Dublin, 29 December 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE/
The director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Liam Herrick, has said that a note written by a Department of Justice official in 1980 reflects the culture of suspicion and lack of accountability within the department at the time. The briefing note in question (recently made public in the State papers) was sent by an unnamed civil servant to the Minister for Justice and Taoiseach, and described ICCL as:
“if not a front organisation, at least one that includes its quota of people whose outlook would be claimed by the Gardaí as “subversive” – people associated with the IRSP, which, in the garda estimation, is in large measure identical with the INLA”…
The note was attached to correspondence from ICCL (April, 1980) expressing concern at the delay in bringing about Osgur Breatnach’s appeal against his wrongful conviction. Mr. Breatnach’s father, the late journalist Deasún Breatnach, had two months earlier brought this fact to public attention by his own letter to The Irish Times.
ICCL had been advocating on behalf of Osgur Breatnach and his co-accused and had called for a public inquiry into the serious human rights violations in that case – calls that ICCL continues to make today, 39 years later.
Speaking after the revelations, Mr Herrick said
“The scandalous and disgraceful smears made against ICCL in this note are indicative of a deep culture of suspicion and impunity within the Department of Justice at that time. Anyone who raised legitimate questions about abuse of State power ran the risk of being smeared as a terrorist or as a terrorist sympathiser.
Thankfully the Executive Council of ICCL at that time were not afraid to take up difficult or controversial human rights issues, and ICCL continues to stand independently and firmly in defence of human rights.”
Many of the issues raised by the case, including torture, garda misconduct, and the emergency powers used by the Special Criminal Court are issues that ICCL continues to work against to this day. Regarding the prevention of torture, Mr Herrick said
“Almost 40 years later we are still calling on government to introduce proper independent inspections for all places where people are detained against their will. That includes nursing homes and psychiatric institutions where some of the most vulnerable people in our society are at risk of being ill-treated and possibly even subjected to torture. It’s incredible to think that there is still no independent oversight mechanism for places where people are deprived of their liberty.”
NOTES for editors:
TG4’s “Siar 30 bliain” documentary on the State papers airs at 19:15 on 29 December.
Osgur Breatnach was one of 40 persons arrested in relation to the Sallins Mail Train robbery. In garda custody, Osgur, Brian McNally, John Fitzpatrick and Nicky Kelly claimed they were badly beaten and tortured. In response to the allegations of torture, Gardaí claimed Osgur had beaten himself up in his cell. There has never been a proper investigation into the circumstances of their detention, including false confessions signed by all four men. Osgur Breatnach, Brian McNally and Nicky Kelly were convicted in the Special Criminal Court despite grave failings in the trial process. Osgur served a year and a half in prison before being released with McNally on appeal.
The Executive Council of ICCL in 1980 included: Joe Costello, Fintan O’Toole, Ailbhe Smyth, Michael D. White, Kader Asmal, Joy Rudd, and Anthony Walshe
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is Ireland’s leading independent human rights campaigning organisation. We monitor, educate and campaign to secure human rights for everyone in Ireland.