The young Tyrone woman set to become Deputy First Minister



Patricia Devlin

SHE’S Sinn Fein’s new leader in the north.

But outside of Michelle O’Neill’s Stormont roles, little is known about the young Tyrone woman who has stepped into the shoes of republican leader Martin McGuinness.

Born in 1977 to Kathleen and Brendan Doris, Michelle was brought up in the staunchly republican village of Clonoe in East Tyrone.

A former pupil of St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon, she first became involved in republican activism in her teens.

It was her father Brendan, a former IRA prisoner who spent time in Crumlin Road and Long Kesh jails, who introduced his daughter to politics.

His election to Dungannon Council in 1989 saw Michelle take a behind-the-scenes role helping her father with local constituency work

It was in 1998, following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, that the future health minister began working full-time for Sinn Fein.

Initially she took on the role of political advisor to MP and Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy. 

But before long was also taking on her own constituency work surrounding social and welfare issues, setting herself out in the party as an intelligent go-getter who could succeed on her own.

In 2005 she won her father’s seat on Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council after his decision to step down after 16 years.

The former civil rights activist was said to have been extremely proud of his daughter, by then a married mother-of-two, following in his footsteps.

He also told how she reminded him of his own mother Kathleen, a fierce civil rights champion who had travelled the length and breadth of Ireland to protest and attend squats to highlight housing need.

Brendan – known as Basil to friends – passed away in 2006, a year before Michelle was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In 2010, still juggling her MLA and council positions, she made history by becoming Dungannon’s first ever female Mayor.

Hailed by her Sinn Fein colleagues as a leading political light to both women and the youth, she was fast being seen as the ‘new’ face of a party often bogged down by some of its members IRA past.

In 2011 the mother-of-two’s rise continued and she was handed the reins of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) from party colleague Michelle Gildernew.

This would be her most challenging position yet, involving the management of a diverse and vast ranging portfolio which stretched from fisheries, to forestry to food, and beyond.

It also saw her become the first Executive minister ever to be tasked with decentralising hundreds of civil service jobs outside of Belfast.

The following year she announced that DARD would move to the former Shackleton Britsh Army barracks in Ballykelly, Co Derry.

After the announcement, it came to light that Strabane had actually been chosen as a more suitable location by an internal DARD assessment, a decision that O’Neill then overruled.

In February 2013, it was also revealed that the decision had been questioned by then Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.

Her ability to manage such a demanding portfolio of work under pressure undoubtedly put her in the frame for the top health spot in Stormont’s new power-sharing Executive last year.

Before even stepping into that role in May 2016 she was well aware of the urgent matters that lay ahead in one of the Executive’s toughest roles.

That included mounting hospital waiting lists, funding shortfalls and reform.

In October, the health minister launched a 10 year plan to transform the health service, saying it would improve a system that was at “breaking point”.

Opposition politicians questioned the lack of details in the plan, which was not costed.

But it set out a range of priorities, including a new model of care involving a team of professionals based around GP surgeries.

O’Neill is well liked within the party, and her warmth has shone through to the public even during the most challenging of times in both ministerial roles.

During the last few weeks her competent and well spoken representation of Sinn Fein’s stance in the Cash for Ash scandal has been both admired and respected, even by those in Sinn Fein backing former IRA man Conor Murphy for the top spot.

Her likeability would be a welcome asset to Sinn Fein in what is set to be one of the province’s toughest ever elections.

Like Martin McGuinness, who cited family as being one of the pull factors in his decision to step down from front-line politics, she has not not allowed her demanding political life take away from her family one.

She has commuted daily from rural Tyrone throughout her time in Stormont.

And as DARD minister she also chose to base herself at least one day a week out of offices at Cookstown’s Loughry College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, close to her Coalisland home.

That was no doubt a decision taken so she could be close to her children, son Ryan and daughter Saoirse.

When asked in a 2011 interview what type of united Ireland she wanted, O’Neill replied: “one where they (my children) are treated as equals and they feel equal in everything that they do … where we know that the people that are looking after us have got your best interests at heart.”


Where is the missing suspect sketch in the Charles Self murder case?


Charles Self

It’s been a week now since I contacted Gardai to ask for a response to allegations that the only sketch of a suspect in the brutal, unsolved murder of RTE set designer Charles Self has ‘went missing’ from detective files.

I was told by the press office that my query had been passed to the investigating officers and I would receive a response in ‘due course’.

I don’t know exactly what time frame ‘due course’ is in the books of An Garda Siochana, but given that it is coming up to the 35th anniversary of Charles’ horrific killing (which no one has even been arrested for) and the continued distress those close to him still feel at not only his loss but also the subsequent failure to find his killer, you’d think the gards would be keen to address such a serious claim quickly.


Hopefully this week I’ll be able to update both Charles’ friend Bill, who was shown the drawing in 1982, and others, with an official Gardai response to this serious allegation. In the meantime the story from last week’s Irish Daily Star is in full below.

By Patricia Devlin

THE only sketch of a suspect in the brutal murder of RTE man Charles Self has gone missing from garda files, it’s been claimed.

Bill Maher, a friend of the English-born set designer, says detectives have told him the drawing, given to gardai by a man present in the house the night he was killed, can’t be located.

Mr Maher, 60, said he was only told the news after repeated requests to see the artist’s sketch again over 30 years after the January 1982 killing.

“Gardai said they don’t have it, it can’t be located,” Mr Maher said last night. “They say there’s nothing recorded about it any statements given at the time. But I was shown it, as were a number of other people.

“It was drawn by Charles’ friend who was proud of how well he recalled the man’s face.”

The sketch was made by RTE man’s colleague Berty Tyrer, who’d stayed in Mr Self’s Monkstown home on the night he was killed.

He later told gardai how he’d returned and retired to bed at the Annesley Mews address before the 33 year-old returned from a night out.

During the early hours of the morning Berty said he was disturbed by a man who came into the bedroom where he was sleeping and said: “Sorry, wrong room,” and closed the door.

The next morning Mr Tyrer, who passed away in 1995, found Charles’ body lying in a pool of blood partly slumped against the front door.

He had been stabbed fourteen times and there were three slash wounds to his throat. A ligature had also been tied around his neck.

No-one has ever been convicted of Mr Self’s murder.

Mr Maher, who is the nephew of murdered Catholic priest Father Niall Molloy, says it was in the days following Charles’ death that gardai presented him with the sketch of a man with “curly black hair”.

I didn’t recognise him and that was the last time I saw the drawing,” he said.

When the cold case unit was set up some years later I mentioned the drawing to them, but they didn’t really want to talk about it then.

I was told over a year ago the case had been reverted back to Dun Laoghaire garda station and that they’d be in touch.

I didn’t hear from them again until around October/November time and I met with two detectives and I asked them again about the sketch.

I said if they were doing an appeal, why not use the sketch? It’s the obvious thing.

They rang me later to say that they had no record of the sketch and it’s not mentioned in my statement.

But I was interviewed within 24 hours of Charles’ murder, it wouldn’t have been shown to me then, they wouldn’t have had it.

They then said it could be in storage and they’d send someone to look for it.”


Bill Maher

Mr Maher, who had met his friend for a drink the day before he was killed, was contacted again by detectives last week, ahead of a special Crimecall appeal set to be broadcast around the 35th anniversary of the murder.

I asked them what the story was about the sketch, and they said, ‘we don’t have it, and there’s no record in any statements’.

I told them name of the guy who had been dealing with at the time and to contact him, he would have been present at the time when I was shown it.

Then I met with them for the Crimecall piece and they said there’s no record of it. It’s very peculiar.

Either they have it, they don’t have it or they aren’t putting any effort into finding it.

It’s frustrating and it’s left me quite angry. It shows how appallingly Charles’ case has been handled.”

Gardai have yet to respond to various requests for comments over Mr Maher’s claims.

In 2008 the murder case was given priority by the Garda’s Serious Crime Review Team and Detective Sergeant Alan Bailey, who has since retired, was placed in charge of it.

He reviewed the case files and found that it was widely accepted at the time that Charles had been killed by a rent boy he had picked up in town and who had never been identified.

Mr Self had spent the earlier part of the night of January 20 that year drinking in known gay haunts in Dublin and was in celebratory mood having got a promotion in work.

He left Bartley Dunnes pub on South William Street at around 11.30pm and walked to a takeaway restaurant on Burgh Quay.

Shortly after midnight, he was seen in the vicinity of the public toilets on Burgh Quay by two different witnesses, but when he hailed a taxi on nearby Eden Quay he was in the company of a 25-year-old ‘fair haired’ male dressed in a two-piece suit.

A taxi driver later said the two became ‘amorous’ in the back of his cab before being dropped off at Mr Self’s home. Despite appeals, this man has never been identified.

His description is also very different to that of the man described by Mr Tyrer, who discovered his friend’s body.






Jim Wells fantasist claims: ‘I’m child of evil paedophile priest’


Dorothy ‘Dee’ Gardner


By Patricia Devlin

A FANTASIST who made a false police report claiming former Health Minister Jim Wells made homophobic comments at a public event has claimed she is the child of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.

Dorothy ‘Dee’ Gardener made the astonishing allegation on an internet broadcast show where she also sensationally claimed to have no criminal convictions.

In a series of shocking allegations, which Sunday Life has been unable to stand up, Gardener said the Catholic church was aware that Smyth – who abused hundreds of kids over a 40 year period- was her father.

Speaking on the Conscious Consumer Network (CCN) she said: “I was the only product child of Brendan Smyth. There’s more than me, but I was the only proven one.

They (Catholic church) tried to pay me off, but I told them to stick the money where the sun doesn’t shine.”

The 49 year-old, who escaped jail over the Jim Wells incident in October, appeared via Skype on the web chat-show style programme in late November.

There she told host Angela Power-Disney that her biological mother had been raped by Smyth.

“I was the product of that, of a rape and I ended up where legally he’s (Smyth) the biological father,” she said.

“So without going to much into it, I was shipped over to a convent, the Good Shepherd in Newry and then I went over to Nazareth House and then I was sent over to the Good Shepherd and then I was sent back over to England.

“The Good Shepherd was closed down in the early 90s because it was my story with Brendan Smyth that went out into the public domain, but I was anonymous at the time, because I was just at the age of 13, under the age of 16 I couldn’t be named to the public.”

However Gardner, who was born in 1968, would have been in her mid twenties at this time, and not under the age of 16.

Gardner, who claims to work as a suicide prevention officer, said her allegations were proven via a DNA test which confirmed sicko Smyth, who died in prison in 1997,  was her father.


Evil paedophile priest Brendan Smyth

She then said the matter was reported to police, but no action was taken.

She added: “I have his DNA but I don’t have his mind, I don’t have his body, I don’t have anything that belongs to that sick, evil twisted…”

Smyth was at the centre of one of the first clerical child sex abuse scandals to rock the Catholic Church in Ireland.

The Northern Ireland-born priest was eventually convicted of more than 140 offences against children over a 40-year period and spent time in prison on both sides of the Irish border.

Gardner went on to speak about her alleged activist work in Ireland, which included “exposing corruption”

She then said: “I’m well known in the north of Ireland and the police don’t like it when I speak out. 

“I’ve had 16 super injunctions taken out against me by politicians and I got a resignation just recently and that’s how I got into this, and let me clarify this, I have never had a criminal conviction in my life. Never in my life.”

What she failed to mention was how in August  she was sentenced to three months behind bars after concocting a false report to police about DUP Minister Jim Wells.

She had claimed in a police statement that she had attended a hustings event in Downpatrick where Mr Wells – who was then the Health Minister – had told the audience he believed treatment to HIV patients should be stopped and that children of gay parents would be abused.


DUP politician Jim Wells

She claimed she was with a group of protestors at the event, wearing tops with the inscription “I’m proud to be gay” on the front and “No politician will tell me who to love” on the back.

She said she had heckled Mr Wells, who later resigned from his post, and in response, the DUP’s Nelson McCausland and Gregory Campbell had laughed at her.

Gardner also claimed to police she had video footage supporting her story.

The court heard that Mr McCausland and Mr Campbell were not at the event and that no video footage was produced by Gardner. Nor did CCTV footage demonstrate any such protest group attended.

Gardner also claimed to be suffering from cancer, but the court was told that no evidence had been provided and she had not attended a probation appointment to discuss a pre-sentence report.

The court was also told that Ms Gardner had claimed to be at the home of a lesbian couple in Rathfriland when Jim Wells came to the door canvassing.

Police investigations revealed that this was also not true and that the couple in question had no knowledge of Ms Gardner.

The court heard that Ms Gardner admitted she had wanted to “get Jim Wells”.

The judge said that fabricating statements attacked the very heart of due process.

The judge said the false statement made by Ms Gardner not only wasted police time but could impact on legitimate complaints from the LGBT community.

She later made a public and personal apology to Mr Wells from the dock before a judge reduced the jail on appeal to community service.

Judge Piers Grant told Gardner at the time there was a “fine line” between fantasy and lies, and warned her that if she breached either the probation order or failed to complete the 100 hours, she would be brought back before him and re-sentenced.

Speaking outside court Mr Wells said he felt “vindicated”following Gardner’s conviction.