Friday, December 31, 2010

Ambassador accused of suppressing Birmingham Six case

An influential priest accused the Irish ambassador to the US of trying to thwart attempts to raise the case of the Birmingham Six.

Fr Denis Faul wrote to Ambassador Sean Donlon, and copied it to Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Lenihan, claiming he was interfering in efforts to highlight the miscarriage of justice.

In a letter dated November 25 1979, and released for the first time, the priest alleges Mr Donlon tried to stop a Congressman raising the case.

Fr Faul said it had been intimated that the Ambassador tried to thwart Congressman Hamilton Fish Junior from pursuing interest in the Birmingham Six.

“The allegation that you were working against us in this matter and trying to thwart our efforts to obtain justice has caused us deep distress,” he wrote.

Two other priests also signed the letter – Fr Brian J Brady, St Joseph’s College, Belfast, and Fr Raymond Murray, Armagh City.

The letter went on: “That distress has been made even more acute by the further allegation that your representations to Congressman Fish implied that Fr Murray’s credibility was in question.”

Fr Faul accused the Ambassador of the “attempted denigration” of Fr Murray and alleged he had quoted the Grand Master of the Orange Order Martyn Smyth and former SDLP leader Gerry Fitt.

He said: “That you should be prepared to quote the opinions of the leader of Orangeism and of a politician aptly described as ’going for the jugular’ of those whom he disagrees, in order to discredit a Catholic priest in good standing in his own diocese, would, if true, be gravely disturbing.”

In a cover letter to Mr Lenihan, Fr Faul said he hoped the Ambassador “will cease thwarting our efforts in the cause of justice and peace in the north of Ireland”.

Mr Lenihan hit back insisting he had full confidence in Ambassador Donlon.

He stressed that the top diplomat had “not touched” on the Birmingham Six case during conversations with the Congressman.

“They have been about the Congressman’s interest in promoting contacts between elected representatives from both parts of Ireland and US.”

Fr Faul offered the Ambassador a chance to respond but there is no evidence in the file that he did. No further evidence was put forward by the priests for the basis of the allegations.

The Birmingham Six walked free from jail in 1991 after 16 years in jail when their convictions for the murder of 21 people in two pubs were quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker, between them, served 96 years for a crime they did not commit.