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Former Terrorist Takes Offensive for Peace

Since his prison release, convicted IRA bomber Shane Paul O'Doherty has been speaking out for laying down arms. NORTHERN IRELAND

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AS a child he loved Irish dancing and studied Gaelic. At the nearby Roman Catholic church, he was a devout choirboy. His father, a much-respected headmaster at the local Christian Brother's School, encouraged him to read voraciously from a young age. And he was popular. His warm, outgoing personality endeared him to members of both sides of the sectarian divide in bitterly split Londonderry. Indeed, he had many Protestant, as well as Catholic, friends.

Then, at age 20, the hometown where he had been so widely known and liked was left shaken by the news. Shane Paul O'Doherty was arrested for masterminding a notorious international letter-bomb campaign in which 14 people were injured, some seriously. His secret was out: He was, and had been since his youth, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). By the time the police caught Mr. O'Doherty he was, in fact, a key figure in the organization that, to many worldwide, is synonymous with death and destruction.

His trial was swift. O'Doherty did not contest the charges and expressed no public remorse for his crimes; during the trial he read a book. When the verdict came he received a staggering 30 life sentences, plus 20 years.

That was 15 years ago. Today a free man again - he was released after serving a slightly larger portion of his time than is usual according to British penal standards - O'Doherty continues to surprise. He is a changed man, utterly committed to bringing peace to his beleaguered country.

While I interview O'Doherty for several hours at Dublin's Gresham Hotel, he asserts that even while he was engaged in his bombing campaigns he had to admit to himself that terrorism was a clumsy tactic - impossible as it was to focus exclusively on so-called ``legitimate'' targets. He knew it was often secretaries or postal workers, rather than military personnel or politicians, who received the injuries.

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