Belfast Telegraph

Anglo-Irish relations tested by miscarriages of justice

Bomb attack on the Horse and Groom in Guildford
Bomb attack on the Horse and Groom in Guildford
Gerry Conlon, first of the Guildford Four to be freed

By Cate McCurry

Ireland's Foreign Minister privately told the Home Secretary that the controversy surrounding the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases was "seriously affecting" the relationship between the two countries.

Gerry Collins raised the issue with Douglas Hurd during a meeting in 1989, months before the Guildford Four were released from prison after their convitions were overturned.

Mr Collins said it was "unhelpful to our common effort to put the subversives out of business", the previously secret Irish Government documents, released under the 30-year rule, reveal.

He also said that Ireland was under constant pressure to adopt a more aggressive approach over the cases.

The Birmingham Six - Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joe Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker - were each sentenced to life imprisonment in 1974 following their false convictions for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings in which 21 people were killed.

The Guildford Four - Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson - were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 after they were falsely convicted of the IRA bombing of pubs in Surrey that left five dead.

The state papers also reveal that in a meeting with former Fine Gael TD Peter Barry, the Birmingham Six's Mr Hill, known as Paddy Joe, accused the Irish embassy and Irish Government of not showing any interest in their case until after 1985.

He said he wanted a statement from the Taoiseach saying they were innocent.

In a letter to then-Taoiseach Charles Haughey, Mr Hill pleaded with him to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights under Article 28 of the convention, saying there is "absolutely nothing preventing the Irish Government from doing this".

His letter was sent months after Mr McIlkenny asked Mr Haughey to take the case of the Birmingham Six to the European Court of Human Rights.

In a written reply from the Taoiseach's office, his private secretary told Mr McIlkenny that the Irish Government could not support an individual's petition against another state.

He went on to assure the prisoner that "all opportunities will be availed of" to highlight Ireland's concern of their case.

The private secretary also told Mr Hill that the Irish Government had urged the British authorities to undertake a "complete review" of their case.

Documents show that the relatives of the Guildford Four, who were travelling to England for the appeal hearing, were concerned they might be harassed by police. Paul Hill's uncle Errol Smalley asked Irish Government officials for financial assistance for the relatives who were travelling.

Former TD Pat McCartan suggested that Ryanair or Aer Lingus could be approached behind the scenes for assistance, with officials supporting the idea.

After the Guildford Four were released in October 1989 their lawyer Gareth Peirce told an Irish Government official she was "incredibly angry" it had taken 15 years to have their convictions quashed.

A separate memo reveals how Mr Haughey told Margaret Thatcher that the arguments for reopening the Birmingham Six case were "unanswerable".

Mr Haughey pressed the then Prime Minister about the controversy during a meeting in Strasbourg on the fringes of the European Council in 1989.

The Taoiseach said "he must mention the Birmingham Six", adding that some way must be found in which the case could be reviewed.

The Birmingham Six walked free in 1991 after their convictions were overturned.

The Guildford Four were released in 1989 after having their convictions also quashed by the British courts.

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