Irish government urged to establish inquiry into Sallins train robbery

Irish government urged to establish inquiry into Sallins train robbery

The Irish government should establish an inquiry into the abuse suffered by the six men who were wrongly accused in connection with the Sallins train robbery in the 1970s, four human rights organisations have said.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) and Fair Trials today delivered a petition asking justice minister Helen McEntee to establish an inquiry into the abuse suffered by the six ‘Sallins Men’, of whom five remain alive.

The treatment of Michael Barrett, Osgur Breatnach, John Fitzpatrick, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally and the late Michael Plunkett is considered to be one of the worst miscarriages of justice in modern Irish history.

Taking place at the height of the Troubles, gardaí suspected that the robbery was linked to the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and targeted members and former members in its investigation. In 1980, the Provisional IRA claimed responsibility for the robbery.

The new 18-page petition asks for a human rights-compliant investigation, conducted in accordance with the standards required following a breach and violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Amnesty International is not one of the four organisations named as signatories to the petition, but says it endorses the call.

Speaking after submitting the petition, ICCL executive director Liam Herrick said: “The human rights violations inflicted upon the Sallins Men by the Garda, specifically the notorious ‘Heavy Gang’, and accepted by other parts of the Irish criminal justice system without demur, were part of a systemic pattern of human rights violations endemic across many years and cases perpetrated by members of the Garda.

“The Sallins Men now deserve truth, justice and accountability. That can only be achieved through a fully independent statutory inquiry.”

 CAJ director Daniel Holder said: “We support this call — an inquiry into the case of the Sallins Men is long overdue.

“Over the last few years inquests and other legacy mechanisms in the north have been finally delivering like never before for families who have had to wait decades. They are providing important historical clarification for victims and accountability for past human rights violations but now face being shut down by the notorious UK Legacy Bill.”

Paul O’Connor, director of the Pat Finucane Centre, said: “PFC welcomes this demand to the Irish government for a human rights-compliant investigation into the miscarriage of justice that followed the Sallins trains robbery 1976.

“For too long human rights violations that occurred in the Republic of Ireland during the conflict have been at best marginalised or at worst ignored. Successive Irish governments have either relied upon the British to address the investigatory deficit of the conflict or deflected it as an inconvenient non-issue.

“Now the human rights deficit created by those successive Irish governments is clear — and will be clearer when the legislative effect of the British Legacy Act starts to bite. The Irish government was right to challenge the British about the use of torture suffered by the Hooded Men; now it must look to its own police and criminal justice system and acknowledge the torture suffered by the Sallins Men.”

Verónica Hinestroza, senior legal advisor at Fair Trials, said: “According to international standards, states must investigate complaints and reports of torture or ill-treatment.

“We call on the minister for justice to ensure that a prompt, impartial and independent investigation is conducted into the allegations made by Mr Osgur Breatnach, Mr Michael Barrett, Mr John Fitzpatrick, Mr Nicky Kelly, Mr Brian McNally and Mr Michael Plunkett (deceased), considering that torture and ill-treatment violations are not to be subject to any statutes of limitation.”

Fiona Crowley, research and legal manager at Amnesty International Ireland, added: “The Sallins case involved allegations and evidence of severe ill-treatment during police interrogations of the men suspected of the robbery, potentially amounting to torture. It also involved clear breaches of their fair trial rights. Shockingly, these were never properly and impartially investigated.

“Today, we back the call for an independent public inquiry into what happened to them in garda custody and courtrooms.”

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