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16 November 2000 Edition

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Vincent McKenna jailed

Vincent McKenna was led away to Mountjoy jail this week after being convicted of sexual abuse against his daughter. It was an infamous end to an infamous career of a man branded by the family he persecuted as a serial liar and control freak.

Born in Aughnacloy in 1963, McKenna claimed that he joined the IRA as a youth but after becoming disillusioned turned into a campaigner for peace. It was a lie, of course, but music to the ears of the British securocrats who promoted his rise into the public domain. For them, the self-created label of ``reformed terrorist'' gave McKenna's anti-republican agenda all the more resonance.

But McKenna was no more a former IRA Volunteer than he was a human rights campaigner. McKenna was an ambitious and ruthless manipulator of the truth who sought to promote himself more than the causes he championed. His pro-British agenda guaranteed not only his public profile but also funding for the groups to which he was attached.

As a student at Queens University in 1998, McKenna grabbed the headlines when he published a survey that he claimed showed the majority of residents along the nationalist Lower Ormeau Road did not object to Orange parades. It was a blatant fabrication, challenged by the residents and rejected by Queens.

Despite McKenna's questionable credibility, as a spokesperson for Families Against Intimidation and Terror, he enjoyed wide access to the media and politicians. His statistics were routinely invoked by politicians in Dublin, Belfast and Westminster. An international media figure, McKenna even appeared on the prestigious CBS 60 Minutes programme in the US.

In May 1999, McKenna left FAIT to establish his own Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau. In September, McKenna's anti-republican agenda found expression at a rally in the Ulster Hall against the Patten report on policing, where he appeared on stage.

McKenna dreamed of political office but the seeds of his downfall were already germinating. A month after his appearance at the Ulster Hall, it was revealed that he had been investigated by the Gardaí in connection with child sex abuse allegations.

McKenna claimed he was being subjected to a smear campaign and an ``onslaught of intimidation'' from republicans. He claimed his life had been threatened seven times, that he had been assaulted twice and republicans had bombed his home three times. In the end, however, the lie became too big to sustain.

Speaking after her father's conviction, Sorcha McKenna said the truth had finally come out. ``I can never put it behind me but it's good that people now realise what he has done.'' McKenna is expected to be transferred from Mountjoy to Arbour Hill in Dublin, which houses a special unit for sex offenders. He will be sentenced at the end of November at Cavan circuit court following submissions of victim impact reports.

Meanwhile, in a statement to An Phoblacht, the IRA has restated its position that McKenna was never a member of the IRA, refuting media reports stating otherwise.

In its statement, the IRA says McKenna was never a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann.

The short statement from the leadership reads as follows: ``In reporting Vincent McKenna's conviction for serious sexual abuse, several media outlets referred to him as a former member of the IRA. The leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann states categorically that Vincent McKenna has never been a member of our organisation.''

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An Phoblacht
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