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Saturday 25 May 2019

Mourners salute wife of arms trial captain

Jason O'Brien

THE funeral Mass of the wife of a leading figure in the arms trial that rocked the nation took place yesterday -- with the chief celebrant criticising the couple's "victimisation" by the government over a period of 30 years.

Sheila Kelly was predeceased in 2003 by Captain James Kelly. Capt Kelly was an Irish Army intelligence officer and in 1970, together with former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and two others, faced arms import charges. All were acquitted, but Capt Kelly had to leave the army and said the affair destroyed his life.

His wife, a mother of six, who lived in Athlone, Co Westmeath, died last Thursday from lung cancer. She was in her 70s. "Nothing of Sheila is lost," Fr Martin Kelly, a brother of James, told mourners at St Mary of the Angels Church, in Dublin, yesterday morning. "Nothing of her love and dedication to family . . . nothing of her strength of character shown during the 30 years of victimisation when Jim was framed by government action, and so shabbily treated by the upper echelons of the Army."

The comments drew a round of applause from the congregation, which included junior minister Conor Lenihan, writer Tim Pat Coogan and journalist David Davin Power. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore attended the removal service on Sunday.

Fr Kelly said that it was appropriate that her funeral Mass was taking place in St Mary's, "near where Jim and Sheila's ordeal began nearly 39 years ago in the Four Courts".

Capt Kelly oversaw the procurement of an arms consignment from Germany, which prompted the trial, but always claimed he had government authorisation for the mission.

After his death in 2003, the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, said that "Captain Kelly acted on what he believed were the proper orders of his superiors. For my part, I never found any reason to doubt his integrity".

However, Sheila Kelly dismissed the statement as "mild-mannered" and called for a gesture from government to exonerate her husband.

That call was repeated at her funeral Mass yesterday.

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