One of the North's best-known IRA informers, Raymond Gilmour, has made a dramatic visit to New York to be reunited with the sister he hadn't seen for almost 30 years.

Gilmour lives in a secret location in Britain and is battling alcoholism and depression. He remains a target for dissident republicans and individual Provisional IRA members, but didn't give MI5 warning of his trip so no security measures were in place.

"It was a spur-of-the-mo­ment decision to go," Gilmour said. "My psychiatrist had asked MI5 to make arrangements for me to see my family in America but MI5 wouldn't help. Then, I won £2,000 on an accumulator bet on the horses. I thought, 'This is fate, I'm going to America', and I booked myself and my wife on flights. I saw all the sights – Times Square, Fifth Avenue, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, Harlem and the Statue of Liberty. Of course, I was apprehensive in case I was recognised. There are almost as many Irish people in New York as there are in Ireland. But the need to see my family was so strong."

Gilmour's sister, Geraldine Dametz, hadn't seen him since he fled Derry in 1983 after giving evidence against 31 republicans in a supergrass trial. On recently reading aSunday Tribune interview with Gilmour, Dametz, who now lives in New Jersey, asked us to put her in contact with him.

Until then, Gilmour had believed his family had disowned him. For decades after going into hiding he tried unsuccessfully to contact his parents, who are now dead, and his 10 brothers and sisters.

"I couldn't believe it was really Raymond standing there in the airport," said Dametz. "I'd thought I'd never see him again. I hugged him longer and harder than I've hugged anyone in my life. We were separated for three decades but the bond between us is so strong that it was like we'd never been apart."

Gilmour stayed in New York and Atlantic City for 10 days. Dametz said: "One night, we sat up chatting for 14 hours. We talked about mammy lighting the wee fire at home every night and polishing our shoes until they shone so brilliantly even though the soles were full of holes.

"Never seeing my parents again after the trial, or even being able to go to their funerals, tormented Raymond. I had a video of mammy and daddy and our brothers and sisters at home in Derry in 1991. It was very emotional for Raymond watching it and seeing how much he had missed out. After my mother died, I kept the bible that she had read every day. I gave that to Raymond before he left America."