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Tuesday 2 September 2014

Connolly was arrested over 1981 shooting

Published 18/12/2005 | 00:11

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MAEVE SHEEHAN EXCLUSIVE THE former journalist accused by the Justice Minister of involvement in a plot to train Farc rebels for cash, was arrested in connection with the shooting of a British executive in Trinity College, Dublin, in 1981.

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Frank Connolly was questioned over the shooting of a British Leyland executive on March 25, 1981, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Geoffrey Armstrong was shot three times in the leg while giving a lecture in Trinity College. His attackers, members of far-left group Revolutionary Struggle, claimed the shooting was in revenge for the IRA hunger-strikers.

In 1981, Mr Connolly, who was involved in Revolutionary Struggle, was one of a number of people arrested.

ANALYSIS

Gardai suspected he had information relevant to their inquiries. He was questioned about the shooting and about how the guns were procured, but denied any involvement and was released without charge.

The disclosure is a further blow to the embattled executive director of the CPI. It emerged last week that Mr Connolly was convicted for rioting in 1982, after trying to storm the British Embassy in Dublin during a H-Block march. He received a two-year suspended sentence.

Minister McDowell claimed that Mr Connolly travelled to Colombia on a false passport in April 2001 along with his brother, Niall, and the convicted IRA bomber Padraig Wilson. Mr McDowell told Chuck Feeney, who finances the CPI, about Mr Connolly's conviction and his involvement in Revolutionary Struggle.

Mr Connolly has denied the Minister's claims but has refused to elaborate on his whereabouts in April 2001.

Mr Connolly also refused to comment this weekend on his arrest over the shooting of the British Leyland executive.

Mr Armstrong was delivering a lecture to the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Trinity's arts block, when three men wearing balaclavas burst in. According to reports, a gunman shouted: "Everybody freeze, nobody move, this action is in support of the H-Blocks." Mr Armstrong was shot three times in the leg.

A far-left organisation, known as Revolutionary Struggle - in which Mr Connolly was involved - was blamed for the shooting. Mr Connolly, then aged 27, was among several members of the extremist group to be arrested and questioned about the shooting.

Last week, the Sunday Independent asked Mr Connolly the following questions in a letter couriers delivered to his office and home:

* Were you arrested in 1981 under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act and questioned by detectives investigating the shooting of Mr Geoffrey Armstrong at Trinity College, Dublin?

* Did you answer the questions put to you by the gardai at that time, or make a statement to them in relation to the shooting of Mr Armstrong?

* At that time were you a member of a group known as Revolutionary Struggle?

* Were you given a suspended jail sentence in 1982 on a charge of riotous behaviour during a H-Block march the previous year?

* Did you ever travel to Colombia, as stated by the Minister for Justice, using a false passport?

* More generally, as a journalist, and as executive director of the Centre for Public Inquiry, do you accept that you have a duty to answer questions about these issues, and that there is an obligation on you to explain these issues?

Mr Connolly told a Sunday Independent reporter who called to his home on Friday: "I have no comment to make." He added: "Don't call to my house again."

The CPI came to the defence of its executive director on Friday. Its chairman, Mr Justice Feargus Flood accused the Minister of undermining the authority and the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

He said: "Despite the DPP's decision in March 2003 not to prosecute Mr Connolly, a private and public blackening of his character has been unleashed by the Minister."

Garda sources insisted this weekend that the investigation into Frank Connolly continues. Detectives are awaiting additional evidence from the Colombian authorities. Officers who visited Colombia in recent months asked for CCTV footage and witness statements from the immigration officials who noted his passport details.

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