to those of a 'Stick'.
Despite his militarist convictions, Collins found the emotional strain of the IRA campaign, along with the pressure from the security forces intolerable. On two occasions, he was arrested under anti-terrorism legislation and held in Castlereagh holding centre for seven days and subjected to 24-hour interrogation. On the second of these occasions, in 1985, the police were enraged by the killing, on the day of Collins' arrest, of nine of their colleagues in an IRA mortar attack in Newry. Towards the end of his time in custody, Collins reportedly "broke" and said that he was prepared to co-operate with the police.
In his book, Collins says that the strain of the interrogation exacerbated doubts that he had already had about the morality and direction the IRA campaign. He argues in his book that the republican leadership had already decided that the "war was over" by the mid-1980s and was already manoeuvring Sinn Féin to participate in what later became the Northern Ireland peace process.
Subsequent to his arrest, Collins became an IRA supergrass, on whose evidence the state could prosecute large numbers of IRA members. Collins was held with other paramilitary informers in the Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast. After an appeal from his wife, however, who remained a republican supporter, Collins retracted his evidence against former colleagues. In return, he was given a guarantee of safety by the IRA provided he de-briefed the organisation on his experience. Collins agreed to this. Collins was then transferred to the republican wing of the Crumlin Road prison.
As a result of losing his status as a protected informer, Collins was then charged with several counts of murder and attempted murder. When tried, however, Collins was acquitted due to a lack of evidence other than his own confessions, which he had since retracted. He then spent three months being interrogated by the IRA and was eventually allowed to relocate to the Republic of Ireland, but was not allowed to travel north of Dundalk.
Collins moved to Dublin and squatted in a deserted flat in the working class Ballymun area of the city. At the time, the area was experiencing an epidemic of heroin addiction and Collins volunteered to help a local priest, Peter McVerry, who ran programmes for local youths to keep them away from drugs.
In 1995, Collins eventually moved back to Newry. The IRA order exiling him from Northern Ireland had not been lifted but with an IRA ceasefire in operation, he judged it safe to move back in with his wife and children. Also in 1995, Collins appeared on British television to tell the story of his life in the IRA.
In 1997, he co-authored 'Killing Rage', with journalist Mick McGovern, an exposé of the IRA and the Troubles. He also contributed to the book Bandit Country by Toby Harnden about the South Armagh IRA.
In 1998, Collins gave evidence against leading republican Thomas 'Slab' Murphy in a libel case Murphy had brought against the Sunday Times over a 1985 article naming him as the IRA's Northern Commander. After his testimony, Collins was heard to shout, "No hard feelings Slab". In the immediate aftermath of the trial, Collins' home was attacked and daubed with graffiti calling him a "tout" (slang for informer). In fact since he had returned to live in Newry his house had frequently been attacked, his family home in Camlough was burned to the ground and daubed in graffiti, threats were made against his children, who were bullied in school, and slander was painted on the walls of the streets in which the family lived.
Eamon Collins was murdered on 27 January 1999 while walking his dogs near Barcroft Park, his home in Newry. He was stabbed and beaten so badly that police initially thought he had been hit by a car. It is presumed that he was killed by the IRA in revenge for public testimony on the activities of the organisation and in particular for his court testimony against Thomas Murphy.
The IRA denied involvement in the killing and Sinn Féin's local representative Brendan Curran denied the IRA was responsible and said that the killing was "senseless and needless". Gerry Adams said that the killing was "regrettable" but added that Mr Collins had "many enemies in many, many, many places".
- Toolis, Kevin (3 Jul 1999). "Death foretold". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 7 Sep 2010.
- "The Price Of Courage". Newsweek. Newsweek, Inc. 29 Mar 1999. Retrieved 8 Sep 2010.
- Collins, Eamon; McGovern, Mick (1999). Killing rage. London: Granta. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-86207-047-9.
- Ed Moloney (31 January 1999). "Why Collins died". Sunday Tribune. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
- Stephen Scott (30 January 1999). "Dead man talking". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
- "Real IRA denies Collins murder". The Guardian. 29 January 1999. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
- Republic Of Pain
- Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. David Andrews, TD on the killing of Eamon Collins Dept. of Foreign Affairs.