Q1. I understand that you were officially released on Easter Saturday having completed a twenty year prison sentence. Do you have any comments on your controversal trial before a juryless court and how would you describe your time in prison?
Firstly, may I take this opportunity to thank my family and friends who remained steadfast by standing by me throughout the last fifteen years. I would also like to relay my deep gratitude to all those people from Ireland and throughout the world who supported me during my incarceration. Hundreds of people, many of whom I didn’t even know, conveyed their support and solidarity to me directly and via my family by sending cards, letters and gifts. The kindness and generosity of these people was quite astounding and remained a great morale boost throughout my time in prison.
I have been in prison since March 2001, however I was granted unconditional temporary release in October 2015 due to serious illness. My official release date is Easter 2016.
Throughout my period of detention, I protested my innocence and the fact that I was set up from the outset. I spent the greater part of that time engaged in legal challenges, highlighting the various injustices associated with my case – of which there are too many to detail in this interview. Each challenge exposed the underlying prejudice that became associated with my case.
Initially, I was tried before the Special Criminal Court, which in my opinion is nothing more than a sentencing tribunal. This same ‘special court’, which has been criticised by a former Irish President (Mary Robinson) and by human rights groups throughout the world, was originally established as a military-type tribunal to prevent Irish republicans subverting Ireland’s neutrality during World War Two. It has no place in any modern day democracy, but for over forty years it has served the political agenda of successive governments with an extraordinary level of guilty verdicts against republicans.
It is a damning inditement of the Irish legal system when a court condemned internationally as far back as the infamous Sallins Train Robbery case of 1976, where all convictions were later overturned, has never been objectively scrutinised despite compelling evidence that many of those cases before it would collapse if held before ordinary jury courts.
I find it shameful, although not surprising, that some within the legal profession, who have unreservedly conveyed their abhorence and even embarassment at how the Special Criminal Court is operated, do little to highlight it.
Without getting into the micro-detail of my trial, all one has to do is weigh up the following when considering if I received a fair trial or not:
• Almost 75% of the evidence submitted by the prosecution was redacted for ‘security reasons’ which rendered it unchallengeable by my legal team
• The main prosecution witness David Rupert, a fraudster, was paid several million dollars to give evidence against me. When he was first approached to give evidence, his response to his handlers was: “Tell me what to do make it worth my while and as long as the money is right I’ll do it to the best of my ability….”
• Prior to the trial, Rupert was coached on ‘court etiquette’ by a consultancy firm hired by MI5.
• Garda records contradicted key evidence of the main prosecution witness, significant enough at the time to halt my trial; yet later accepted as a trivial oversight by the court
• British MI5 and American FBI agents were permitted to control a section of the court from where they influenced proceedings.
• Conflicting evidence between two senior Gardai – Martin Callinan (former Commisioner) and Dermot Jennings (former Assistant Commissioner). Callinan, during evidence at the trial, stated that there were no files or records held by AGS on Rupert, however during the civil case Jennings stated that he had reviewed the files on Rupert before givning evidence that day.
• Some of those who were working on my defence were arrested and defence materials were seized prior to trial.
Q2. Can you give us some background to the legal proceedings that took place in 2014 around the issue of remission?
In 2014, a number of republican prisoners brought successful legal applications based on the 2007 Amended Prison Rules, which entitled them to enhanced remission of one third of their sentence. As it happened, I too met the same criteria, however, the state approach altered once I made my application to the courts and they moved to block my early release.
On the morning of the first day of the hearing, an unprecedented search of Portlaoise Prison took place, carried out by over 150 security personel. Particular attention was given to my cell including the use of Xray machines to scan the floors and walls. According to a source within the prison, it was hoped that contraband would be discovered in order to scupper my application. This move was unsuccessful, resulting in the authorities having to go back to the drawing board in their attempts to block my legal challenge. Unsurprisingly, the authorities pulled another ‘rabbit out of the hat’ with the introduction of the 2014 Prison (Amendment) Rules, which even took the judge by surprise. Therefore my application was rejected.
Q3. In 2015 media reports stated that you were hospitalised, do you wish to comment?
In 2015, with just months of my original 20-year sentence to serve, a number of medical issues arose, which forced me to apply for temporary release. It took the intervention of my family with the assistance of a number of TDs to secure my temporary release to facilitate a medical procedure. Within weeks of major surgery, the then Minister for Justice, Francis Fitzgerald, made the decision to return me to prison, ignorning advice from a number of independent medical experts and contrary to recommendations from her own staff.
Prison medical staff and a number of independent medical professionals made it known to the minister that the medical facilities within the prison was not adequatley equipped, nor was the prison environment fit for a person recovering from a life-threatening illness. After a six-month battle which included a high profile media campaign led by my family and again with the assistance of a number of TDs, the Minister was forced to make an embarassing U-turn and release me unconditionally on medical grounds to continue my recovery at home.
The U-turn by the Minister was highly significant, insofar as it confirmed how poor the conditions in Portlaoise Prison were. It corroborated a number of damning reports specifically about the lack of basic medical facilities and the lack of in-cell sanitation within the prison. It was no coincidence that conditions were so poor in the E Block building that housed republican prisoners, as it has been widely recognised for years that successive governments have operated a policy, which was implementated by the Irish Prison Service, to continuously downgrade facilites within the prison in an attempt to break republican prisoners. Their policy failed in the seventies and eighties and it continues to fail today.
Q4. After 15 years in prison – has your political views altered?
I have consistently maintained one view throughout my adult life: that the British presence in Ireland (in whatever form) is illegitimate and has been the most significant contributing factor to years of conflict and strife in Ireland and beyond.
The partition of Ireland is not only illegal,
but has been a monumental failure. It has failed since 1921 and it continues to be a failure today. The 1921 Treaty gave the Irish an illusion of independence, similar to the illusion of a settlement offered by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Those who signed the original Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 are no different to those who signed the Good Friday Agreement – in reality, little has changed. Throughout those 95 years, the only thing that hasn’t been tabled as a possible solution is the reunification of Ireland.
The GFA was nothing other than Britain’s attempt to stabilise its rule in Ireland. They succeeded by successfully co-opting Irish republicans into administering British rule in Ireland. Clearly the so called Agreement fell far short of a democratic resolution of the Irish national question but it spelt the political and military capitulation of the Provisional movement. Their acceptance of and willingness to administer British rule in Ireland and the decommissioning of their weapons at the behest of the British is testimony to this fact. This is underlined by the presence of Martin McGuinness in his role of deputy First Minister of a British Executive attending the official State Easter commeration in Dublin yesterday; whilst other senior Sinn Fein spokespersons were espousing the usual mantra that the “countdown to reunification” had begun. Eventually the passage of time will see the demise of the 1998 Agreement and it will sit in the dustbin of history alongside the Sunningdale Agreement and the Anglo-Irish agreement. While the 1998 Agreement did contain short term stability, it did not represent a democratic resolution of the national question.
My time in prison hasn’t altered my political analysis – that the GFA will never lead to a united Ireland; in actual fact it has copperfastened partitian. The principle of consent was a very cleverly crafted strategic key inclusion of the Agreement that was non-negoitable, deliberately incorporated in an attempt to legitimise a British presence in Ireland and could never be accepted by any Irish republican.
Now as we approach the centenary of the 1916 Rising, it has become popular to be seen and heard rebel rousing. People shouldn’t be fooled by such nonsense, particularly from Sinn Fein and to a lesser extent from Fianna Fail- they are different sides of the same coin.
When I look at Sinn Fein in particular, I believe their behaviour is akin to that of the looters on the streets of Dublin in 1916. They have turned the centenary commemoration into a financial racket, exploiting it for all they can. Shameful is probably the best description that I can use.
I have no doubt there are many Sinn Fein grass roots people, who believe they are genuine republicans. However, in my opinion, they are brainwashed into believing that the 1998 Agreement will lead to Irish unity. They have been duped by their leadership who are active participants in a British Executive, administering British rule in a part of Ireland “for the foreseeable future”. This same leadership said that they would smash the union, would never sit in a British parliament and now we see they are happy to participate in that system. As I see it, many of them have carved their political careers on the graves of young men and women who gave their lives believing that it was for an end to British rule.
Regularly at weekends in Belfast, Sinn Fein members can be seen on white-line pickets supporting Basque political prisoners, while they choose to ignore the plight of Irish republican prisoners throughout Ireland. I make no apologies to say that their hypocrisy has no boundaries.
Q5. In the aftermath of the Omagh bombing there ensued a mass onslaught of media coverage naming you as the chief suspect. How did this affect you?
Firstly, let me state categorically, that I had no involvement in the bombing whatsoever. I was stitched-up from the outset. I have no doubt that both the Irish and British authorities and others, including some within media circles are aware of this fact also. Within days of the bombing, I said that I had no hand, act or part in the bombing and that remains my position. Despite the media allegations, I have never been questioned in relation to the bombing, which is now over 18 years since it occurred.
In my opinion, Omagh is up there with some of the worst tragedies of the conflict – on a scale with the Dundalk/Monaghan/Dublin bombings, Bloody Sunday and the Ballymurphy massacre. The interesting link between all of those tragic events is the fact that no-one was held accountable and repeated calls for independent inquires have consistently been opposed by both governments.
Why is it that despite all the conflicting evidence, including evidence supporting the existence of participating state agents, calls from families of the dead and even some of those accussed – is there still no appetite for the British or Irish authorities to support an independent inquiry into Omagh. Successive British and Irish governments have attempted to buy the silence of some of the bereaved families by sponsoring flawed civil legal actions against some of the accused.
The civil cases have been ongoing for years, ironically against a backdrop of criminal proceedings being dismissed and overturned against some of those accused, as a result of flawed charges, lack of proven evidence, missing police files and even some of the investigating police fabricating crucial evidence.
During the civil case against me – the key witness, David Rupert (the same fraudster who was involved in my earlier trial), refused to attend the court to give evidence for reasons of security. The FBI claimed he was in hiding. The defence team agreed for him to give evidence by video link but he refused this also. The FBI claimed he was sick, however no medical certificate was forthcoming and no details were produced of his alleged medical condition. A defence solicitor travelled to the USA and spoke with local people from Rupert’s hometown, who stated that he was seen in the locality on several occasions moving about freely without any visible signs of security or illness. In his absence, the court accepted my previous conviction and the evidence given by him at the Dublin trial; which was unrelated to Omagh.
In relation to the unprecedented media campaign that was waged against me and my family in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing, it was clear from reviewing the coverage that the media reports linking me to the tragic events were emanating from senior sources within the British establishment.
The source of the media briefings was subsequently identified when Alastair Campbell, chief spin doctor for the British government at that time, published his book The Irish Diaries in 2013. In it, Campbell refers to the aftermath of the bombing when Blair insisted that Campbell take control of the media briefings. Campbell, as Tony Blair’s right-hand man, had a political agenda not only to see the Good Friday Agreement through to fruitition but most importantly, he was a key strategist tasked with discrediting republican opposition to the agreement.
Coincidently, Campbell has been consistently accused by the British media, including The Guardian newspaper, of colluding with others to alter British intelligence dossiers prior to the invasion of Iraq, claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The subsequent Iraqi war, which was triggered by the misleading intelligence reports, resulted in the deaths of over one million people.
Q.6 There is a view held by some that the police and the intelligence services had prior knowledge of the bombing and that their reluctance to intervene prior to the bombing points to a policy of protecting informants at all costs no matter what? Would you agree with this view?
As an obvious observer of the Omagh bombing and the subsequent fall-out, I am of the firm opinion that the British were operating a number of agents supported logistically by An Garda Siochana – remember, it was an agent operated by AGS who was originally tasked with getting a car for the bombing mission and who according to legal documents, had supplied vehicles which were used for previous bombing missions. Today this agent, who was managed by senior Gardai, enjoys the luxury of a witness protection programme and has received substancial payments from the Irish State. We also know from documents supplied at my trial in Dublin that MI5/FBI agent, David Rupert, claimed he was involved in a thwarted attack destined for Omagh in April 1998.
The failure to prevent Omagh was much more than a policy of protecting informants. It was on a grander scale than that. I believe it was a conspiracy that involved three government agencies – MI5, FBI and the Irish to a lesser degree, along with their informants. In my opinion, the timing, location, and magnitude of the massacre was deliberate and calculated. The bombers – whoever they were, were mere pawns in a much larger and more sinister political game plan.
Q7. Do you agree with the analysis that armed struggle should be suspended in the interests of allowing an alternative republican voice to emerge that challenges Sinn Fein’s apparent hegemony?
Firstly, I would question what analysis you are referring to. You can be sure that analysis of the use of armed struggle as a tactic will vary greatly depending on the political viewpoint or agenda of where it originates.
It is immaterial as to whether I agree or disagree – armed struggle or guerilla warfare is a tactic which has been around for hundreds of years and has played a role in the modern history of many nations around the world. Historically, the only form of resistance in Ireland, that the British actually took notice of, was armed struggle; like they did in 1916 and in every decade since.
In recent times, it has become very apparent that opposition to the continuing British presence in Ireland is well down the priority list for Sinn Fein. References to a British withdrawal from Ireland on the backdrop of Sinn Fein party conferences were dropped as far back as the 1980’s, as party strategists moved towards constitutional politics and distanced itself from supporting armed struggle.
There is no doubt that the Sinn Fein party has developed its base in the 26 counties, but the struggle was not about the advancement of a political party that ditched its fundamental objectives along the way. If anything, Sinn Fein with the help of Fianna Fail, set the process back considerably in 1998 with the acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement and the removal of Articles 2 and 3. Almost 20 years has lapsed, since the signing of the Agreement and they have done nothing to advance the cause of Irish freedom, despite earlier claims of reunification by the centenary of 1916.
This is very apparent in the language used by Sinn Fein politicians, for example – they no longer refer to Ireland as a country, rather they use the term island. As a result of their political manoeuvrings, they have brought about a one island two countries scenario. People can ask themselves: is this the vision that Pearse and Connolly fought and died for? Is this what the last 100 years of bloodshed was about? It is a sorry legacy.
Q8. Do you concur with the view held by some that the armed campaigns being waged by militant republicans will fail because of the level of infiltration by British intelligence. Are too many of these organisations compromised by informants, agents etc?
One would be naïve to believe that the use of informers and agents are solely confined to the ranks of military organisations. Why would British intelligence agencies limit their activities to this one option, when there are so many other options, equally important from their point of view, that can achieve the same objective?
Informant Denis Donaldson, a senior member of Sinn Fein and one time confident of Gerry Adams, is one example that springs to mind of the British operating high-level agents within an Irish political party. To guarantee the success of the long-term British strategy, logic dictates that the key players who control and influence the populace should be compromised, such as politicians, clergy and elements within the media. Britain would never have succeeded in securing the Good Friday Agreement, the winding down of PIRA, the surrender of its weapons nor the abolition of Articles 2 and 3 without those key influences. Bertie Ahern and his dubious payments is another example that springs to mind.
Q9. As the brother-in-law of Bobby Sands, how do you feel about the way in which Sinn Fein seems to have almost hijacked the memory and legacy of Bobby Sands for their own political and financial benefit?
I don’t wish to focus on one particular individual. A large number of republicans lost their lives throughout the various campaigns. It is apparent that Sinn Fein has cherrypicked some of the more high-profile names for financial and political gain. I find it not only disrespectful, but distasteful when SF and others hijack the memory and legacy of dead volunteers, against the wishes of the volunteers families in many cases.
This brings me onto the related issue of commemorating our republican dead. It is very significant to see the growing number of families of IRA volunteers who have opted to organise and manage their own commemorations as a form of protest against what they see as Sinn Fein’s capitulation of republican ideals. This speaks volumes as to how many of those at grassroot level view the direction Sinn Fein has opted for.
Q10. It is ironic that your release takes place at Easter 2016 – the 100 year anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Any comments?
Throughout this historic year, political parties of all persuasions, are tripping over themselves to commemerate the violent uprising of 1916. How can they, who have accepted the partition of Ireland, lay claim to the legacy of 1916? It is my belief that they have forfeited any right to lay claim to the militant, separatist and socialist republican tradition.
Those who took up arms in 1916, were a minority of the population at that time with little or no popular support. Some commentators have even described the rising as:‘an immoral and anti-democratic act organised by a minority within a minority who, looking into their own souls, saw there what they deemed was right for the Irish people.’ Could any credible historian or impartial observer of Anglo/Irish strife, honestly differentiate between the men of 1916 and militant republicans who took part in any of the campaigns over the last 100 years? I doubt it!
The sad reality is that 100 years on, Ireland is still divided. Britain still occupies part of this country and republicans continue to rot in jail for opposing the British presence. Unfortunately, history continues to repeat itself!
The Republic that was proclaimed by Pearse, is far removed from the reality of the Ireland that we live in today, which is divided in more ways than one – politically, culturally and socially. The Proclamation was aimed at all of the people of Ireland, protestant, catholic and dissenter. The illegitimate northern statelet with its inherent sectarianism and division; the increasing homelessness, poverty, prejudice and inequality flies in the face of those who created the Proclamation and who gave their lives for it to be realised.