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The Sallins Case: Protest at Ministry for Justice, Dublin 2004

category dublin | rights, freedoms and repression | news report author Friday January 23, 2004 17:13author by redjade Report this post to the editors

{ photos by redjade } (c)
words by Cormac J. Breatnach


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Cormac J. Breatnach
Cormac J. Breatnach




author by Saidhbhinpublication date Sat Jan 24, 2004 17:39author address Santiago, Chileauthor phone Report this post to the editors

I think that this issue needs to be addressed correctly within Ireland, but it also an issue that affects citizens in many countries, and I would like to point out that it is similar to what is happening in Colombia currently with three Irish citizens (and hundreds of Colombians). It is the duty of the Irish Government to protect the rights of all her citizens (which is not being done in this specific case) and by doing so the cause of all human rights activists is furthered. I think you will see the link with the overall point being put forward here, but in any case, go n-eiri libh srl.

author by Moving Targetpublication date Sat Jan 24, 2004 00:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Glad to see people are not going to let the Heavy Gang affair be forgotten. The Sallins case was just the tip of the iceberg, and what is required is a full public inquiry, conducted by a reputable international body.
If I had known about this demonstration I would have gone there after work. I certainly will not let the Heavy Gang issue just fade into obscurity. I have mentioned it on indymedia on a number of occassions (and will again).
And we must also not forget how sucessive governments of this state failed to pursue the mass-murderers who struck in Dublin and Monaghan on May 17th 1974. In the seventies the state tortured people who were anti-imperialist, and at the same time the British intelligence services were allowed to move around the state freely and openly, and even recruited members of the gardai.
The behaviour of the southern state in the seventies is something which needs to be dissected carefully. We can never have a healthy political society in the twenty-six counties until these matters are dealt with properly, instead of them being shoved back under the carpet.

author by jamespublication date Fri Jan 23, 2004 17:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Well done with the protest, glad to see some people still care about justice in this country. The ironic thing is now that Nicky Kelly is a councillor for the very party (labour) that stood over and did nothing about his conviction. Cant believe he is that lacking in principals to accept membership of a political party that was part of the system that led to his shameful treatment. He should have stayed as an independent.
Its also nauseous to here Rabbite standing up in the Dail sounding off about garda excesses, ha ha ha, well Pat, your not fooling anyone, the time to speak out is long past, bit late now.....

author by Cormac Breatnachpublication date Fri Jan 23, 2004 17:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors


Between 1973-1977, the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government was in power.

On the 31/03/1976, the Cork to Dublin Mail Train was robbed. Approx. IR£250,000 was stolen. Members of the IRSP (Irish Republican Socialist Party) were arrested and four of those – Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally and John Fitzpatrick each signed statements in garda custody which purported to admit their roles in the robbery, yet the four accused always maintained their innocence claiming that they only did do because of physical and mental torture by Gardaí. They had overwhelming evidence in support of that claim. The State claimed they “beat themselves up” which explanation was affirmed by the non-jury Special Criminal Court.

In June, 1977, Amnesty International sent a research team to Dublin to investigate allegations of garda brutality and its 1977 Worldwide Report was “concerned that those arrested on suspicion of involvement in politically motivated crimes seemed to have been systematically ill-treated…by Detectives from central units in Dublin who travelled to police stations throughout the country expressly in order to extract information and statements from suspects”.

This group of ”Detectives from central units in Dublin” became known as “The Heavy Gang”. Hibernia and The Irish Times were the first newspapers to report on this special group of Gardaí.

While in opposition, Fianna Fáil’s Gerry Collins TD was vociferous about the need for an independent inquiry into the allegations of Garda wrongdoing.

Fianna Fáil lead by Jack Lynch did take power in 1978. Once in office Mr. Collins reneged on his own plans. He subsequently presided over the promotion of most of the gardaí involved in the mail train case.

In December, 1978, after two Trials, Breatnach and McNally were convicted by the Special Criminal Court receiving 12 years and Nine years, respectively. Kelly was sentenced to 12 years in absentia.

Following the setting-up of a Campaign to obtain their release and clear their names, Amnesty International became involved and Breatnach and McNally were released in May, 1980 by the Court of Criminal Appeal which quashed their convictions after 1.5 years incarceration. In 1980, the I.R.A. admitted responsibility for the robbery.
Kelly returned to this jurisdiction assuming he would be released too only to find that he wasn’t. It was to be another four years, after two hunger strikes, until he was released on “humanitarian grounds”.

The accused were invited by the Government to pursue legal actions only to find that their legal suits were opposed and frustrated at every turn.

In November, 1990, Amnesty issued a Report, worldwide, updating its concerns on the Sallins Case.

Amnesty repeated its calls for a public inquiry into the allegations of Garda ill-treatment in its Worldwide Reports dated 1991 and 1992.

In July 1991, the ICCL (Irish Council for Civil Liberties) made a submission to the Government in which it called, inter alia, for an independent inquiry to investigate the origins and extent of the injuries inflicted on the Sallins Four.

In April 1992, Nicky Kelly was granted a Presidential Pardon by President Robinson on the recommendation of then Rainbow Coalition Government (Fianna Fáil/Labour).

No Inquiry was ordered into how four innocent men who had made verbal statements and signed statements in garda custody admitting their participation in the said robbery (the only evidence against them) could have found themselves in that position, nor was there any investigation into how the men suffered physical injury in garda custody, nor was there any investigation into the incredible similarity of garda statements which the gardaí swore on oath were individual nor why so much of taxpayer’s money was evidently misspent.

In fact, the Government refused to instigate any Inquiry.

In July, 1993, all four wrongly accused received payment of substantial monetary compensation by the State in return for withdrawing their legal Actions.


Cormac Breatnach

author by Cormac Breatnachpublication date Fri Jan 23, 2004 17:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mr. Michael McDowell, T.D.
An Baile Ard,
Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform,
Ráth Droma
Department of Justice,
Co. Chill Mhantáin
St. Stephen’s Green,
Dublin 2.

Delivered By hand.

January 23, 2004
Re: Proposed new Garda Síochána Bill.

A Aire,

By the time you receive this letter I assume I shall have completed my 12-hour peaceful protest today across the road from your Department.

In preparing for this event, I must confess to having conflicting opinions on the matter but ultimately, I decided it would be worthwhile and so I took the day-off work to take part in this token protest.

I would be foolhardy to expect the world to change following my action. As against that, sometimes, all it takes is a principled action to move someone like you into action, or someone else to speak out. At the time of writing, I don’t know whether my protest will generate any publicity. That is the risk I am prepared to take.

20 years ago in my late teens I took part in a similar event organised by the Release Nicky Kelly Committee. History records that said Committee was successful in obtaining Mr. Kelly’s release from prison and many years later resulted in his obtaining a Presidential Pardon from the Government, culminating many years later in substantial levels of compensation being paid out by the State.

The wrongful (and illegal) actions in 1976 on the part of members of An Gardaí Síochána had a direct effect on my life, on my family and on my brother, Osgur. You will be aware that he suffered two Trials in the Special (Non-Jury) Criminal Court in 1978 and that he was (wrongly) convicted of participation in the Sallins Mail Train Robbery (1976) receiving a 12-year sentence of which he was lucky only to have served 1.5 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

As an experienced lawyer you will no doubt appreciate that the suffering inflicted on people such as Osgur has a domino like-effect in that the suffering doesn’t stop with him, it envelops his immediate family (wife and 2 children) and us (parents, brothers, sister). I am the youngest in my family and I was 13 years old when my life changed dramatically.

I put myself out here again today not to draw attention to myself but to draw attention to the mother of miscarriages of justice that is the Sallins Case, or the Nicky Kelly Case as it later became known and to remind you in case you need reminding that there are burning unanswered questions remaining to be answered of the utmost importance to our democracy which every government since 1976 has deliberately failed to deal with if we are to learn and ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. Sadly, such events have. If justice is to be served (at least) an Inquiry ought to be conducted into how innocent people went to prison. Amnesty International and other human rights organisations are on record seeking such an Inquiry.

In viewing the Prime Time Special on RTE 1 TV on the 08/01/2004 I was struck by the number of cases of garda abuse and the prevailing culture of acceptance in the police force for such actions. In my opinion nothing has changed since 1976. I remember my brother, when interviewed on Morning Ireland the day after Kelly was granted his “Pardon” told David Hanley that he believed another miscarriage of justice could take place as nothing had changed in terms of safeguards for prisoners in our criminal and legal system. A number of years later, what has become known as the McBrearty Case came to light and we now have the Morris Tribunal as a result of the serious issues raised in that case.

Minister, I beg you to grasp the nettle and protect our citizens once and for all from the excesses of garda brutality. There can be no place in our democracy for such actions. You cannot set back the clock and undo the sufferings of my family but you can ensure that no other person or family has to suffer as we did. You cannot set back the clock and prosecute those many gardaí (now in high-ranking positions in our force) who acted outside the law (viz. The Heavy Gang) but you can ensure that the younger gardaí do not fall into the same trap as their superiors did. You can create a new accountable and just police force which deserves the respect of all, not just sections of our Society. You see Minister, I bear no hate towards those individual gardaí who acted under the “nod” and “wink” but I do, sir, hate injustice and although I am still waiting for justice (I am 40 years old), I still believe in the goodness of mankind that “good” will prevail over “evil”. I ask you to tilt the balance in favour of “good” by adopting all those measures and safeguards as proposed by the ICCL, Professor Dermot Walsh and NUI Lecturer Donncha O’Connell and as raised by many Solicitors.

Cormac J. Breatnach

author by Cormac J. Breatnachpublication date Fri Jan 23, 2004 17:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Don’t forget the Sallins Case, Minister! Protect our Citizens!

On Friday 23rd January 2004 at 07:00hrs, Cormac Breatnach will commence a 12-hour peaceful protest outside the Department of Justice to highlight the continuing failure of the State to tackle persistent wrongful prosecution of citizens by An Garda Síochána.

At 13:00hrs, accompanied by public representatives and to the beating of drums, Mr. Breatnach will deliver a letter to the Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform, Michel McDowell TD, demanding that reform of an Garda Síochána be given the priority it urgently requires. Mr. Breatnach’s brother, Osgur Breatnach, was wrongfully convicted by the Special Criminal Court of the robbery of the Sallins Mail Train in 1976 (The Sallins Case) and served 18 months in prison for a crime he did not commit. The State only compensated the four men wrongfully convicted of the Sallins robbery in 1993 after continued resistance. No-one has ever been held responsible for what happened.

Speaking about the Sallins Case and the recent Prime Time documentary screened on RTE, Mr. Breatnach said:

“The unanswered questions arising from the miscarriage of justice that was Sallins serves as a reminder to today’s society that fundamental questions need to be addressed if we are to learn from the actions of the past. Sallins did not happen by accident: it was deliberate, just as today’s violations of the law are deliberate. When will the Government learn the lesson that these activities must be addressed head-on, if they are to be eliminated? Perhaps a more fundamental question is, do we really want to learn? ‘

‘Twenty years ago I took part in a peaceful protest outside the Department of Justice to protest about the continued incarceration of Nicky Kelly, now Cllr. Kelly. History records that the “Release Nicky Kelly Committee” eventually proved successful in obtaining his release from Prison on humanitarian grounds. It was not until 1992 that Kelly was granted a Presidential Pardon. It was not until 1993 that proper monetary compensation was paid out to Nicky Kelly, my brother Osgur, Brian McNally and John Fitzpatrick, known as The Sallins Four. How many more “Sallins Four” cases must we have before we realise that this situation not only could happen again, but probably will happen again unless Garda reform is swift and serious.’

‘No inquiry of any kind was instigated to enquire into these serious events of public importance. Each successive Government since 1976 has conspired to withhold the truth by keeping “the lid” on. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour were each involved in the shameful cover-up. It is time to call a halt to this shameful episode in our history. Recent events such as the brazen garda brutality during the Reclaim the Streets Demonstration of 2002 demonstrates the need for fundamental changes in our police force.’

“I have decided to return to the Dept., of Justice where I will once again protest peacefully from 7a.m. on Friday, the 23rd., January, 2004, for a period of 12 hours. I hope that my protest will stir the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, into ensuring that, when he puts his finishing touches to the Garda Síochána Bill 2004, never again will innocent people fear that they will be beaten in Garda custody. I hope that proper mechanisms for discipline and retribution will be created to punish those Gardaí who engage in such practices. I hope that never again will an interview in a Garda station take place without video recording and, above all, I fervently hope and pray that no other citizen has to endure what my family and I had to endure during the last 27 years.”


For verification & comment:
Cormac Breatnach can be reached on 0404-45218/ 086-838 0038

author by redjadepublication date Fri Jan 23, 2004 17:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

{ photo by redjade ) (c)
words by Cormac J. Breatnach


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