It is proposed that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, speakers shall be called in Private Members' time this evening as follows: 7 p.m. to 7.40 p.m., Opposition speaker; 7.40 p.m. to 7.55 p.m. Government speaker; 7.55 p.m. to 8.10 p.m. Government speaker; 8.10 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. Opposition speaker.
Private Members' Business. - Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven: Motion.
Is that agreed?
In relation to the time from 8.10 p.m. to 8.30 p.m., normally a Fine Gael speaker is called at that time and there would be a further ten minutes available to that speaker tomorrow night. It is my hope that I would avail of the 20 minutes tonight and that the remaining ten minutes would be taken by Deputy Peter Barry tomorrow night, if that is agreeable.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
That Dáil Éireann calls for the release of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, and for a pardon in respect of the Maguire Seven.
I am very glad to have the opportunity of moving this motion here tonight. Many people may, and I am sure will, ask in the coming weeks why, at this time, we in the Labour Party choose to use our Private Members' time to move this motion. Many people may feel that this issue has been decided upon, judged upon, tried and retried. With the economic difficulties this country is facing at present, the savage cutbacks in health and education, the unemployment which is rising on a constant basis and indeed emigration, many people may ask why this motion is being taken at this time. I believe very strongly, and I am fully supported by my party in that belief, that there is a genuine and a grave need to highlight the plight of the individuals involved in the case contained in the motion. They are Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerry Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, Billy Power and Johnny Walker, known as the Birmingham Six; the Guildford Four, Gerard Conlon, Paul Hill, Carole Richardson and Paddy Armstrong, and also Annie Maguire and her family.
Those people must not be forgotten and that is why we are moving this motion here this evening. They must not be forgotten by this House, by the public at large or by any person who has at least a minimum interest in seeing justice being done. Sadly, if they are forgotten by this House or outside of this House in the Republic or in Northern Ireland, indeed if they are forgotten by the many people in England who have been fighting their cause, if we fail to keep them in the forefront of our deliberations, then their future is indeed a very bleak one. In fact, to put it in those terms may be an understatement. If they are forgotten by this House they have no future and that is the reality. They will remain condemned by an intransigent system which is not prepared to allow for or to accept that mistakes have been made, that it is quite usual for mistakes to be made, that it is indeed human for mistakes to be made. In these cases, despite enormous evidence to the contrary, evidence which will stand up in normal courts of justice, the British system of justice which, as I have said, has been totally intransigent in its treatment of Irish cases in the past number of years, will not make any allowances or admit that mistakes can and have been made.
I recall some months ago discussing the case of the Birmingham Six with one of the Queen's Counsel, one of the senior lawyers involved in their appeal which was heard prior to Christmas, during that hearing. He stated to me in no uncertain terms, indeed he stated very bluntly, that all through the hearing of that appeal an unreal atmosphere pervaded that trial. The three judges never at any time appeared willing to allow any benefit of the doubt to the appellants' lawyers and they acted throughout the hearing in a totally hostile and prejudicial manner to the basic rights of the Birmingham Six.
The judges in question, who seemed to have been hand-picked with a particular purpose in mind, never seemed to have an open mind on the matters on which they were deciding. In the attribution of weight to the evidence which was put before them, serious weight was given freely and lavishly to the Crown witnesses' evidence despite huge inconsistencies in the presentation of the prosecution case and many obvious inferences of collusion which were exposed on the part of Crown witnesses. On the other hand, at all times the judges seemed to over-step the mark in their efforts to undermine the defence lawyers' presentation of the case for the appellants and in putting forward evidence on behalf of the appellants. The Queen's Counsel further concluded that he could never, for one second during that long hearing which went on for many weeks, feel that those people were going to get a break or even get a whiff of fair play from the Judiciary. It was, he said, beyond his comprehension and it rocked any belief which he had as a lawyer of many years' experience in trial cases and as an experienced Queen's Counsel in the system of justice in Britain.
I am sure, in speaking in this House tonight, that there are many people in the Establishment in Britain who would wish that the cases of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and Annie Maguire and her family would just go away and be conveniently forgotten about, with all the public disquiet in relation to them which exists on this island and generally throughout Britain, perhaps more so in the Irish community but also among civil libertarians and those concerned to see that justice is done. Given the unanswered questions, the uncertainties, the wholesale disrespect for justice and values, if not the downright sham in relation to these cases, I can safely say that these cases as they stand will not go away, in fact they will not be allowed to go away. As I said at the outset, if we were to allow those cases to go away, then we, the Members of the Government and Opposition Parties, could be accused of reneging on the individuals concerned.
In presenting this motion this evening there is a great opportunity for us as the elected representatives of the people in the Republic to represent a unanimous view on the subject before us. It is interesting to see that, on the Order Paper, there is a very similar motion in the names of a number of Government Deputies. In the past there was an opportunity for this House to take a unanimous view on an urgent matter concerning our relations with the British Government. That was in 1986 when, as Minister for Energy, I agreed to accept a Fianna Fáil resolution calling for the closure of Sellafield. There was unanimity in the House on that occasion and there was a rare sense that the House should combine for a worthwhile purpose. Of course, there are those who ask, what did we achieve by that unanimity because despite that unanimity, Sellafield is still open and is still a threat to the health and welfare of our people. I would say those cynics missed the point.
The moral value of any unanimous decision we make is obviously impossible to estimate. The very fact that by our decision we can bring hope and courage to people who must often, if not always, be on the brink of despair, ought to be enough motivation for us this evening and tomorrow evening when the matter will be decided to seek to bring about that unanimity I am talking about. Of course, it can do much more than that. If we, the combined Opposition parties and the Government, speak with one voice on this issue, then our people will be seen to be speaking with one voice and the moral pressure that can be brought to bear by our Government with the united voice of this Parliament behind them is very considerable. We have friends all over the world, and we have called on those friends on many occasions in the recent past and I believe those people will be singularly impressed by the unanimity of any decision which we might make in this House.
For that reason, it is very important that the Progressive Democrats, the only party which put down an amendment to our motion, consider the contents of the motion and their amendment and, if in the collective wisdom of their party they can find the resolution to withdraw that amendment, I believe they would serve the purpose we are seeking to serve rather than the possibility, indeed the high probability, that this House will divide. In the normal course of events it is not the sort of amendment I would object to, but I believe the Progressive Democrats can look at that in another perspective. I make a public appeal to them through their spokesperson, to indicate that the matter will be considered further by their party if the opportunity arises before the vote is cast, if it has to be cast at 8.30 p.m. tomorrow because we would be far more effective and the signal we send out from this House in relation to these matters would be far clearer to the people of this country, to the people in Britain and to the many friends we have throughout the world.
The details of these cases are well known and well documented in the western world and I believe there is very little disagreement in this house about them. Discussions have been going on for some weeks, letters have been circulated and correspondence has emanated from all the parties to highlight this matter before the summer recess. The sad fact is that with the House due to rise in a matter of weeks, this is probably the last opportunity we, as a House of Parliament, will have to give vent to our feelings on the many issues involved.
It is very important that we express our sentiments as simply as possible. We want to send a very clear and specific signal to those in authority. I accept that there are differences in background, evidence and circumstances in the cases covered by this motion, but primarily and fundamentally, these are technicalities. At bottom, as I hope to show, all these cases have one thing in common — they are all involved in individuals who, in the opinion of the great majority of people, are suffering deep injustice. It is important that in seeking to give expression to our sense of justice, to the sense of justice ingrained in us, that we should avoid clouding the issue with further technicalities.
We have debated the topics which are the subject of this motion in general in this House and in many fora outside and we have debated them in specific terms on a number of occasions in the recent past. Often our discussions have generated a great deal of heat not only in this Chamber but in party rooms. At the end of all the heat and all the argument, ten people remain in jail and a cloud hangs over the lives of Annie Maguire and her family. In a very real sense everyone covered by the motion before the House is carrying a life sentence; some will spend the rest of their lives in jail unless something is done, and some will live with the finger of suspicion always pointing at them.
Looking at the weaknesses in the cases presented against them, ironically, none of them has been found guilty beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt. That, at least, is the view of a great many people in this country and outside this country. I will quote a remark made by Roy Jenkins, Home Secretary at the time of the bombing and the convictions. He said:
The new evidence I have seen would be sufficient to create in my mind what's sometimes called a lurking doubt that the convictions in these cases were safe.
Perhaps the Deputy would give the reference.
Error of Judgement a book published by Chris Mullin. Great weight has to be attributed to that remark by Roy Jenkins and it is one of which I hope the establishment will take heed.
We all have to accept that people were appalled, not only in Britain, by the horrible crimes which led to the incarceration of these people. I recall being in England in 1974 at the time of the Birmingham bombs and one was embarrassed by the implication that these bombs were set by Irish people and that the mayhem was caused by people who said it was in the cause of Irish unity and nationalism. There was an understandably hostile and bitter attitude in Britain at that time towards Irish people and all things Irish. We must not, however, allow that to cloud the issue. We must not allow the understandable reaction of a community to horrific crimes to lead in conviction at all cost. That must never be the position in civilised society. People who hold no truck with violence or with the Provisional IRA believe that an injustice has been done. All of us in this House know that these cases hang like a black cloud over the further development of the best possible relations between our two countries. We all believe that the misery of these people should be brought to an end for its own sake. Others have suffered too, the countless victims of the crimes for which the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four are in jail. For many of them the suffering caused by the loss of a loved one will never end but that suffering will not be eased by the continued incarceration of innocent people.
The question is often posed: are they innocent? I have posed that question myself on many occasions when reading about these cases and trying to get to the bottom of them. The answer to that question is, I suppose, that we will never know for sure, but I believe, as do many, if not most, other Deputies, that they are not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. On that basis they remain entitled to our presumption of their innocence.
Some people would go much further than I have gone. Some believe absolutely and unequivocably in the innocence of all these people. A very persuasive case has been made for the Birmingham Six by Chris Mullin, MP. He claims that not only are the Birmingham Six totally innocent but that he knows the identity of those who committed the crimes in 1974. In some ways this gives rise to the saddest irony of all. The Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four have been used as a recruiting weapon by the Provisional IRA ever since they were put in jail. The people who must carry ultimate responsibility for the crimes involved, and a great many more crimes besides, parade the innocence of the ten people involved as one more weapon in their propaganda armoury. It is even possible that some young people have joined the Provisional IRA and have participated in some of their most horrible and heinous crimes because of the poison which has been spread about British justice arising from these cases. If there is a more powerful argument for ending the misery of the Birmingham Six, I do not know what it is.
It is sufficient for us to argue that these cases have not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. That ought to be sufficient too for the Establishment in Britain and the British authorities. The very phrase "beyond a reasonable doubt" is one of the cornerstones of the British system of justice. It is a concept we too have enshrined in our law as one of the most valuable and long standing parts of the legal standards which we inherited from the British system.
An editorial fromThe Times is quoted by Chris Mullin in his book, Error of Judgement. This editorial was written immediately after the trial of the Birmingham Six under the heading Justice for the Birmingham Bombers and states:
One of the disturbing features of this case... has been the evidence that at some stage (the bombers) were beaten up. While men convicted of such outrages deserve no sympathy, they had the right to fair and proper treatment. One of the most critical tests of any judicial system is that standards are upheld to the full for those least deserving sympathy. The final judgement on this whole affair ought to be that justice was done to and for these men.
It would be hard to put it in better terms than the strong language used byThe Times editorial. The whole system was put on trial in relation to the convictions which were obtained. The whole system stands indicted in relation to what has been done.
How then did it happen, given the weight of those types of statement, that these ten men are now in jail and may remain there for the rest of their lives? In the case of the Birmingham Six it was a combination of circumstances: a police officer who appears to have convinced himself almost on sight that he had the men he wanted; a disreputable scientist carrying out discredited tests; collusion between the two of them for many years; and confessions extracted under circumstances of brutality. I would refer to a very graphic description of a beating at page 59 ofError of Judgement. The man concerned was Billy Walker and his statement reads as follows:
As I entered the room somebody else behind kicked me on the base of the spine. I yelled out. There were three officers in the room and they all started hitting me with their fists and kicking me. I was pushed and kicked from one officer to the other. One of them said, "I've a good mind to throw your... body into the Irish Sea."
That is one of many graphic descriptions of the treatment which these people received while in custody. What sort of a climate was being created in relation to the detaining of these people in custody? It was understandable that there was a hostile atmosphere in Britain, perhaps nowhere more than in the police force. The rage which was spread across the nation was such that the public called out for convictions. I would believe that the vast majority of that public which was outraged at what happened in Birmingham in November 1974 would not want to have convictions at any cost. The average British citizen would want to see fair play in relation to the protection of innocent people and would want to see that a miscarriage of justice did not take place.
Very unconvincing circumstances combined to lead to a conviction during the original trial. This climate was developed by a public which had been traumatised and was crying out for revenge. Deep hostility existing to all things Irish, and I know that hostility existed because I experienced it. At the same time I did not consider it understandable but given the outrageous act which had been perpetrated on the British people perhaps that hostility can be understood better in retrospect. There was also a sense of enormous pressure on the West Midlands police force to capture somebody, to bring somebody to trial and to have somebody convicted for the crime that had taken place. I can understand, with the passage of time, the hostility that these acts engendered in the British public at that time. There should be a two-way process. Perhaps the British public and, more to the point, the British Establishment could also, with the passage of time, look at these events more dispassionately. It ought to be possible for the British judiciary, for the Establishment in Britain, to admit that mistakes were made.
None of us can claim infallibility. In matters of law, the system of justice as we have known it, as it has developed over the years — though for many centuries it could hardly have been described as justice in this country — has always been that it is better for 99 guilty people to go free than that one innocent person be convicted of a crime he or she did not commit. In the case of the Birmingham Six I believe strongly that more than a mistake was made. In order to make the evidence fit the conclusion that was sought it was necessary to develop a story. That story grew into a conspiracy as more and more people became involved in hiding the truth about the beatings and the mistreatment and soon, inevitably, it became impossible for the Establishment to admit that there had been a miscarriage of justice. To do so would have exposed the whole system, and this was recognised and accepted by Lord Denning who was quoted at page 216 ofError of Judgement by Chris Mullin. I agree wholeheartedly with Mullin's assessment of Lord Denning's judgement when he said that Lord Denning appeared to be more concerned with the consequences for the Government and the police than with due process of law. Lord Denning said:
Just consider the course of events if this action is allowed to proceed to trial. If the six men fail, it will mean that much time and money will have been expended by many people for no good purpose. If the six men win, it will mean that the police were guilty of perjury, that they were guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were involuntary and were improperly admitted in evidence and that the convictions were erroneous. That would mean the Home Secretary would either have to recommend they be pardoned or he would have to remit the case to the Court of Appeal. This is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say: It cannot be right that these actions should go any further.
Sadly, for a man who made an enormous contribution to the development of law in England in the past half century, I would say that in his case experience and wisdom were not descending upon him with age. He showed in fact that his judgement, in his later years, was severely impaired.
In some respects the case of the Guilford Four is even worse than that which I have outlined in the case of the Birmingham Six. In that case there was not even a shred of forensic evidence. Convictions were secured exclusively on the basis of confessions, confessions which had and have all the appearance of being forced out of them. In the past number of years there have been many instances of wrong-doing in our relations with the British Government. As yesterday's events in Portlaoise show, not all the blame can be attributed to the British. We have been guilty of our own lapses, our own misjudgments and, perhaps, of insensitive handling of certain situations, but the conclusion in relation to these matters, the bottom line, is that two wrongs never make a right.
Now with the possibility of dialogue with the British Government being perhaps stronger than it has been for the past number of years perhaps there is an opportunity for an improvement in relations between the two Governments and between the two peoples on both islands. That also presents an opportunity to the British Government. If they would, for once, get down off their high horse and make a gesture of compassion, of generosity, it would have the effect of being a healing step of enormous proportions. I do not believe there will be a better opportunity for the British Government to show that it can be a generous Government, that in relation to dealing with matters such as I have outlined in this House they can show clemency. Sadly, there have been no indications that they are about to do this.
I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his meeting of recent days with the Home Secretary in Britain. I particularly commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his return to duty after his illness for taking these matters up again as a matter of urgency. I know from experience that his task of convincing the British Government of something that he and his party believe strongly in — and that belief is echoed in the motion on the Order Paper in the names of Deputies Kitt, Andrews and others — that there has been a miscarriage of justice, is difficult. However, there is a golden opportunity and I believe it is not stretching the imagination or the challenge to the British Government to look in a dispassionate manner, given the passage of time, at the cases we have been discussing in this House. I appeal to our Government to keep up the pressure on the British Government in a very reasonable and well thought out manner as they have been doing, so that all shades of opinion in this House can support the motion and that justice can be done for the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and Annie Maguire and her family.
At the outset, I should like to pay tribute to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Lenihan, for his efforts on behalf of these people. In my short term here I have been most impressed that, despite his illness, he has always been most helpful and supportive. I, too, welcome his return to Iveagh House. I am aware that as recently as yesterday our Ambassador raised these cases with the British Home Office. Due to the restraints of time, I shall deal primarily with the case of the Birmingham Six. I am aware that my colleague with whom I am sharing time will be dealing with the cases against the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven.
It used to be said of British justice that it was based on, among other things, the principle that it is better that 100 guilty men go free than that one man be wrongly punished. Nowadays, there are many who would say that it is based on a different principle, the principle that it is better that six innocent men remain in prison than that one guilty policeman, or one wrongful conviction be quashed, or one politician be embarrassed.
What happened in 1974 is understandable, as Deputy Spring pointed out. The fact that we can understand it does not make it excusable and certainly can never excuse the extraordinary contortions of the English Establishment to pretend that justice was done in the aftermath of the bombings. I say that it is understandable because, knowing the revulsion that the bombings caused in this country, how much greater the revulsion must have been in Britain. With the carnage still fresh in their minds, it is hardly surprising that the police would use any means available in their efforts to track down those guilty of the crime. It is hardly surprising that an inefficient forensic scientist, possibly feeling that his job was under threat, would seek a renewed lease of life by jumping on the conclusions which the police, the public, the politicians — and indeed the press — all wished to be arrived at. It would have been a jury of extraordinary strength of character to bring in a not guilty verdict at the subsequent trial.
It is now a matter of record that Dr. Skuse was incompetent. The British Home Office, after all, ordered his compulsory retirement at the age of 51 years. His evidence at the original trial has since been discredited. Mr. Chris Mullin, MP, has, I believe, rightly claimed that Dr. Skuse conspired with police officers to pervert the course of justice at the time of the pub bombings. As one of the political observers at the Court of Appeal in the Old Bailey, I was not surprised to hear that there is now strong evidence that Dr. Skuse telephoned Superintendent Reade from his hotel room while he was in London giving evidence at the appeal hearing, despite the fact that he was warned by the appeal judge not to speak to anybody connected with the hearing. This matter, as the House knows, has been investigated by the British police and predictably no prosecutions have been initiated.
It took time for any widespread view to grow that the Birmingham convictions may not have been as justified as most people originally believed. Even in this country, the case of the Birmingham Six took a long time to catch the public imagination. Great credit is due to the small handful of people who possessed the foresight to see from the beginning that something was seriously wrong and who possessed the courage to say so.
It is quite clear that no jury could ever have fully digested or totally comprehended the scientific theories and issues at stake in the original trial, or indeed, that in the time in which they returned their verdict they could have fully considered every detail of the evidence which was adduced. There is no legal requirement that they should have done so, but their rapidly returned verdict can have only one meaning, that is, that the jury reached their verdict on the broad sweep of the case rather than on careful evaluation of all the pieces of evidence.
We will never know, and the Court of Appeal cannot have known, whether the jury were impressed more by the forensic aspect of the Crown case than by the confessions, or the circumstantial evidence regarding the six men's backgrounds. Perhaps they were equally convinced by all three aspects of the Crown case. Perhaps they were more influenced by the inherent danger in trial by jury in such circumstances that once a person is in the dock he will be presumably guilty notwithstanding the common law presumption to the contrary. Once any aspect of the Crown case can be shown to be seriously at issue — and that certainly can be said of the forensic case against the Birmingham Six — it must follow that the original verdict is unsatisfactory. Since it is as likely as not that it was the forensic case which clinched the jury, or some members of it, it inevitably follows that had the weaknesses of the Crown's forensic case been known to the jury, they might not have convicted. What the Court of Appeal had to decide was, not whether the six were guilty or innocent but whether or not there might have been a reasonable doubt, as Deputy Spring has pointed out, in the minds of the jury had they heard the new evidence. The decision of the Court of Appeal that no such doubt could have existed defies all logic.
The Crown case stood up better at the appeal as regards the issue of whether or not the confessions were voluntary. It stood up better in the sense that there were as many inconsistencies in the six men's allegations as in the police version of what happened. Yet, to accept absolutely the passage of time and the dimming of recollection as the reason for police inconsistencies, while unequivocally ascribing those of the six men to a conspiracy to commit perjury, was monstrously unfair and illogical. Yet that is the basis on which the Court of Appeal upheld the confessions. Nor does it say much for judicial common sense that the idea that policemen interrogating men whom they suspected of mass murder in Birmingham might have resorted more to the rubber hose than the kid glove was apparently beyond their lordships' comprehension.
The appeal to the House of Lords has been turned down. I must admit that at this stage I have little stomach left for English courts or confidence in English judges. It appears certain that only massive public pressure, both at home and abroad, on the British Government can now lead to the six men being freed. I certainly hope that, just as the motion on Sellafield has, I believe, advanced the case against the British nuclear industry, this motion will help to this end. Such pressure can be mobilised. Most importantly, it can and must be mobilised in Britain.
Other issues have shown that the present British Government are remarkably unsusceptible to foreign views or sensibilities. Indeed, there are many who would say that they are not very susceptible to the views of the British people, either. Nevertheless, no Government can ignore for ever the responsible views and genuine concerns of its own people and members of parliament. Even iron ladies have their breaking point and that is something which will never be said of the Birmingham Six. Already, the judgement has attracted critical comment in Britain from legal journals, the press and MPs. An Early Day Motion has been signed by over 150 MPs, calling upon the Home Secretary to establish an independent review tribunal.
There are possibilities open to the British Home Secretary of which he should avail. These include the recommending of a pardon, the granting of an early release, the granting of a release on compassionate grounds, or a positive response to the Early Day Motion calling upon him to establish an independent review tribunal. Quite frankly, I believe that the cumbersome British legal process has been exhausted in the three cases which we are discussing and that the preferred option must be that the Home Secretary would respond to the representations of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and this supportive all-party debate calling for an early release of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four and a pardon for the Maguire Seven.
If the Home Secretary does not respond, the campaign must continue. This campaign should not be confined merely to Britain, but every country which has subscribed to the European Convention on Human Rights represents a potential ally in this struggle. This British Government are hardly popular in Europe. The case of the Birmingham Six must be hammered home in the European Parliament to every single member of the EC to every possible sympathetic audience. This all-party motion will strengthen our hand in these efforts.
Above all, it is clear that US public opinion is concerned about what is now happening in Northern Ireland and to Anglo-Irish relations. The United States did not support the Anglo-Irish Agreement, both financially and otherwise, in order to become a party to injustice. In this, an election year in the United States, there is a unique opportunity to place the cases of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven on the highest American political agenda. This must and will be done.
I am aware that our Ambassador also raised the cases of the Guildford Four and the Maguire family with the British Home Office as recently as yesterday. On the Guildford Four case, many have argued that it is a more clearcut case of miscarriage of justice. The Home Office in a recent reply in the House of Commons stated that the report of the police and other relevant information will be taken into account when deciding whether to refer the case to the court of appeal. This is a positive response and I accept that there has been some progress. However, this and the other cases have taken many years to come to this stage and I ask the British Government that there be no further delays.
The case of the Maguire Seven is obviously interwoven with the Guildford Four and the progress in the case of the Guildford Four will mean a positive step forward in clearing the names of the Maguire Seven. I am confining my remarks to the case of the Birmingham Six, although it does not indicate any lack of interest in the other issues because they are three of the most important matters that should be raised time and time again in this Parliament. On humanitarian grounds I hope that this debate will get a response. Above all, the implications of these cases represent a threat to the security and safety of all Irish people who live in or have occasion to travel to Britain. This is our concern; we cannot ignore it. Their cause is our cause and their vindication will be our security.
I wish to thank my colleague for sharing his time with me. Coincidentally, in my post last Friday the following letter came from Her Majesty's Prison in Full Sutton, York. It was from Ger Conlon, Prisoner No. 462779. Like other letters which I received from some of the Birmingham Six and from one of the Guildford Four, it is a poignant reminder of our continuous need to remind ourselves of the plight of those prisoners. It starts:
Dear Mr. Roche,
I was delighted to hear from you. I found your letter very heartening. It is not often that I hear from Irish politicians, which I find unfortunate considering my terrible situation, so to hear from you is a pleasure.
He goes on to deal with his move from Long Lartin to Full Sutton. The move meant that, effectively, the few prison visits from his parents are now denied to him. He moved from Long Lartin on 29 March last, a few days before the Home Secretary received the police report on the investigation of the additional evidence of Yvonne Fox and others. Since 29 March and between then and 6 June Mr. Conlon, who has been in prison for 14 years, served a further 59 days out of 69 in solitary confinement. By any civilised standards that is cruel and unnatural treatment. I will deal with other aspects of that letter later.
Every nation harbours its own myths and our nearest neighbour, like ourselves, is no exception. One of the myths it harbours is an unshakeable belief in its system of justice. It is good that a nation should believe in its system but it is wrong to believe that a nation should seek to vindicate a system which is human, fragile and fallible like any other system to the point where it inverts theraison d'être of the system of justice. The intention of any system of justice is to do justice to each and every man and woman. In the case of the 17 people, with whose difficulties we are dealing in this motion, the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Seven and the Guildford Four, it is clear to anybody who chooses to view the matter with an impartial eye that grave injustice has been done.
I sincerely believe, and have believed for some considerable time, that the cases referred to in this motion have been historic miscarriages of justice. They have been aberrations in a generally good system of justice. They scream to the heavens for redress at this stage.
I was amazed at the recent decision in the Birmingham Six case. It is true that the judicial authorities in the United Kingdom narrowed their consideration but I was, nonetheless, amazed. However, as Deputy Kitt and Deputy Spring dealt with the Birmingham Six case at length, I will focus on the other cases. I am confounded as to how any court could take the decision taken in the case of Annie Maguire, her family and friends. As has been shown in some excellent works, particularly in Robert Kee's book, the seven persons involved in the Maguire case were together for only a short period of time. The conspiracy of which they were accused could only have taken place in a very narrow time span.
One of the more remarkable aspects of the facts of that case is that within that very narrow time span the home of Annie and Pat Maguire was under observation and subjected to close scrutiny by two police officers who could, if they wished, have looked in the window of her house and seen that there was nothing more conspiratorial going on than sending the children for chips and talking to Ger Conlon about the state of his health and the plight of his son.
Mrs. Maguire, Mr. Maguire, their two sons, a lodger and a neighbour who had dropped in, who had brought his young children to be minded by Annie Maguire while his wife was in hospital, and Giuseppe Conlon were charged with the possession of explosives following the Guildford and Woolwich bombings in October and November 1984. They were charged together with conspiracy and during the course of their trial they were accused of making bombs on the table in their very humble home which, as I said, was during the critical period under police review.
All seven people were found guilty. Annie Maguire and her husband were sentenced to 14 years each and Annie Maguire had the extraordinary distinction of being the woman who spent more time in solitary confinement than any other woman in the British penal system. Their sons, at that time aged 16 and 13 years of age, were also found guilty and condemned to five and three years respectively. The others received 12 years each. All served their sentences, with the exception of Giuseppe Conlon, who died in Her Majesty's Prison in 1980.
Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the Maguire case — other Deputies and I had the experience of meeting Annie Maguire some time ago in the Irish Embassy — is that there is no bitterness in this woman, only a desire that justice is done. Annie Maguire's husband, Pat, was at the time a member of the Conservative Club, hardly what one would call a ranting fanatical republican. He certainly would not fall into anybody's description or imagination of a mad bomber. His young son of 13 years of age knew nothing of the IRA, Republicanism, Unionism, politics or bombing. The real tragedy of that family, as was pointed out by Annie Maguire, was that when her young son had served his three years in prison no member of the family was notified, he was simply released on to the streets.
As in the case of the Birmingham Six, the case against the seven, including Pat Maguire, rested on evidence of the most dubious type. In the case of Mrs. Maguire, the Crown got no confession or no acceptance of guilt. There was no direct forensic evidence linking Annie Maguire to bombing, bomb making or any of the things of which she was accused. She was condemned because a glove in her house, which when tested after a crucial time lapse during which it could have been contaminated, was found to show some traces of an explosive substance. No evidence was ever brought forward to prove that that glove had been used exclusively by Annie Maguire or, indeed that it had been used at all by Annie Maguire, because, as a cleaning lady, she suffered from dermatitis and, as she said herself, she had at any stage, up to 20 pairs of gloves in use.
At this stage no justice can be done to Giuseppe Conlon who died in one of Her Majesty's prisons. But at this stage his name can be cleared and those of the Maguire, the O'Neills and the Smyth families. They can all be compensated for the trauma they have suffered. They can have their good names vindicated. It is within the power of the British Home Secretary to have that suffering ended, to make a strike for real justice by seekng a complete re-trial in their cases. He could do so if he so wishes.
As was the case of the Maguire family, the case of the Guilford Four is bizarre. I would submit that the case of the Guildford Four is the most bizarre of all. In October and November 1984 there were explosions in Guildford and Woolwich. They formed part of a series of horrific events. As Deputy Spring has said, it is easy — if one puts oneself into the time — to understand the anger and frustration of the British authorities, to understand the urge to obtain convictions. I think Deputy Spring dealt with the point. After all, the Birmingham bombings represented the biggest mass murder in British history. There was a very real pressure to bring convictions; so, too, in the case of the Guildford and Woolwich bombings. In those bombing outrages seven people died. Subsequently, three people from Northern Ireland, Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon and Patrick Armstrong were arrested. In addition, an English girl, Carole Richardson, the girlfriend of Paddy Armstrong, was arrested. They were tried and convicted of the bombings. All were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Anyone who looks carefully at the details of this case cannot but be convinced of the evidence of the people. Some time ago I met Paddy Armstrong's mother. She said: "My pat is no angel — I would not claim that — but he could not have harmed a fly and he did not murder those people." The extraordinary thing when one meets these people is their lack of bitterness. It is even more extraordinary that, after all these years, they continue to underscore the fact that they are innocent.
In the case of the Guilford Four, there was a twist of events in December 1975 when the Balcombe Street siege took place. In the course of that siege four men — Hugh Doherty, Eddie Butler, Martin O'Connell and Harry Duggan — were arrested. They were charged and subsequently found guilty of a whole series of crimes. In the course of their trial they confessed responsibility for the Guildford and Woolwich bombings. The important point here is that not only did they confess, but they showed an absolute grasp of detail which could have existed only among people who had been involved in the Guildford and Woolwich bombings. When they came to trial they were charged with 25 bombing and shooting incidents. They were not charged with either the outrage at Woolwich or at Guildford. In October 1977, the Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom heard an appeal by the Guildford Four on the grounds of the Balcombe Street four confessions.
The prosecution accepted that the Balcombe Street four could have been involved in the Guildford and Woolwich bombings but insisted that, if they were involved in those bombings, they must have been involved in them in addition to the four people we now call the Guildford Four. At no time were the British authorities willing to contemplate that there could have been an error. At no time were they willing to contemplate circumstances in which the four — that is Doherty, Butler, O'Connell and Duggan — had in fact been guilty of the bombings at Woolwich and at Guildford and that the four who were in jail at that stage — Hill, Conlon, Armstrong and Carole Richardson — were innocent; that that at least was a possibility. That it was a possibility was not even accepted by the British authorities at that time.
As we know, on 3 March 1987 an ITV programme was presented which cast new light on the case of the Guildford Four. Mrs. Yvonne Fox came forward and indicated that, while she was not called as a witness in the original trial — and one can only be condemnatory of the manner in which the defence of the four was handled in the course of that trial — she gave evidence that she had been in the same house as Paul Hill on the night of the Woolwich bombings. On that same television programme eminent people such as Cardinal Hume, Lord Devlin and others came forward and gave testimony as to their conviction of the innocence of the four.
In August of last year the Home Secretary agreed, following pressure, to establish an independent police inquiry into the new evidence which had been provided in this case. That police inquiry, by the Somerset and Avon police, has now been completed and a report handed over to the Home Secretary on 13 April last. The Home Secretary must now decide what action, if any, he is to take on foot of the findings of that report. It strikes me, after so many months, that one cannot be optimistic as to that decision, but I am hopeful. Having met the Home Secretary, having discussed this and other cases with him, I believe he is sincere in his search for the truth in these matters. I would hope he would view this report with generosity.
Anybody who has followed the case of the Guildford Four will be of the opinion that its handling has been disconcerting, to say the least. Even those British parliamentarians who show little sympathy, for example, in the case of the Birmingham Six — there were a number of them here recently when we discussed this and many other matters with them — are convinced that the Guildford trial did not come up to the highest standard normally expected of a court of justice in a civilised country. As one goes into the details of the case — even without the evidence of Yvonne Fox — one can only reach the conclusion that there has been a grave miscarriage of justice.
I mentioned earlier that I had had the privilege of meeting and discussing the matter for a long time with Paddy Armstrong, one of the Guildford Four. I went into that prison to meet him convinced of his innocence. I came out without any shadow of doubt as to his innocence. At the time that man had lived in a squat, on the border of the drug culture in London. The last thing on his mind was militant action of any kind. He has provided the police authorities with grave difficulty because it has taken him years to painstakingly recreate the nights in question. He has provided the police authorities with reasonable evidence to prove that he could not have been where he should have been had he been involved in that bombing. Carole Richardson has done likewise. In many ways her's is the most tragic case of all. She has been able to find evidence: the road manager of a pop group and some other people in a pub who can all prove that she was in concert at the North London Polytechnic at the crucial period during one of these bombings.
I know there is no doubt in the minds of people on all sides in this House who have studied these cases closely that there has been the gravest miscarriage of justice. It is proper that we should from time to time debate this issue in this House, hopefully sending out a clear message of our concern to the British authorities about these and other cases.
It pains me to read a letter from Gerry Conlon saying that he had to watch, for over five years, the slow death of his father, that they saw their mother broken-hearted and humiliated by the British penal system; that they had spent over 700 days in the punishment blocks. They had had it over all the years. Now, after all this, the Home Office have moved him to a prison where it is really impossible for his family and relations to visit him.
I must ask Deputy Roche to conclude.
If nothing else, could we not appeal this evening to the British authorities: if they must keep these people in prison could they not at least do so in a humane way? Why is it that Paddy Armstrong cannot be visited except once a year by his unfortunate mother who must work as a charwoman in Belfast in order to do so? Why is it that we now see Gerry Conlon, having lost his father, having lost all of his young life, imprisoned in these circumstances at this time? I support this motion, everybody in the House supports this motion. We are convinced there has been a grave miscarriage of justice here and we hope the British Authorities will rise to the occasion and right that wrong.
The Fine Gael Party have circulated an amendment to the motion. I will read it into the record first.
The Deputy will appreciate he is entitled to refer to the amendment but unfortunately because of the application of the regulations that have applied since 1981 in that the amendment was not in before 2 o'clock today Deputy Birmingham is being denied what he would regard as his right to move it. However the Deputy is perfectly in order in referring to the amendment.
I realise the situation and I am grateful the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Ceann Comhairle have agreed to circulate it. The amendment which Fine Gael submitted for consideration is:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute:
"in the light of the fact that there remains considerable anxiety about the continuing imprisonment of the Birmingham Six, notwithstanding the recent review by the Court of Appeal and in the light of the doubts that have been widely expressed about the safety of the convictions in the Guildford Four and Maguire cases, Dáil Éireann calls on the British Home Secretary to exercise the powers vested in him to order the release of The Birmingham Six, and to exercise his powers under the Criminal Appeal Act, 1968 to refer the Guildford Four case and the Maguire case without delay to the Court of Appeal."
All of these cases have given rise to considerable anxiety and there is a widespread belief in Ireland and elsewhere that there may have been a miscarriage of justice. There is a nagging doubt that the guilt of each of these persons has not been proved conclusively.
Later tonight we debate the role of the jury in our legal system when we debate the Courts Bill. Throughout the passage of that Bill I have been a strong supporter of the jury system but it is nonetheless an irony that of the very many cases that have arisen from the campaign of terrorism throughout these islands, the decisions that have given rise to most disquiet have been verdicts of juries. They have not been decisions of the Diplock courts or of our non-jury Special Criminal Court. The cases that refuse to go away, the cases that gnaw at us, those cases that continue to trouble us are, without exception, cases that were decided by juries. That is of some interest because if there is a common thread running through all of these cases, it is that in these cases the courts, and more specifically the juries, lost hold of the golden thread that should run through our criminal law and the criminal law in Britain, and that is that there is at all times a presumption of innocence. Simply put, the anxiety is that such was the fury of the British nation at the time, the understandable and proper fury given the atrocities that had been committed, that Irish people appearing in the dock in the mid-seventies did not enjoy the same presumption of innocence as was enjoyed by other defendants of different backgrounds appearing for different kinds of offences, or that the same exacting obligation to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt was not exacted of the prosecution when a series of Irish people found themselves in the dock.
I will consider each case in some detail. I will not say much about the Maguire case, not because I do not regard it as important but because Deputy Barry who will speak tomorrow night is in a position to speak with much greater authority on that, having had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Maguire on a couple of occasions. In considering each of the cases, it behoves us to exercise some circumspection, because if there is reason for anxiety that British juries show some tendency to assume the guilt of Irish defendants in terrorists trials, it is equally desirable that we should not adopt the position of assuming the innocence of everybody convicted of a terrorist offence by the British courts.
One of the least happy aspects of Anglo-Irish relations is the mutual disrespect that each country has shown for the other's judicial procedures and courts. In our country that takes a form of snide references to British justice which is always put in quotation marks. In Britain's case it more usually takes the form of incredulity that our courts should set exacting standards of proof and compliance with appropriate procedures before a person can be deprived of his liberty, and that has resulted in the lackadaisical, slipshod and inept approach that has characterised so many British requests for extradition from this jurisdiction.
There is a further point which we should keep in mind. Today we have had a hullabaloo about an extradition application which is perceived as having gone wrong. Some of us have been angered by the refusal in Britain in sections of the British media to differentiate between what is the sphere of the executive and what is properly in the judicial sphere. There appears to be a belief in some British media circles and elsewhere in Britain that it is acceptable for the executive to intervene in the judicial sphere. Last Sunday's British papers, for example, reported the overturning of a murder verdict against a British citizen in Burma and stated explicitly that that verdict would not have been overturned without a political intervention. I know nothing about the system of justice that applies in Rangoon and that charge may or may not have been properly put but it is an attitude that is quite out of place when dealing with the legal system of countries in which the separation of powers is fundamental.
The Birmingham Six case has been the subject of exhaustive judicial consideration. To date the case has been extensively considered at different levels — in civil courts, in the criminal courts and in all of the appellant courts. All these considerations notwithstanding, the convictions stand, and all those considerations notwithstanding, the doubts remain. Let us recall what was at issue in the current review. Essentially what was at issue were what has become called the two pillars of the prosecution case, the forensic evidence and the confessions. Given that it is common case that the men were seriously assaulted while in custody to the extent that a number of them required medical treatment, stitches and so on for the injuries afflicted on them, one would have thought there might have been some doubt as to when that assault took place. The only issue is whether those assaults were inflicted while in the police station and before the confessions were made or after they were removed to Winston Green Prison and into the custody of the prison service. One would have thought that a jury might have taken the view, against a background of undisputed assaults, that there was a doubt as to whether or not confessions were voluntary.
In the run-up to the last review very real doubts were raised about the operations, the effectiveness and the reliability of the grease test which was the basis of the forensic evidence and the basis of the evidence tendered on behalf of the Crown by Dr. Skuse. While it is true that in the course of the court of appeal hearings Dr. Skuse attempted to retrieve lost ground and proferred a number of explanations and in effect, his evidence had been less than complete in the original proceedings, one has to say that he cut a less than impressive figure as a witness. A jury aware that his original testimony could not stand — certainly it could not stand without glossing and elaboration — might well have come to the view that they were left in doubt about the quality of the forensic evidence. Again, the court of appeal had before it independent evidence from a number of people who came forward, principally Joyce Lynas, the young police recruit, and Thomas Clarke.
The court of appeal considered their testimony carefully and in each case decided to reject it. No one is to say they are wrong, but can it really be said, if that evidence was before a jury, that they might not have accepted it or might simply have said: "I do not know whether this man, Clarke, was motivated by a desire to cause trouble for his former colleagues who had dismissed him, or, whether he really did see something untoward". On that basis they might have felt that the proper and honourable thing to do was to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused. That is what is at issue now, whether a doubt exists in relation to these convictions. There has been a tendency on the part of some commentators, and some of those who have campaigned for the release of the Birmingham Six, to deny the existence of any case against the six defendants. That is to overstate their position and it is far from helpful. It is interesting that the mens' own lawyers in the court of appeal specifically accepted that it was not a black and white case which would have entitled them to have their convictions quashed. What they said was that their arguments fell short of that but that it was sufficient to have the matter looked at again by a jury.
The case has been considered in the first instance. It has gone to appeal. There was an attempt to open up another route in the civil courts. It is being investigated in the media, the Home Secretary has referred it to the court of appeal, who have advised that there is nothing unsafe or unsatisfactory about the convictions. It is worth saying that we would not have had the opportunity for a further view of the evidence were it not for the fact that a very vigorous campaign has been conducted by responsible opinion in Britain and in Ireland. Credit is due to those in Britain, in the media, in parliament and in the legal world who have pressed their case. I think, too, a degree of credit is due to the British authorities who have, at least, responded to the extent of referring the case for reconsideration by the court of appeal.
Recently, I was passing a Sinn Féin office here in town and I saw on the window posters questioning British justice. I was struck by the stark contrast in regard to fates of the victims of Provo justice, because for them there is no question of a reasonable doubt, there is no question of the exercise of clemency; for them it is summary execution, sometimes execution delayed until after barbaric torture or, if they are very lucky, it is a question of escaping with a knee-capping.
The fact that these men remain in prison, notwithstanding the court cases, continues to make people uneasy and it contributes to a distrust of the legal system in our neighbour's land. That fact is capable of being used for mischievous purposes.
Recently, the British Attorney General announced his conclusions on the Stalker-Sampson report and, indeed, they were far from welcome in this jurisdiction. He concluded that there was evidence on which people could have been put on trial for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but having considered the public interest he said he was of the view that there should be no prosecutions. It seems to me now that it is appropriate that the authorities in Britain take into account the public interest now that the judicial road has been travelled in relation to the Birmingham Six. It is not in the public interest that there should be a continuing shadow over Anglo-Irish relations. It is not in the public interest that a sizeable section of responsible opinion, notwithstanding that all the judicial channels have been explored, remain anxious about the validity of the convictions.
In the Guildford case doubts have existed for a long time about the voluntariness of the statements. For my own part I have always felt that they were most implausible Provo bombers. It defies belief that the Provos, embarking on a very important phase of their operations, extending their campaign to mainland Britain, were going to entrust that to a teenage girl on the fringe of a drugs squat and that they would entrust the leadership of that to someone whom they had fallen out with and on whose head they had put a price. We know that new evidence from Miss Kelly has come forward following the "First Tuesday" programme. We know that, following lobbying by a series of people, most significantly Lord Devlin, the authority on the jury system, the Home Secretary has asked the Avon and Somerset police to investigate. It appears that their investigations are now with him. I would urge the Home Secretary to refer those cases to the court of appeal.
I will not deal with the Maguire case because my colleague will have an opportunity to do that except to say this: given that the sentences have been served how is face lost by allowing the court of appeal to reconsider those convictions? The Home Secretary has consistently taken the view that he should not exercise his powers under the Criminal Appeal Act, 1968, unless there is new evidence available. There is no basis for that in the Act. The Act appears to give the Home Secretary a complete discretion. First, let me say that at least in the case of the Guildford Four there is, very clearly, new evidence available which should be considered by the court of appeal. Second, the anxieties that exist are so widespread that that in itself is a ground on which the Home Secretary should ask the court of appeal to reconsider the reliability and the safeness of these convictions.
There are a number of remarks that have gone down in history. Perhaps one of the most unhappy moments of this whole saga were the remarks of the then Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, when the Birmingham Six sought to reopen or, at least to re-examine what had happened to them in custody through civil proceedings. His remarks on that occasion when he spoke about the appalling vista that would be opened by the quashing of their convictions has already been put on the record here this evening.
I want to suggest another appalling vista. It would be an appalling vista were these cases to go unresolved, were these cases to remain as an irritant in the body politic, were these cases to continue to niggle, were these cases to continue to be available to those who wish to use them to sap our common commitment to fighting terrorism. Let us be clear about this. These cases will not go away.
Responsible people remain in doubt. They remain anxious that a miscarriage of justice may have been committed. While those doubts may be held by responsible people, many are prepared to turn those doubts to their own use. It is not in the interest of any democrat, or any of us, that there should be any shadow of doubt which would pull us away from a wholehearted, unified fight against terrorism in which the British authorities and ourselves would stand together against the common enemy represented by the Provisional IRA. These cases made that common stance more difficult. On at least two occasions in the last 18 months or so this House has had lengthy debates on the extradition issue. On at least two occasions we had been considering the question of extradition for offences that some people would call political, an essential weapon if we are to fight terrorism effectively. These cases are being used to cast a doubt over the effectiveness of that weapon and it is vital that that doubt be removed.