Killer Sean Connolly is a key member of new IRA group in prison
AN IRA killer who is expected to be given a mandatory life sentence today for the murder of a veteran criminal is highly respected among other dissident Republicans in Portlaoise Prison.
Gun killer Sean Connolly (35) had originally been placed in protective custody in the jail after he was charged with the murder of Eamon Kelly in Killester on the capital's northside in December 2012.
There were fears that his IRA associates would attack him because of rumours that he was a garda informer, jail insiders said.
He has been in custody since his arrest in Clontarf on the evening of December 4, 2012, close to where Kelly was shot dead and on Wednesday he pleaded guilty to the murder.
However, it emerged last night that concerns for his safety in jail are no longer in place and that Connolly is well respected among a group of men who are part of the 'New IRA' faction on the E landing in the jail.
"There have been no problems for Connolly, he gets on very well with these fellas. He is very much a key part of the organisation," a source said.
This dissident Republican faction have been in a simmering dispute with a number of criminals who were loyal to slain RIRA figure Alan Ryan.
But Connolly had been "very friendly" with Ryan until he was murdered in September 2012, according to sources.
There had been speculation that Connolly murdered Kelly in revenge for Ryan's murder, but sources say that Kelly had no involvement in Ryan's shooting three months earlier. Kelly was taken out "to make a point because he was a very easy target", sources said.
A total of eight people, including three women, have been arrested as part of the detailed investigation into the shocking murder of Kelly. Connolly is the only individual who has been charged in relation to the case.
The thug, from Bluebell in Dublin's south inner city, had been a childhood friend of jailed gang boss Brian Rattigan and his increasingly violent behaviour had been causing gardai major concern in the months before he brutally shot Kelly dead in the street.
Connolly was arrested and was the chief suspect for a gun attack which almost led to the murder of innocent banker Keith Deegan at his home in Corbally Green, Tallaght, on April 10, 2012 in a case of mistaken identity. This happened just four months before he killed Kelly.
Connolly was also arrested in December 2011 by gardai investigating a double shooting in Inchicore.
He previously served lengthy prison sentences for firearms and IRA membership offences and was suspected to having access to "a wide arsenal" of guns and pipe bombs in the months before the Kelly murder.
Connolly is due before the non-jury Special Criminal Court today to receive his sentence for the murder of Eamon Kelly. Victim impact evidence from Kelly's family is expected to be heard.
Kelly was involved in serious organised criminality for over four decades.