IRA Bomber Paul Kavanagh To Be Appointed As Londonderry School Governor

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The proposed appointment to a school board of a former IRA bomber jailed for killing a staff member at the Metropolitan Police is better than returning to years of violence, officers in the force said.

Triple killer Paul Kavanagh was sentenced to five life terms for blowing up Chelsea Army Barracks in London in 1981 - but was released and went on to play a key role in political powersharing in Northern Ireland, advising deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

paul kavanagh

Paul Kavanagh (left) kisses a relative after being released from jail as part of the Good Friday Agreement

An army bomb disposal officer working for the Met, Kenneth Howorth, was killed as he dealt with another IRA device at a restaurant in Oxford Street.

The Metropolitan Police Federation said returning to the days of violence did nobody any good but added it did not necessarily agree with the likely appointment.

"I think it is what we call progress. We don't necessarily agree with it but returning to the bad old days does no one any good and we just have to live with it," a spokesman said.

DUP Stormont Assembly member Jonathan Craig condemned the planned appointment.

"I find it incredibly insensitive of the minister and would ask the department to consider the appointment of anyone with a criminal record to the board of governors of any school," he said.

An IRA ex-prisoners' organisation said society needed to be inclusive and the war was over.

Bomb disposal expert Mr Howorth, 51, was posthumously awarded the George medal for gallantry.

The married father-of-two, born near Rochdale in Lancashire, served in the army for 23 years, reaching the rank of warrant officer. He was in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and saw service in Austria, Japan, Tripoli and later Hong Kong.

He had completed a tour of duty in Northern Ireland where he defused many devices. He left the army in 1974 to join the Met as a civilan bomb disposal expert.

The device exploded in a toilet at a Wimpey restaurant in Oxford Street as he tried to disarm it on October 26 1981. He died instantly.

His grieving widow Ann died in 2003 and had described her husband's killers as "evil animals". He had two children, Steven and Susan.

Days earlier, on October 10 1981, two civilians were killed when an IRA bomb exploded outside Chelsea Barracks in London, the headquarters of the Irish Guards.

The bomb, which had been left in a laundry van, detonated as Nora Field, 59, went shopping for groceries for her elderly mother. John Breslin, 18, died in hospital after being injured by the 30lb bomb. He was sitting on a wall when the device packed with more than 1,000 nails exploded. Fifty other people, including about 20 Irish Guardsmen, were injured by shrapnel.

Kavanagh from Belfast was sentenced to life imprisonment for the two bombings in 1985 but walked free in 1999 as part of a deal to free political prisoners which was part of the Good Friday Agreement. Thomas Quigley was also convicted of the killing.

Kavanagh is married to a senior Sinn Fein politician, Martina Anderson MEP, and is a special adviser to Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

He has been put forward by Stormont's Department of Education (DE) minister John O'Dowd to sit on the board of governors of Lumen Christi College in Londonderry. The board helps monitor the school's performance and set its plans and policies.

The college is the highest achieving school in Northern Ireland at GCSE level.

Gerry Kindlon, a member of the school's board, said: "I would not have been consulted on it or anything, I have never met the guy, I do not know anything about his past or his background."

The school principal did not return calls.

Michael Culbert is director of Coiste na n-Iarchimi, which represents former IRA prisoners.

He said there are more than 20,000 former IRA prisoners involved in a range of occupations including social work and teaching.

He added he understood the pain of victims dealing with the loss of their loved ones but said society needed to be inclusive.

"Republicans are part of the public, the war is over, the past has not been dealt with but part of the legacy of the past is our attitudes," he said.

"Either we are going to be inclusive or we are not."

He said former British soldiers were not being barred from work because the law mitigated against republicans.

"Republicans consider the armed struggle as totally legitimate but with the war well and truly over we are not being allowed by certain sectors to move on," he said.

He added Kavanagh had spent a long time in prison but was prepared to play a part in the community.

A Department of Education spokesman said: "Procedures are currently under way to appoint governors to a number of schools, including Lumen Christi College.

"As the appointments process at Lumen Christi has not been completed, appointments cannot be confirmed at this time.

"DE governor appointments to voluntary grammar and grant-maintained integrated schools are classified as public appointments. John O'Dowd MLA, as Minister for Education, makes these appointments taking into account the main principles of the Code of Practice for Public Appointments."