Human rights organisations call for independent inquiry into case of Sallins Men

Miscarriage of justice has never been effectively investigated

19 September 2023. Four leading human rights organisations – the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), the Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ), the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) and Fair Trials – will today deliver a petition to the Irish Government asking the Minister for Justice to establish an inquiry into the abuse suffered by Osgur Breatnach, Michael Barrett, John Fitzpatrick, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally, and Michael Plunkett (deceased).

The lives of these six men, known as ‘the Sallins Men’, were changed irrevocably when they were arrested, detained, charged, convicted and imprisoned following the Sallins Train Robbery in 1976. Their case remains one of the most significant miscarriages of justice in modern Irish history. The abuse they suffered – and the continuing suffering they endure – is a violation of their human rights. To date, there has been no effective investigation into their case.

The 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. Article 3 is the absolute prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Speaking today 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.”

The petition will be sent to representative members of all political parties in the Republic, as well as all MEPs, as this is a non-partisan issue requiring a united response from politicians.

The case of the Sallins Men is a legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict. In recent weeks, the UK government has pushed its contentious Legacy Bill through Parliament, in opposition to victims’ groups and most political parties. The Irish Government has been staunch in its opposition to the investigatory measures proposed in that Bill, which will not be compliant with ECHR standards.

Also speaking today, 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.”

Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) Director Paul O’Connor 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.”

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Region: Nationwide