Convictions of Irish Persons in Britain: Motion.

Thursday, 18 December 1986

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 115 No. 10

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[1402]Acting Chairman (Séamus de Brún): Information on Seamus De Brun  Zoom on Seamus De Brun  I would remind the House that it was agreed this morning that each group representative will be given 15 minutes.

Mr. O'Mahony: Information on  OMahony  Zoom on  OMahony  I move:

That Seanad Éireann concerned by the serious doubts and the misgivings that have arisen regarding the convictions in Britain of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire case requests the Government to call again on the British Home Secretary to take early and positive action to give the persons concerned the opportunity to establish their innocence.

I move this motion on behalf of all of the political groups in the House. I should emphasise that the motion in the names of four Senators is one formally agreed by all groups and therefore is an all-party motion.

In June 1986, Deputy D. Andrews and I decided that it would be appropriate to seek to institute an all party group of Oireachtas Members to campaign on the issue that the persons convicted in the so-called Maguire, Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases in Britain were given the opportunity to establish their innocence in law. We found willing support from the political groups in the Oireachtas at that time and this motion is part of that continuing campaign. A similar motion has been tabled in the other House and I hope it will be taken at an early date should the need for it continue to exist in the New Year.

On behalf of the all-party group I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his officials for the co-operation and assistance they have given the all-party group since its inception. They have been particularly helpful in facilitating representatives of the group in making arrangements to meet the British Home Secretary, British politicians of all parties, the Maguire family and some of [1403] those who remain in prison, during two visits to London earlier this year.

The Minister and his official have been extremely active in pursuing the cases concerned since the first major television programme on the subject was broadcast in October 1985. In my view they have raised the cases in the appropriate quarters in Britain persistently and skilfully since that date. The fact that these convictions, all 17 of them have been seriously questioned only since the television broadcast is an indictment of all of us and cannot be blamed on the Minister any more than on any else, and that includes Members of this House and myself. The fact that Seanad Éireann will pass this motion will indicate to the British Government the strongly-held view of the democratic parties in Ireland that a serious miscarriage of justice has taken place in the three cases referred to in the motion.

The British Government will also know that the passage of this motion can in no way be seen as supportive of the bomb incidents in 1974 in Birmingham, Guildford and Woolwich. Everyone in this House utterly condemns those horrific, mindless bombings and all of the bombings which took place in Britain between mid-1974 and mid-1975 at the instigation of the IRA. The understandable desire of the British authorities to convict those responsible for those bombings has, inter alia, led to the conviction of 17 innocent people. These people, including the relatives of the late Guiseppi Conlon who died in prison in 1981, should have even at this stage the right to establish their innocence.

I do not propose to go into the details of the cases in the short time available. These are already well known. In substance, the British authorities, in reacting to the large-scale IRA terrorism against innocent citizens in 1974, took shortcuts with the due process of law. Confessions were beaten out of some of those convicted. Defective forensic tests were used as a basis for conviction in these and in others of the cases concerned.

I believe that everyone who has studied [1404] the cases in Britain and in Ireland now believes that the 17 people concerned should not have been convicted. That is a different matter, however, to saying that they will be given an opportunity to establish their innocence. We are asking the British authorities to open a can of worms, in the words of one Member of the Westminster Parliament, and it will not be easy for them to do so. It will not be easy either for the British Government or the British Judiciary to admit miscarriages of justice on this scale and at such great cost to the lives of those convicted.

Because I was aware of this dilemma facing the British authorities, when I met the Home Secretary in London on 16 October last with Deputy Andrews and Deputy Durkan, I specifically asked him whether he, as Home Secretary, would be prepared to send the cases to the Court of Appeal if he was personally convinced this was the just thing to do in the light of his examination of the new evidence and the arguments put to him. He said at that meeting that the criteria he would use in deciding whether to refer the cases to the Court of Appeal would be whether there was new evidence and whether that evidence was significant. If these criteria were met, the Home Secretary said he would be prepared to refer the cases back. We took the Home Secretary at his word on that occasion and we have had no reason to doubt what he said in the period since then. We must hope that our trust in this regard has not been misplaced.

I believe the case for referral back for all three cases is overwhelming. That belief is shared by this Parliament, the European Parliament and, in the Maguire case, by 288 Members of the Westminster Parliament. In relation to that early day motion, which is on the agenda in the Westminster Parliament, I think it is appropriate to say that Lord Fitt has played a major and significant role in that because he was personally friendly with Guiseppi Conlon in particular and that motion in the Westminster Parliament, I would add, is in the name of parliamentarians of all persuasions. This [1405] belief in the innocence of the 17 people concerned is shared also by those independent commentators in Britain who have looked into the cases, and by the British legal representatives of those convicted. The Birmingham Six case in particular has been under review now in the Home Office for a considerable time. I accept that the publication of Chris Mullen's book and the recent statement by the former British police officer, Mr. Clarke, have justifiably caused further delays in the Home Secretary's progress towards arriving at a decision, but the fact is that in this case alone six innocent men have served 12 years in jail. There should be no further delay in reaching a decision in their case. I welcome indications in today's newspapers that the Home Secretary will make a decision on this case over Christmas. I trust that newspaper report is accurate because I think there cannot be any justification for any further delay.

Throughout this campaign on the part of the all-party group in the Oireachtas, and also I think I can say on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs throughout the period in which he has been active in pursuing these cases, we have never sought to make this an international issue —that is, an issue between two countries. We have been very careful indeed to say that we believe this is a matter to do with the administration of British justice and that the esteem in which British justice is held in the world can only be damaged by a failure to offer redress to these people. We have pursued the issue on that basis and we made no attempt to turn it into an Irish-British issue. I think we have been right in that.

In conclusion, it would be difficult to see how an Irish Government in December of next year could give effect to extradition procedures if these three cases are not satisfactorily dealt with by then. The delaying mechanism — and I do not want to get into the area of the Extradition Bill at all — which the Government have instituted and put into that Bill is of significance not just in relation to matters such as the Diplock courts but is of significance in relation to [1406] these three cases only. I hope and I trust the two matters may not need to be intertwined at all in the future and that the British Home Secretary will take action at an early date to give the 17 people concerned an opportunity to establish their innocence in law. That is what they want; they do not want a pardon or anything else. They want to be able to establish their innocence in a court of law and-I hope the Home Secretary will use his powers under the 1968 Court of Appeal Act to give them that opportunity.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  In joining with Senator Flor O'Mahony in seconding this motion, first of all, I would like to acknowledge the fact that he has said that under no circumstances do any of the proposers, seconders or supporters of the motion, condone any of the acts which were perpetrated against innocent people in Great Britain. The acts which were perpetrated were of a horrific nature and because of that fact there seemed to be an inordinate effort made by the authorities in England to bring somebody before the courts and, unfortunately, in bringing these people before the courts, there was a miscarriage of justice on an enormous scale. I would like to compliment Senator Flor O'Mahony, Deputy David Andrews, Deputy Niall Durkan, and in Europe Deputy Niall Andrews, for the amount of work they have put in their attempts to get matters of justice again brought before the English courts.

There has been in the past a suggestion that the English courts were courts of first jurisdiction, that these were the courts that established law right throughout the civilised world. Unfortunately, in the cases before us it has been without doubt established that they did not go through the proper procedures and that in the case of the people who were as a result of improper procedures brought before the court and convicted, the British Court system has fallen down. I fear that Lord Denning, in a justification for not allowing an appeal in the Birmingham Six case, put the case for the British Government, in the sense that he said — I am paraphrasing what he said I hope correctly—[1407] if there is a case for an appeal in this instance, the whole of the British judicial system falls down. If the British police, the prison officers and the judge involved made a mistake in this case, the whole system of justice in Britain has fallen down. I fear that is what has happened.

I have not seen anywhere such a disregard for evidence as there has been in the case particularly of the Birmingham Six, but also in the case of the Guildford Four and the Maguire case. The convictions involved have shown basic flaws of justice. There was no evidence at all in law which could have convicted the Birmingham Six. The British Government have attempted at all times to justify the convictions but they have not been able to produce evidence which would stand up in a court of justice here. I suggest that were it not for the total abhorrence of the people of Britain of what happened in Birmingham there was no way these people could ever have been convicted.

The Channel Four programmes suggested this. What is beyond reasonable doubt is that these people should not have been convicted. We would ask Sir Geoffrey Howe who has a good record in international affairs and in attempting to have violations of civil rights adjusted in countries such as South Africa, and also Timothy Routin, his Junior Minister in the Foreign Office, to bring forward the miscarriage of justice that has been perpetrated on each individual involved in all the cases mentioned in the motion. The British people have not begun to realise that there has been a major miscarriage of justice even though they are still abhorred by the violence that was perpetrated on innocent people in the incidents in Birmingham and Guildford.

Sir Geoffrey Howe spoke of the need in the European Community to recognise the virtues of justice, democracy and honesty. In these instances there was no semblance of justice, democracy or honesty. The veracity of the confessions has to be queried. Senator O'Mahony mentioned the confessions that were taken from the Birmingham Six particularly. [1408] It has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that these confessions were taken from these people as a result of continuing harassment in a physical sense. The forensic evidence would show that these people were beaten up consistently in police custody. Not alone that but they were beaten up again when they were brought to the jail where the prison officers have acknowledged beating them up. A most amazing situation arose where not alone was there forensic evidence but there was pictoral evidence of the prisoners being beaten. When certain prison officers were brought before the courts in Britain they were exonerated from all blame. The evidence was there. The prisoners had been beaten up in two places. They were beaten up in the Brimingham police barracks and they were beaten up in the prison as well.

British justice would suggest that if you beat a confession out of somebody that confession should not stand up. All we ask is that in honesty and in justice the statements made by people who were physically abused consistently for a long time should be overruled and the cases reopened. I agree with the suggestions made by Senator O'Mahony that these people are not looking for a Queen's pardon; they are not looking for a declaration of innocence. They are looking for a re-trial and in that re-trial they can prove their innocence. It is now being suggested by the British Foreign Office that possibly at Christmas a Queen's pardon might be given to these people and there are indications that this might happen. The people involved in these cases do not want a Queen's pardon; they want their innocence proved by the courts and not by the Queen.

At a meeting of Kilkenny Corporation unanimous decision was made that the motion we have here should be pursued at the highest level. I know the Minister has been pursuing this. All we can do here today is to ensure that we give a little more strength to what the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Minister has been doing in this regard.

Mr. Durcan: Information on Patrick Durcan  Zoom on Patrick Durcan  On behalf of the Fine [1409] Gael Party it gives me great pleasure to support this motion which is proposed by Senator Flor O'Mahony and seconded by Senator Lanigan. We are not talking merely about an injustice perpetrated against the 17 defendants who have been affected by the decisions in these three cases: we are talking about an injustice which is being perpetrated against the civilisation that all of us hold dear. We live in the western world and one thing that is vital to our civilisation is the rule of common law and its proper enforcement. In this country we have the same system of administration of justice as exists in the adjoining island. That circumstances have arisen in relation to the making of decisions in these three cases which bring that system of justice into disrepute reflects not merely on the British legal system but I submit on the legal systems in this and all other common law jurisdictions.

We have to look at this in the light of the way the law is administered in civil law jurisdictions on the Continent and indeed in the light of the way law is maladministered in certain jurisdictions about which we frequently express concern in this House. I speak about South Africa and various South American countries, about Iran and the Philippines. If we have any right in the common law jurisdictions to express concern about what is happening in other places I think it is only right that we in this Chamber and this House express serious concern about what has happened in these three cases.

It may be no harm to reflect very briefly on the three cases. In relation to the Birmingham Six that is a case which deals with perhaps the biggest mass murder in British history. On 22 November 1974 bombs exploded in two Birmingham pubs killing 21 people and injuring 160. That marked the climax of an IRA campaign of terror and that was perhaps relevant in relation to the ultimate adjudication of the matters which came before a British court.

In relation to the adjudication on the issues in question it may be no harm to refer to an article by Chris Mullin in [1410]The New Statesman on 1 November 1985 when he said:

The case against the six men consisted of four confessions; positive forensic tests that showed that Hill, Power and possibly Walker had recently handled explosives; and a good deal of circumstantial evidence. They had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and they knew a lot of the wrong people.

To convict on that basis is unsatisfactory. That is certainly a case in respect of which a review is urgently needed.

More frightening is the case of the Guildford Four which also occurred in 1974 when four young people, three of them Irish, were convicted of bombings carried out in Guilford and Woolwich. Those convictions were obtained on the basis of confessions extracted while those defendants were in police custody although all of the confessions were later retracted in the course of the hearing. Subsequently an IRA active service unit arrested for another matter admitted to the offences in question and were able to give very detailed evidence which indicated that in all probability they were involved. The subsequent television documentary which we saw earlier this year certainly casts many doubts on that whole matter and raises without “yea” or “nay” the need for a review of the case.

Perhaps most tragic is the Maguire case, which was highlighted in an RTE documentary earlier this year. That was the case which affected seven defendants, one of whom has since died. In this case the convictions were recorded not on the basis of confessions. All the defendants protested their innocence at all times. The basis for the convictions in this case was scientific evidence. The basis upon which it was obtained was subsequently put in doubt by the person who established the test which was used. It is only right that we in this House should give support to the calls made by Members of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords, by members of the Churches and other various interested groups, that all three cases deserve to be reviewed [1411] because of the very unsatisfactory nature in which the judgments were actually obtained.

There are other cases of people who have been dealt with under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Britain, and who have been detained for amazing lengths of time, who have been tried on the basis of evidence which did not convict them and, indeed which on a summary glance initially could not have indicated that they would be subsequently implicated. Yet these people have been detained for amazing periods of time in British prisons. I refer to one such person who comes from my own constituency— that is the case of Joseph Calvey, who was detained for 17 months, three of those months as a special category “A” prisoner. During that time he was not even allowed to attend Mass while in a British prison. He was subsequently acquitted with other persons involved. He was acquitted, not on the basis of any legal technicalities, but on the basis that there was simply no case against him. All of these matters are damaging to justice. All of these things are damaging to the public perception of justice. All of these things are damaging to the rule of law.

The British Government have certain options available to them. They have the option that they do nothing and hope that this situation will pass away. To allow that line of argument to be pursued will do nothing other than damage the administration of justice in Britain and, indeed, damage the relationship existing between these two countries. The other option available to the British Government is an open ended option which allows these matters to be reviewed, whether by the court of appeal or otherwise. I do not want to be too specific as to the manner of review which can be adopted by the British Government. I believe that if the British Government take steps to ensure that these cases are reviewed, they will be doing a lot of good for the regard which the common law and the administration of justice in Britain have in the world at large. It is only right, therefore, that we in this House should express our [1412] misgivings about the basis upon which the convictions were recorded in these cases and express the hope that the British Government will take steps to ensure that they are reviewed and thereby restore British justice, and the regard which it has had up to now in the world, to its former state.

I would like to join with Senator O'Mahony in paying tribute to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and our embassy staff in London for the interest which they have taken in these matters and particularly their developing interest in the last 12 months. My understanding was, certainly at the end of 1985, that the Department of Foreign Affairs merely interested themselves in consular matters for Irish citizens detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It would appear now that the interest of the Department goes beyond that. I would like to see the interests of the Department going beyond that.

There were many other issues which have been highlighted by the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas and issues which have been highlighted by other interested bodies which affect prisoners, issues such as the basis upon which bail is granted, issues such as the length of time which may pass as between the moment of initial detention and ultimate trial. These are things which should be within the scope of the Department of Foreign Affairs and with which the Department should concern themselves, even though they are matters which are internal to the administration of justice in another jurisdiction. They are matters which, if they do not operate on a satisfactory basis, can have detrimental effects so far as Irish and other persons detained under this legislation are concerned. I am pleased to be associated with this motion.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  On behalf of the Independent Group, I should like also to give full and unequivocal support to this motion before the House. I would like to congratulate those who have been conducting this campaign in a very temperate and civilised way. I also give full support [1413] to give the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government for the approach which they have taken towards this campaign. This issue is an extraordinarily delicate one and a very difficult one to approach. It is not easy for one to champion the cause of Irish people in Britain without causing great hostility and acrimony between the two Governments. The approach which has been taken here today, an all-party approach, and the approach which has been taken by pioneers of this cause in the past should be applauded. I would also like to pay tribute to those who initially took up this cause because it has been a long time coming. I was as guilty as anybody else of not paying very much attention to the cause in particular of the Birmingham issue until I was confronted with these rather uncomfortable facts which made one face up to the fact that there is a great and enormous element of doubt in this case, which justifies a review of it.

The two particular issues on which the Birmingham Six were convicted were the issue of forensic evidence and the issue of the confessions. There is no doubt now that both those two pillars of convictions are discredited. There is no doubt — and nobody disputes this — that those confessions were exacted under appalling and violent conditions. There is no doubt that the forensic evidence now has been cast with doubt. We should understand the reason all these cases have arisen. There is an enormous temptation, when atrocities such as the Birmingham bombings occur, first of all to seize the most primary suspects or to find suspects and, secondly, to rush the judgment and conviction. While this is very easy to criticise, it is a very natural reaction on the part of any police force in the world and the public. So horrific were the crimes committed in these cases that there is a need on the part of the forces of law and order to satisfy a feeling among the population of the necessity to get convictions as soon as possible. While that is a fault, it is something we should understand.

I would also like to say here that, while these three cases give enormous cause for concern, they should not be treated, and [1414] have not been treated, as a political weapon for attacking the whole system of British justice. These are special cases. They are political cases in a sense. They are most unpleasant cases, but they should not be used as a stick with which to beat British justice. I do not think they have been so used. I repeat again that the whole issue has been treated extremely responsibly by those who have been conducting this campaign, especially in the Seanad and the Dáil.

While it will be very difficult for the British Government to admit that a mistake has been made in all three cases, or in one case, because it is an admission that there is something very wrong with the whole system of justice in Britain. It might be helpful if we were to acknowledge that circumstances have changed in the last 12 years and that the conviction of the Birmingham Six at the time seemed far more reasonable then than it does now and that evidence has come to light since which justifies their release. At the time there was not such an outcry against the decision because the conviction seemed more reasonable. It is worth pointing out that this review for which we are calling does not just have all-party support here. It has all-party support in Great Britain. This issue is causing a great deal of concern over there.

One of the great problems with a crime of this sort is that it tends to provoke anti-Irish feeling in Great Britain — in Birmingham, in Guildford, in London — when it happens. It is a very natural feeling on the part of the population there. As a result it is easier for them to reach convictions. For this one has to blame the campaign of the Provisional IRA. The result of placing bombs in Birmingham or anywhere else is that people in Great Britain believe it is done in your name and in my name and in the name of the people of Ireland, which it is not. They tend, as a result, to feel a great backlash against any Irish people in Birmingham, London or wherever the crime is committed. It is a natural feeling, but it is wrong. It is a feeling which we must fight against and which they must fight against.

[1415] Finally, I do not in any way feel that it is right that this should be linked to extradition. I am an absolutely unapologetic supporter of extradition. I do not find that inconsistent in any way with being able to support a review of the cases of the Birmingham bombers, the Guildford bombers and Annie Maguire. At the time of the Birmingham bombers' case, which is the only one I know about in detail, the conviction was reasonable at that time. Now there is obviously a case for a retrial and their innocence is very likely. I do not believe that this should be linked to extradition.

I would like to sum up by saying once again that the moderate, temperate and extremely diplomatic way in which this has been treated is something of which all those involved should be extremely proud. I congratulate them.

Mrs. Rogers: Information on Brid Rodgers  Zoom on Brid Rodgers  The horrific bombings of 1974 in Britain outraged public opinion in Britain and, indeed, in Ireland. Of course, it resulted in a wave of anti-Irish emotion in Britain, to which Senator Ross has just referred. It caused great distress to hundreds of thousands of emigrants and their families in Britain. It also had the effect of bringing about the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was rushed through the British Parliament by the then Home Secretary, Mr. Roy Jenkins, and which has also caused great distress to many innocent people travelling between here and Britain since then.

As Senator Ross has said, the particular effects of these atrocities were forseen by those who perpetrated the atrocities. Indeed, they have said so in the case of one of the more recent atrocities when they tried to blow up members of the British Cabinet. They recognised that there would be severe repression of Irish people as a result. What they did not add is that they hoped there would be severe repression, because the grievances which would follow would certainly enhance their chances of recruiting more people to their campaign of terror.

At the time of the bombings in Britain [1416] there was a public clamour and severe pressure on the police force for results in their investigation of these atrocities. It is against that background of public revulsion and outrage that the convictions of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire family were obtained. New evidence has come to light which indicates to all reasonable people that a monumental miscarriage of justice has occurred and that the emotional reaction, however understandable and however natural, of the British public led to the wrongful imprisonment of innocent Irish people.

It is, perhaps, understandable that ordinary British people should react emotionally in face of the type of murderous activity which was perpetrated at that time. That does not mean, nor should it be countenanced in any circumstances, that those who are charged with carrying out and protecting the rule of law should themselves be guilty of breaking the law. The new evidence which has emerged in the course of the “World in Action” programme of October 1985, indicated quite clearly that contrary to what was claimed by 20 police officers at the time of the trial, those convicted were subjected to severe beatings and to brutality by the police. In other words, the confessions of guilt were forced out of those prisoners by policemen who were themselves breaking the law, clearly taking the view that the end justifies the means and the end in this case was to obtain convictions at whatever cost.

The cost, regrettably, to innocent people — which now seems clearly to be the case — has been to date, 12 years in jail for the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, and also a number of years in jail for the Maguire family. The blow to British prestige and to British pride in their own system of justice is, of course, also quite devastating.

The second and the crucial new factor to emerge since the trial has been the total discrediting of the forensic evidence. When one considers that the convictions rested solely on the basis of confessions obtained by brutality and on [1417] forensic evidence which has now been totally discredited, it is difficult to understand why the British Home Secretary has not yet moved as a matter of urgency since the first “World in Action” programme was seen a year ago. He has not moved as a matter of urgency at this stage to have the cases re-opened.

It is worth recalling that the Crown Prosecutor, Sir Michael Havers, stated in 1975, at the time of the Guildford Four trail:

Accusations of the most appalling kind have been made against the police during this trial...

He went on to state:

If the allegations are true there has been a most appalling perversion of justice.

Undoubtedly it is the embarrassment, and indeed the shame, which would be brought on the Establishment by the now likely findings of a court of appeal or a retrial, that such an appalling perversion of justice has indeed taken place, which has probably caused the Home Secretary to hesitate, despite the growing pressure from a wide spectrum of responsible opinion to have these cases reopened.

In his excellent work Trial and Error Robert Kee examines the convictions of the 11 people after the Guildford bombings. I quote from the end of his book:

It is time to recall the ancient precept fiat justitia et ruant coeli— let justice be done though the heavens fall.

That quote is very apt because, regardless of the consequences for those responsible for such a miscarriage of justice, even at this late stage, those who have been the innocent victims are entitled to justice. No consideration of consequences, however embarrassing or however shameful, must be allowed to stand in the way of that justice.

Grave concern has been expressed by all parties in this House today and by many people in this country and in Britain, particularly in the last year, about the likely miscarriage of justice in these convictions. There is also widespread concern on the part of British [1418] parliamentarians. It is not confined to Ireland. It is not confined to one party in Britain, as has already been stated here. Concern has been expressed by scientists, including the man who devised the forensic test which was used to convict these people. That scientist admits that the testing procedure was unreliable and has stated that the test used was intended only for screening purposes and would have required further confirming tests in order to be certain. On that basis, the scientist who was responsible for the test used is concerned about the conviction.

Many responsible observers have also expressed their concern about the hasty manner in which the convictions of the Birminghan and Guildford accused were pursued. After the “World in Action” programme in October 1985, Mr. Roy Jenkins, who was the Home Secretary responsible for rushing the Prevention of Terrorism Act through Parliament after the bombings, agreed that serious questions had been raised. That is over a year ago and Sir John Farr, a British Conservative MP, called for a new trial and stated that it is doubtful if they have got the guilty men inside.

I would like to pay tribute to all the people who have pursued the campaign to have these trials reopened. It is understandable that so many political figures on the Irish side should be concerned — and I would also like to pay tribute to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his staff and all those who have been pursuing it, politicians of all parties including particularly the Andrews brothers for the work they have done. It is a case of protecting the rights of Irish people to a fair and just trial. It is something that concerns us very deeply and very gravely.

I wish to pay tribute to those people in Britain also who have done so much, particularly the “World in Action” team and people like Robert Kee, to bring the facts to light. I am not suggesting that they were not also motivated by the need to get justice for the 17 people concerned. They would have been motivated also by their own sense of pride in their own judicial system and their revulsion and horror at the idea that such a miscarriage [1419] of justice could happen within their own judicial system. It is very much in the interest of the whole British system of justice that these cases should be reviewed as a matter of urgency and that justice should be done and seen to be done. The all-party approach and the position taken here that it is not something from which parties want to draw political advantage for themselves is helpful. The important thing it to try to impress on those who have the power to act, the unanimous and serious concern of this House.

I will conclude by saying — and I do not want to get into the Extradition Bill which was passed last night in the Dáil, I will reserve what I want to say on that for another time, next month — is that unless these cases are dealt with satisfactorily and as a matter of urgency I could not, as an Irish citizen, envisage any Irish Parliament — and I disagree with Senator Ross on this — in 12 months time, if these cases are still unresolved and a review has not been held, agreeing to enact the extradition arrangements. The new evidence is so strong and the facts that have emerged are so serious that further delay in granting a review of these cases is not only difficult to understand but intolerable. I hope that very soon — as was reported in a British newspaper yesterday, hopefully correctly — that not just one of these cases as speculation had it, but all of them will be reviewed and that the people concerned who have already served 12 years in jail, clearly wrongly in my view, will have recourse to a review in order to establish their innocence. Certainly any question of a Queen's pardon I would dismiss without hesitation as would the people concerned. They do not want a pardon, they want a review. They want to have their innocence vindicated before the world.

I welcome the fact that this has been discussed in the Seanad and that there has been an all-party approach. I commend all those who have contributed to bringing this to public attention, particularly [1420] the “World in Action” programme, which has made the biggest contribution of all by drawing widespread public attention to the cases. I ask the Minister and the Government to continue with their efforts to have the matter resolved as soon as possible.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. G. Birmingham): Information on George. M. Birmingham  Zoom on George. M. Birmingham  Perhaps I could begin by expressing my appreciation of the remarks made by Senators who contributed and expressed their thanks and support for the efforts made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his officials in this matter. It is unusual to do so. A number of officials have been extraordinarily committed in this whole exercise. Our ambassador in London, Mr. Noel Dorr, Mr. O'Hanrahan and Breffni O'Reilly have shown themselves utterly committed to these cases. It is a mark of their absolute commitment that some of the prisoners have gone to the extent of writing to the media to express their appreciation of the degree of interest that has been taken by these officials. I appreciate that the Senators have gone out of their way to express appreciation of the role played by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his officials. I appreciate that, and in return will offer a bouquet and say that it is a source of considerable pleasure to me that I am replying to an all-party motion in Seanad Éireann. It is also a source of pleasure to me that this whole issue, for quite some time now, has been seen as an all-Party issue. It has not been a subject from which people have sought to make political capital. It is an issue on which parties have sought to achieve common ground. Those Members of both Houses who have gone out of their way to do that are entitled to our praise and to all our support.

It is invidious to mention individuals, but one thinks of Deputy David Andrews in the other House and of Senator Flor O'Mahony in this House, and other Members of the Houses, Deputies Bernard Durkan, Mary Harney, Liam Skelly and Senator Smith — that does not purport to be a comprehensive list —[1421] who have sunk party differences to come together to raise this issue. That course of action is greatly appreciated. I have no doubt that at times they must have been a little frustrated because given that they were acting in an all-party manner it was in a sense less newsworthy than if they were all hitting each other over the head. I have no doubt that they must at times have been irritated when some people who were less involved in that all-party approach decided to wander into the issue and found it easier to seize the attention of the media.

I will be brief. I hope nobody will think that reflects any lack of seriousness on my part or on the Government's part on this issue. I have spoken at some length in this House before on the subject and in the other House and to the media. As Senators will be aware, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has addressed himself in public on many occasions to this issue. On some of those occasions, when I have been in this House I have gone through the facts of these cases and indicated the reasons that give rise to concern and doubts about the forensic evidence, the doubts about the admissibility of the statements and, perhaps, most spectacularly in the Birmingham Six case when the only question was at what stage were the defendants subjected to ill-treatment — before or after their confessions. I do not want to go over all that ground again, only because it has been the subject of debate here and it is not to be taken as any lack of seriousness whatsoever on my part or on the Government's part.

Coming to the substance of the motion, let me say on behalf of the Government that I am pleased to be able to support this all-party motion regarding the 17 people whose convictions, to say the least, have given rise to considerable doubts. These people were all convicted at a time when the atmosphere in Britain could best be described as highly charged. One has to pause and say that those who contributed to that highly charged atmosphere must carry a sizeable part of the blame for the situation in which we now [1422] find ourselves. That was a point which was made by Senator Ross and Senator Brid Rogers, and it is perhaps most poignantly made in the foreword to Error of Judgement by Chris Mullen on the dedication page where he dedicates his really splendid book and let me quote: “To Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerry Hunter, Richard McIllkenny, Billy Power, Johnny Walker and their families and to all the other victims of the Birmingham pub bombings”.

Given that those convictions took place at a highly charged time, it is only, fair that they should now be given the opportunity to establish their innocence. I want to make it clear, and it was generously acknowledged by Senators, that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has taken a personal interest in all of these cases and has been urging Mr. Douglas Hurd, the British Home Secretary, for quite some time to have the cases reopened. In addition the Irish Embassy in London has maintained contact with the prisoners and embassy officials have gone to visit and have taken up their grievances with the Home Office.

My information to date is that all three cases are currently under review in the Home Office. Only last week Mr. Hurd wrote to the Minister saying that he hoped to be able to reach a decision shortly in the Birmingham Six case and went on to indicate his determination to ensure that the further material that has recently become available would not lead of further delay. He also went on to add that he hoped to reach a decision in the other two cases before long.

I pause to express what I hope will not be thought of as an exercise in semantics or anything of that sort; I want to express one caveat about the theme running through Senators' contributions. I am reminded to do so particularly by Senator Lanigan's contribution and it refers to his reference to the fact that “beyond reasonable doubt” they — and he probably meant all 17 — should not have been convicted. Later in his contribution he said they should now be given a chance to prove their innocence, and in my reply I have spoken of their [1423] opportunity to establish their innocence.

It is important to put on record that there should be no question of their having to prove their innocence, nor should it be a case of it being a question of whether or not now “beyond reasonable doubt” they should have not been convicted. The fact of the matter is that they should never have been convicted, not one of them should have been convicted unless “beyond reasonable doubt” they were guilty. I do not want to get into semantics but it is regarded as a “golden thread” of the English common law, as it is of our legal system, that no person should be convicted unless beyond reasonable doubt their guilt has been established. It may be that a function of the highly charged atmosphere at that time was that that “golden thread” became somewhat frayed or under pressure. The question now is simply this, does a doubt exist about the validity of those convictions and if a doubt exists about the validity of those convictions then it is appropriate that they should again be considered by the Court of Appeal as is provided for by the 1968 appeals Act. At that stage when considered by the Court of Appeal, the question will be, as it should always have been in respect of each individual, is their guilt to be established beyond reasonable doubt.

I know some people are going to see that as being a rather semantic interaction but I think it is important to say it, lest in seeking to identify with the defendants one would contribute to increasing the size of the fence they have to overcome. Not one of them is required to establish their innocence now, not one of them was required to establish their innocence 12 years ago, no more than any defendants should ever have to establish their innocence. The onus then is on the prosecution, and the onus now is on the prosecution to establish that the convictions were safe and can be relied upon. I indicated I am very pleased that this was an all-party contribution. I indicated, too, that I think the Seanad should be particularly grateful to the role played by Senator Flor O'Mahony who in this [1424] House, with Deputy David Andrews in the other House, has perhaps taken a lead in these matters. I pause to disagree with Senator O'Mahony only for one moment and that was when he referred to the Extradition (European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism) Bill, 1986, soon to come before this House in this regard. Let me say to him that the extradition Bill should be considered on its merits. The whole approach to these cases by the Minister, by the Department and to date by the all-party committee who have interested themselves in this matter had been that these convictions are a question for British justice to resolve, that we are rightly concerned and so we have sought to persuade the British authorities that they should act. I think that is the key word, that we should seek to persuade the British authorities to act and any attempt to establish a linkage would be quite improper. I have to say that any attempt to establish a linkage might not be in the interests of the people who are now behind bars.

It is proper that the Seanad should turn its attention to the question of the safety of these convictions, as it had done in the past, and I hope will now express a view on it unanimously. Later today the Seanad will have an opportunity to consider the merits of the Extradition (European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism) Bill, 1986. That stands alone and should be considered alone and it is not helpful to link the two.

In any event I have told the Seanad that all three of these cases are now under review in the Home Office. I have told of the information from Mr. Hurd within the last week when he indicated that he would be reaching a decision shortly in the Birmingham Six case and the fact that the additional evidence that has become available through the most recent television programme will not delay that decision.

Let me conclude by saying I remain confident that there will be a positive outcome in all of these cases. I believe [1425] that this motion, with its all-party support, will be of assistance to the individuals concerned by marshalling further support for their cause from the public here and in Britain.

Question put and agreed to.


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