Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 4 Dec 1990

Vol. 403 No. 4

Adjournment Debate. - Birmingham Six.

Deputy David Andrews gave me notice of his intention to raise on the Adjournment the case of the Birmingham Six, particularly in view of the failure of the British Director of Public Prosecutions to make a recommendation on their innocence in the referral of the case to the Court of Appeal.

Thank you for allowing me to raise this matter. Hugh Callaghan, Paddy Joe Hill, Gerry Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, Billy Power, John Walker — the Birmingham Six — are still in prison in their 17th year, having been brought into custody for crimes they did not commit on 21 November 1974. An article by Tom McGurk in the Irish Independent on Friday, 15 April 1988 stated:

After 14 years and five months imprisonment for the Birmingham Six, it took less than an hour yesterday morning in a small ante room of the second floor of the House of Lords for a Committee of Law Lords to decide that there was no further reason for the British Judiciary to concern themselves with their conviction.

Law Lords Keith, Griffiths and Oliver refused the Six permission to appeal against the failure of their original Court of Appeal hearing and as precedence has it gave no reason...

I can understand in the light of subsequent events and taking account of precedents that their lordships did not give a reason. It was wise not to do so in the light of subsequent events.

Yesterday I wrote a letter, in conjunction with my brother, Niall Andrews MEP, to the Right Honourable John Major MP, Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street, London. The letter stated:

Dear Prime Minister,

We write to you on behalf of the Birmingham Six who are beginning their seventeenth year in prison convicted of dreadful murders they did not commit.

Their convictions cannot be sustained and the reported refusal of your D.P.P. to make an immediate recommendation to the Court of Appeal flies in the face of the new evidence on the forensic and confessions side of the case alleged against the men.

In the ongoing climate of goodwill between your Government and the Government of Ireland, it would be very much appreciated in this country if you exercised your considerable powers to send the case to the Court of Appeal with the necessary recommendations before Christmas so as to end a deeply serious and continuing miscarriage of justice.

Wishing you well in your new high office.

Yours sincerely,

David Andrews TD,

Niall Andrews MEP.

As late as August last the case of Richard McIlkenny fell on the grounds that there was alleged and sustainable interference with his confession. In other words, the confession was taken and it subsequently emerged under examination by new technology that the confession was interfered with. That is reflected in the confessions of the other men. Those of us who witnessed the court of appeal in 1987-88 will have seen the demeanour of Dr. Skuse, the Foreign Office forensic scientist who was fired from his position for limited capacity. I respectfully suggest that the confession side of the case and the forensic side are very wanting.

I am asking the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Justice, two very able people in the context of the Anglo-Irish Conference, and the Taoiseach to make a pre-Christmas representation to their counterparts in the UK to get the Director of Public Prosecutions, of whom I am not in any way critical, to send this case to the Court of Appeal with the recommendation that the men be declared innocent. I further respectfully suggest that the British authorities be reminded of the precedent in the case of the Guildford Four. That case went to the Court of Appeal with the recommendation that they be acquitted. All of the evidence has been there for the past 16 or 17 years but even more so in the past few months.

It is a travesty of justice that these men remain in prison. I urge the Government and the Ministers operating the Anglo-Irish Agreement to make the strongest recommendations to their counterparts once again. They did so on 30 November at the most recent meeting of the conference.

The fact that the issue of the Birmingham Six comes up again for consideration here testifies to the seriousness with which all sides in this House treat this case. Over the years, many Deputies, including and in particular Deputy Andrews, have maintained an active and sustained interest in this important case. It is only right that I should place on record the Government's great appreciation of the support and concern voiced by colleagues from all sides of the House; their interest and understanding have been of very considerable help to the Government in their pursuit of the case with the British authorities.

The Government's consistent and strong position on the Birmingham Six case reflects the broad and non-partisan desire of this House to have justice secured for these six men. I know, too, that Deputies will share our dismay at the prospect of the six men spending their 17th Christmas in prison, if they are not released quickly.

The Birmingham Six case is one of a small number of cases which date from the 1970s and which have been of the deepest concern to the Government. Dramatic developments have taken place in these cases in the last year or so. The whole country shared in the great relief and joy at the quashing of the convictions of the Guildford Four, and at the encouraging announcements, arising out of the May Inquiry, made by the British Director of Public Prosecutions and the Home Secretary in relation to the Maguire family and their friends. The Birmingham Six case, however, which dates from the same period as the other two and which shares with them very many of the same disturbing features still awaits a satisfactory resolution.

I should recall at this stage that the Birmingham Six case is now before the courts; this will inevitably limit the scope of my remarks.

When the then Home Secretary announced on 29 August that he was referring the Birmingham Six case to the Court of Appeal, the Taoiseach, in welcoming this decision, expressed the Government's hope that, in the interest of justice, this protracted case was at last close to a satisfactory solution. While the Home Secretary's statement makes it clear that his decision was taken on the basis of a particular aspect of the case, the effect of that decision is that the whole case is now once more before the Court where it will be treated as an appeal by each of the six men. It will, therefore, be open to each of the six to raise with the Court of Appeal any matter which they consider relevant.

We have conveyed to the British authorities at every appropriate opportunity the urgent need for the earliest possible resolution of the case. The Taoiseach raised the matter with the former British Prime Minister. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has discussed the case with the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I also discussed it with the Home Secretary and will do so again shortly. I will be raising the matter with my opposite number, the new Home Secretary, Mr. Kenneth Baker, in Rome over the next few days when we have a meeting of the Trevi Group of Ministers of Justice and the Interior.

We have also, when we considered it appropriate, raised the case in the international context, including at the United Nations last September where the Minister for Foreign Affairs expressed the Government's sense of urgency in seeing the case satisfactorily resolved. Most recently, we underlined our concern to the British authorities at the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference meeting in Belfast last Friday.

The Government have also taken an active and concerned interest in the prison conditions of the men; in this regard, we welcomed their reclassification last year from Category A to Category B. On instructions, officials of the Embassy in London have been making regular visits on a structured basis to the men and have done everything possible to ensure their welfare. The Embassy has also facilitated prison visits by a number of Deputies to the Six. In this connection, I would again like to pay tribute to colleagues, including Deputy Andrews, who have been frequent visitors to the men and have brought hope and solidarity to them.

I have, I believe, gone over in some detail the consistent commitment of the Government to securing justice for the Birmingham Six. Over a period of years, we have vigorously conveyed our serious concern about the case to the British authorities and pressed them to undertake a complete review of the case.

We, therefore, warmly welcomed the establishment of the Devon and Cornwall Police investigation into the case and its subsequent referral to the Court of Appeal. While I feel it would be inappropriate for me to comment publicly on recent developments, and it appears that an interim decision was taken in the past week by the British Director of Public Prosecutions, I can assure Deputies that, with the strongest possible sense of urgency we will continue to convey to the British authorities the united view of this House and the people we represent about the need for an urgent resolution of this tragic case. We do not want to see them in prison for another Christmas. I can assure the Deputy that I will carry the points he has made here tonight to the British Home Secretary whom I will meet in Rome in the next couple of days.

Thank you, Minister.