Sunday 26 October 2014

IRA 'not to blame for Guildford 4'

Published 23/06/2014 | 10:17

Gerry Conlon after his release from prison

The IRA does not bear responsibility for the wrongful incarceration of the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six and others for republican terrorism, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said .

In the wake of the death of one of those wrongly jailed, Gerry Conlon, the republican leader said the burden of guilt for the miscarriages of justice rests absolutely with the British establishment.

Mr Conlon, 60, died in his home off the Falls Road in west Belfast on Saturday morning after an illness.

He spent 14 years in jail for the 1974 IRA bombing of the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford, Surrey, in which four soldiers and a civilian were killed and 65 people were injured - a crime he had nothing to do with.

His father Giuseppe, who was suffering from emphysema, was wrongly jailed for supposed bomb-making offences and died after five years behind bars.

Mr Adams said he had been in jail himself at the time they were imprisoned and it was believed an IRA unit known as the Balcombe Street gang had carried out the bombing.

The Sinn Fein leader rejected claims the IRA has any responsibility for miscarriages of justice linked to republican violence after former SDLP MP Seamus Mallon accused terror leaders of "almost conniving" with the British government to keep innocent people behind bars.

"I wonder what their consciences tell them now," Mr Mallon said.

Mr Adams dismissed the claim as political point-scoring: "The responsibility for the detention and incarceration of a range of people there, from the Guildford Four to the Birmingham Six and the Maguires, rests absolutely with the British establishment.

"The police there knew those individuals were not involved in those actions and there was a cover-up and that's a matter of public record."

In an interview on RTE Radio, Mr Adams said: "The IRA has to take responsibility for its own actions but let's not have Seamus Mallon try to score political points."

He commended comments from one of the Guildford Four, Paul Hill, who also rejected Mr Mallon's assessment.

In an earlier interview, Mr Hill attacked successive Irish governments and the media for not supporting their campaign until they had spent more than a decade behind bars and said the Guildford Four - Mr Conlon, Mr Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson - suffered a greater miscarriage of justice than the people who were killed by the 1974 IRA bombings.

Mr Hill said people in positions of power did little for them and others whose lives were ruined.

"People knew we were completely and absolutely innocent. They should look in the mirror today and ask themselves 'What did I do for these individuals'," Mr Hill said.

The Guildford Four convictions were overturned in 1989. Along with the Birmingham Six, it is considered the worst miscarriage of justice in Britain.

In 2009 Mr Conlon wrote about the personal and emotional battles he suffered as a result of his incarceration and fight for freedom.

He suffered two breakdowns, attempted suicide and became addicted to drugs and alcohol following his release.

Mr Conlon began enduring nightmares after securing freedom.

"The ordeal has never left me," he said.

In July 2000 prime minister Tony Blair became the first senior politician to apologise to the Guildford Four.

The Balcombe Street gang, responsible for at least 16 murders during a 14-month terror campaign in south east England in the 1970s, is believed to have been responsible for the bombing.

Mr Conlon's funeral will take place at St Peter's Cathedral in Belfast on Saturday morning.

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins sent a message of condolence to the family.

"Mr Conlon was the victim of a grave miscarriage of justice as was his father, Giuseppe, and it was clear in recent years that he and his family paid an enormous price for that injustice through the long years he and Giuseppe spent in prison and in the incredible difficulties Gerry faced in trying to adjust to life in the community after losing so much of his adult life to imprisonment," Mr Higgins said.

"The integrity and determination which Gerry brought to his fight for truth, and the tireless work of those who supported the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six and Maguire Seven Campaigns stand as an inspiration to all who stand up for justice."

President Higgins noted Mr Conlon's work as a campaigner in his later years with the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, and also on behalf of other victims of human rights abuses around the world.

"His loss will be felt not only in Ireland but also amongst all those who struggle against injustice," he said.

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