O’Connor disappeared while on his way to a regularly scheduled twice-daily bail signing at a garda station across the border in Dundalk. He’s accused of membership of the Real IRA.
O’Connor’s family said he was warned by the police recently that his life was under threat of death from members of the Provisional IRA, who it is believed are angry over his outspoken opposition to continued British rule.
The 32 County Sovereignty Group issued a statement saying it was “extremely concerned for the safety of Mr. Gareth O’Connor given the time lapse since his disappearance on Sunday.”
The statement added: “Following extensive inquiries in the Armagh/Louth area, we treat with suspicion the sinister involvement of the RUC/PSNI in delivering a message to Mr. O’Connor of a death threat by the Provisional IRA given that a similar threat was issued to a Belfast man a few days earlier from the same source.”
Sinn Fein’s Pat McNamee, a former assemblyman for South Armagh, said he understood the O’Connor family’s concern but that he did not believe O’Connor had been abducted by the IRA.
“The circumstances surrounding this matter are not clear, but I want to reiterate the calls made for his safe return,” McNamee said. The archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Sean Brady, has done the same, and Msgr. Denis Faul is also involved in the case.
Faul said he believed an armed group was involved in O’Connor’s disappearance. “What I’m really afraid of is that he will join the ‘disappeared,’ ” he said. “I’ve spoken to his family about this, that they might never see him again. If he is dead, and we hope he is not, they might not be able to bury him.”
The archbishop took the unusual step last week of appealing for information about the missing man after his family appealed to local clergy.
O’Connor’s father said he believed his son was being held by the IRA. “I am 100 percent certain that it is the Provisional IRA because he doesn’t agree with them,” Mark O’Connor said. “Does that mean they are going to abduct the whole of Northern Ireland because they don’t agree with them?”
A police spokesman said they had received a report that a man had gone missing but when officers tried to investigate, family members told them their assistance was no longer required.
In a statement released on Tuesday, May 13, the IRA said: “The IRA has no knowledge whatsoever concerning the disappearance or whereabouts of Gareth O’Connor.”