Seanad Éireann - Volume 128 - 15 March, 1991

Release of Birmingham Six: Statements.

Mr. Fallon: About three weeks ago I expressed a hope that the war in the Gulf would be finished soon and that the Birmingham Six would be released soon. The war finished soon after that, and this morning, we rejoice in the news that the Birmingham Six have been released. Any of us who saw the scenes yesterday on television on their release — the great scenes of obvious and very understandable emotion — will be pleased with this great result.

To my way of thinking and the thinking of most people of the world their jailing for over 16 years was one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British history. The Birmingham Six were probably the victims of guilt by association and, as we all know, regrettably, were subjected to vicious cruelty while in custody. Cruelty alone forced them to confess.

A Leas-Chathaoirligh, on a very local, parochial level, you and I know of a man in Athlone town who worked in Birmingham driving a cab and who was there [231] during that period. Two nights after the bombs went off in Birmingham when he and his cab office colleagues were working, an agitated, excited policeman came along and triumphantly announced they had beaten up one of the people in custody and had got him to agree to confess. When he was asked: “What about all the marks on his face and on his body?” he said: “Well, we will bring him to Winston Green, we will let him loose with the other prisoners and no one will ever know we did it”. That is a fact which that man will stand by. In fact, he did apply to make a submission to the courts at the time but unfortunately one submission was late at that time, and that was the man in question.

The men are now released. For them it presents a major psychological problem of adjusting to what is a new life which we all hope they fully enjoy with their families. What has annoyed me and so many other people for so long is that the names of the real Birmingham pub bombers have allegedly been known to the British Special Branch. For so many years they have known that and yet there was no action to release the men held. No attempt at a new trial was even contemplated. The road to freedom for the Birmingham Six was clearly and obviously helped by many well-intentioned people. They are free thanks to the tireless work and to a great campaign by so many people, many of them Irish people, many of them Irish politicians. The real pity is that their campaign took so long to succeed.

In the wake of this release, as we know, the Home Secretary has announced a wide-ranging review of the criminal justice system in Britain. Obviously this is to be welcomed. Yesterday's decision to release the Birmingham Six brought to 17 the number of Irish people who were wrongfully held in prison in Britain. Hopefully, no other Irishman will be in that situation. Obviously, many people will now have to look at their position. Clearly, Lord Lane, who was the judge in the appeal case in 1987, must now [232] consider his position, as indeed must many others.

We rejoice this morning, in the knowledge that the men are free and we express the hope that they will have an enjoyable, and a long and a healthy life.

Mr. Manning: We on this side, share in the great joy at the righting of a terrible wrong. At this stage we should pay tribute to those who have helped bring about the righting of that wrong. First, we should all pay tribute to the men themselves. They have shown enormous character over these long years, and never more so than in the immediate past and yesterday. They are bitter; of course, they are bitter and they have every right to be bitter. But it is a constructive bitterness, a bitterness aimed at ensuring that never again will this sort of thing happen and that those who conspired in the series of corrupt acts will themselves face proper justice.

We must never forget, too, that while they went to jail because of a grotesque miscarriage of British justice, it was individual English people who, more than any other, secured their release. Today we salute our fellow parliamentarian, Chris Mullin, who endured vilification from the media, taunts from Tory MPs and, indeed, scepticism from his own side but who fought on. Gareth Peirce was extraordinary in her dedication and persistence. Cardinal Hume, once persuaded, fought with great moral force and authority to right this wrong. There are many other individual English people who were persuaded that their system had been corrupted and fought with passion to see the wrong put right. These and many other individuals have shown themselves to be true friends of justice.

There are many Irish people who should be praised, few enough of them, I have to say, in political life but many individuals outside. I mentioned before people like David Andrews and Peter Barry and others who, from a very early stage, have been persuaded of the innocence of these people and have fought to see the wrong put right. But I have to say [233] that most of the lead in this came from outside the Houses of Parliament and there are many people. Fr. Denis Faul comes to mind as a prime example but very many people fought with great persistence to see this day come.

What now? Well, monetary compensation there must be but, even more, the British authorities must make every effort to investigate the true facts and to prosecute those responsible to dismantle a corrupt system and to do so openly, vigorously and fearlessly. Maybe after 17 years memories are blurred, files have been discarded, evidence is more difficult to come by. Nonetheless, nothing less than a full investigation and open prosecution of those who are believed to be guilty of the bombing and, more especially, those who have been guilty of the conspiracy and cover-up must be fully prosecuted. Nothing less will be satisfactory. Lord Jenkins, a good friend of Ireland, yesterday spoke in the House of Lords and he attacked the unassailable wall of judicial complacency. That wall, too, must be dismantled.

I have two final points. One relates to the British media. We have seen in the tabloids, especially today but throughout the entire saga of the Birmingham Six, falsification, vilification, distortion. Even today in The Sun there are further slurs cast on the released men. We have seen a defence of what the police did, a justification of it. That is an evil, perverse newspaper and it should be shunned and boycotted by any right thinking person in this country. In all of this the tabloid press in Britain have shown themselves unworthy of any sort of respect or any sort of defence. That is not to say that in other parts of the media the case was not fought and fought well. We owe it to television and to some of the more serious papers to say that when they were persuaded they did fight on.

Finally, this morning I say to the Provisional IRA: you carry as much blame as anyone. You bombed Birmingham. You knew the men were innocent and you made no effort to clear them. You used them for your own cynical, evil ends. [234] You are as guilty as hell in all of this. Let us never forget that.

Mr. Ross: On behalf of the Independent group I would like to join in the general welcome for the release of the Birmingham Six. I should say at the outset that I was not one of those involved in the campaign to release the Birmingham Six, nor indeed were all my Independent colleagues but it does not in any way reduce the euphoria which we all feel at the righting of this appalling wrong.

I would like to echo what Senator Manning said and pay particular tribute to those who were involved from an early stage at no great political benefit to themselves. There was no percentage, there were no political kudos in championing the case of the Birmingham Six in the early and mid-eighties. It should be recognised that people like David Andrews and Peter Barry took up this cause when it was not in any way popular and they persisted with it when it was not popular and indeed when others were not willing to get involved. It showed great political courage to take up the cause of those whom most people believed at the time did not have a particularly strong case for being released.

It should also be said that those who perpetrated the bombings must now be pursued with increased vigour. Those people are still loose. I do not know whether they are in Ireland or in England or who they are, but certainly if, as Senator Fallon said, the names of those who carried out the bombings are known to the British police they must be brought to justice as soon as possible, and they are undoubtedly the Provisional IRA.

It is absolutely right that it should be pointed out in this debate that the ruthless exploitation of this case by the Provisional IRA is one of the most hideous apsects of this issue. There is no doubt that the innocence of the Birmingham Six was of enormous propaganda value to the Provisional IRA, that they exploited the case ruthlessly and that it was used by them for their own nefarious and evil [235] purposes. It suited them to keep the Birmingham Six in prison and the longer they were in prison, as far as the Provisional IRA were concerned, the better. It is no coincidence that bombs went off in London the same day as this appeal was launched in the Old Bailey recently. The IRA has to answer for this appalling crime and the appalling consequences.

I hope that in the euphoria and in the great joy which is shared by all those who campaigned, by many politicians and by all people in this House and all Irish people everywhere that there is no great knee-jerk reaction, that there is no great anti-British nationalist fervour as a result of this release yesterday. I do not join in the cries for a change in the extraditon law as a result of this case and I hope the very understandable emotional appeal made by some of the men yesterday will not be responded to.

There are lessons that must be learned and the first is that not only must those who actually carried out the bombings be brought to justice but those members of the British police who are obviously totally and utterly corrupt and whose activities in this case included not only perjury but giving false accounts of what happened, must be brought to justice and they must be seen to pay the price for what happened to those men. It is our duty, at this stage, to welcome them, to try to rehabilitate them and to urge the British authorities to take the necessary punitive action against those who were responsible for this appalling miscarriage of justice.

Dr. Upton: I, too, want to express my pleasure and delight at the release of the Birmingham Six. I had the good fortune yesterday to see it as it was happening on television. It was wonderful to see those people at last released. A great injustice has been done to them and, of course, their families. They have spent 17 years in jail for crimes they did not commit and, as Senator Fallon said, they were subjected to appalling cruelty in the places where they were interrogated. The [236] review of British justice is certainly welcome. I suppose there is an element of bolting the stable door after the horse has long since got away, but at least it is welcome that it is happening now. What we have seen over the past few days confirms the worst suspicions that anybody could have had about what went on in the Stalker investigation and the way it was nobbled on so on. That is certainly appalling.

I would like to pay tribute to the people who worked so hard to release the Birmingham Six and to pay a special tribute to those people who worked for them in the early days of this campaign. It was not pleasant or politically profitable for the people who were involved in it and I have to salute them and pay tribute to their courage and their dogged determination to go on when the going was very tough and the prospects of their succeeding were not at all good.

There are our own parliamentary colleagues to whom I would have to pay tribute and, of course, there are the British people, particularly Chris Mullin. Anybody who sets about writing a book and collecting facts in a case like this has to make an enormous investment of effort and energy. There is a tremendous amount of work involved in the production of the type of evidence and the campaign that Chris Mullin organised. Indeed, we must also pay tribute to the dogged determination of Gareth Peirce and the way she has conducted her campaign on behalf of those people.

I hope this review will have no holds barred and, indeed, that the full extent of the corruption at whatever level will be made clear. As somebody who has worked in the scientific world for quite a number of years and who has been engaged in research, I find it absolutely appalling and disgusting that a British scientist should, as it were, have fiddled the facts and the scientific evidence so as to convict these people. I believe there is an obligation on anybody who works in science to stay with science, to present the facts and then let the other people who have to make judgments on these facts to do so. There is a solemn obligation on [237] anybody who works in the scientific world to do that. As someone who did work in that area for a long time, and indeed I still keep my hand in to some extent, I find it shocking and appalling that a British scientist should have behaved in that manner.

I hope it will not be long before the Birmingham Six and their families recover to the extent that it is possible for them to recover from this appalling trauma they have been subjected to for 17 years.

Mr. Dardis: May I, on behalf of the Progressive Democrats, join with all other groups and, indeed, all Members in the House in expressing our relief and delight that this sad saga has come to an end and that the six have been released. However, it is a relief and a delight which is tinged with a profound sadness, that six innocent people should have had to spend 16 years of their lives in jail for a crime they did not commit and that it took so many years and so many attempts by so many people to achieve their release. I hope there are not others who, because they have not had support, have suffered a similar fate and are now languishing in prison for crimes they did not commit.

I join in the congratulations to those who campaigned so tirelessly and so fearlessly over such a long period and with so many disappointments, that they have finally achieved the objective. I agree, of course, that there was a serious miscarriage of justice but it is important that we put the blame where it rests and that is with the IRA. I have no hesitation in saying that. Not only were six people condemned to a living hell, 21 people were blown to pieces by the IRA. Their silence in the whole matter is what makes then stand condemned in any dock. To use six people as cynically as those six people were used by the IRA for their own purposes, that they could allow six people, knowing they were innocent, languish in jail for 16 years is beyond belief. British justice was certainly defective but I have no doubt the fundamental blame [238] lies with the IRA and it is their silence which stands condemned.

There are lessons for Britain and, indeed, all democracies, that law must serve justice and not justice serve the law and that the law and its officers, from the lowest police officer to the highest judge in the land, are servants of justice and it is their responsibility to see to it that justice is done. In that respect, I hope that the Royal Commission which has been established in Britain will go fully through the facts, that it will report well within the two years it has been given to report in and that anybody at any level who has been guilty of mispropriety will be subject to the full rigour of the law and that justice will be done.

One of the things that was most impressive right through this campaign to release the men — and was evident in listening to the radio yesterday evening — was the dignity and patience of those six men and their families. For that, they are to be congratulated. I hope they can be fully rehabilitated and compensated to the degree that is possible to compensate them for what has happened.