Sean Connolly guilty plea on Eamon Kelly murder a surprise

Convicted man a ruthless dissident republican gunman who killed for money


The guilty plea by dissident republican Sean Connolly to the murder of fellow Dubliner Eamon Kelly was a surprise turn of events, even for gardaí investigating the case.

This is not the first time a killer has admitted his crime, of course. But killers get no inducement, including the prospect of a shorter sentence, for admitting they have taken a life.

Normally when those who kill confess to what they have done, it is because they acted in a moment of madness or passion, or perhaps under the influence of drink or drugs - and are full of remorse.

In other cases, those who plead guilty to murder have taken the lives of people close to them and want to spare members of their family or social circle the trauma of a lengthy trial.

In a small number of cases, killers are confronted with such an overwhelming body of evidence that they simply surrender in order to begin an inevitable life sentence – which is on average 20 years now – as fast as they can.

None of these factors applied to Connolly.

He is a ruthless gunman who killed for money.

He was arrested close to the scene of the killing after his escape attempt went wrong. He had been setting about burning the car used for the crime, after the murder weapon had been spirited away.

The reason for his guilty plea is perhaps to be found in the very clear media narrative around the case.

It has been suggested Connolly is an informer who supplied information to the Garda on the other dissident republicans involved in Kelly’s murder.

If this were accepted in dissident circles, Connolly’s life would be under extreme threat even if he were locked behind a range of protective measures in prison.

As a free man, his life would likely be stress-filled.

His guilty plea makes a lie, or at least appears to make a lie, of any suggestion he is a “rat”.

If he is starting a life sentence in jail, where are the inducements for the information he is supposed to have surrendered?

The fact he has been held on the E Wing of Portlaoise Prison, which houses about 45 subversive prisoners, strongly suggests he has successfully stayed ahead of the newspaper coverage in convincing those around him he is not an informer.

From the Bernard Curtis House flats complex in Bluebell in west Dublin, 35-year-old Connolly has a long association with the Real IRA and more recently with the so-called New IRA - a coalition of sorts of dissident republican factions.

He was convicted in July 2006 of Real IRA membership and jailed for six years. He was caught with a shotgun as he and others were about to rob a bookmaker’s in Bluebell in September 2000 as part of a Real IRA fundraising operation.

He was jailed in 2001 for four years for that crime, and was not long out of prison when arrested after a Garda surveillance operation in December 2004 that led to his membership conviction 18 months later.

He shot gangland godfather Kelly (65) outside his home at Furry Park Road in Killester in December 2012 because Kelly refused to accede to demands for protection money from the Real IRA.

Kelly was a well-known criminal figure who had survived an attempt on his life outside his home two years before he was killed. The would-be killer’s gun jammed, forcing him to flee on foot.

The Dublin Real IRA cell headed by Alan Ryan was believed to be behind that botched attack. Ryan was himself later shot dead by a coalition of gangland figures trying to take on the dissidents and avoid giving into their extortion demands.

While Kelly is believed to have been shot as part of the extortion-based feud, the desire to avenge Ryan’s murder was also regarded as a factor.

Kelly, who once worked as a labourer, began his career in crime in the 1960s. His earliest convictions were for housebreaking and shop-breaking.

After initial brushes with the law he began to project an image of an upwardly mobile young businessman, eager to make his way in legitimate business.

He became involved, with his brother Matt, in the Kelly’s Carpetdrome business, which collapsed with huge debts in 1981.

Kelly was associating with figures in the Official IRA in the early 1980s and was jailed after stabbing a man in a row outside the Workers’ Party’s social club on Gardiner Street in Dublin’s north inner city.

Eamon Kelly then joined his peers in carrying out major cash robberies.

His plans in the early 1990s to develop a cocaine route from Colombia to Ireland via Miami, using a Cuban female drugs mule, were new to Ireland.

When he went to Jurys Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin, in September 1992 to collect cocaine worth £500,000, he was arrested and later jailed for 14 years.

On release, Kelly became known as a man who schooled and advised others engaged in major robberies, including Gerry Hutch and the murdered Finglas-based robbery and drugs gang leaders Marlo Hyland and Eamon Dunne.

It was his association with those gangs that made him a target for extortion and which ultimately led to his murder.