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20th Century Ireland - Joe O'Connell (born 1951)
Joe O'Connell was born near Kilkee, County Clare and educated locally. In 1976 he, together
with Harry Duggan, Eddie Butler and Hugh Doherty, were members of an IRA active service
unit who were arrested after the 'Balcombe Street siege' in London. They were tried at the
Old Bailey on charges of causing explosions and were all sentenced to life imprisonment.
They were imprisoned in various English gaols and were frequently 'ghosted' [moved without
notice] between prisons. Joe O'Connell was transferred to Portlaoise Prison in the Irish
Republic in 1998 and released in 1999.|
The extract below is from the Balcombe Street unit's 'speech from the dock', delivered by Joe O'Connell at the Old Bailey, in which they drew attention to the fact that the Guildford Four* were innocent of the charges for which they were to spend fourteen years in prison.©
Members of the Jury: There has been an attempt by this court to isolate certain incidents which have been called 'crimes'. These incidents have been put completely outside the context in which they occurred in a way that is neither just nor consistent with the truth. The true context is that of the relationship between this country and our country - Ireland. That relationship is one of a state of war against the occupation of Ireland by Britain.
No mention has been made in this court of the violence suffered by the Irish people; of the use of internment without charge or trial in the six counties; of the conviction before the European Court of Human Rights of the British Government for the torture of Irish people; nor of the brutalities of British colonial rule. The judge has attempted to restrict the reference to bombings and shootings to 'terrorist' offenses. We would like to ask the judge whether the bombing of Hiroshima or Dresden were terrorists offenses? Whether the torture carried out by British soldiers in Aden and Cyprus and Hola Camp, Kenya were acts of terrorism? Whether the British were guilty of terrorism when they forced thousands of civilians into concentration camps in South Africa where thousands of them died?
We say that no representative of British imperialism is fit to pass judgment on us, for this government carried out acts of terrorism in order to defend British imperialism and continues to do so in Ireland. We have struggled to free our country from British rule. We are patriots. British soldiers in Northern Ireland are mercenaries of British imperialism. Yet none of them has ever been convicted for the murders of unarmed civilians which they had committed in Ireland. We ask the members of the jury to consider this paradox. We are all four Irish Republicans. We have recognised this court to the extent that we have instructed our lawyers to draw the attention of the court to the fact that four totally innocent people - Carole Richardson, Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill and Paddy Armstrong - are serving massive sentences for three bombings, two in Guildford and one in Woolwich, which three of us and another man now imprisoned, have admitted that we did.
The Director of Public Prosecutions was made aware of these admissions in December, 1975 and has chosen to do nothing. We wonder if he will still do nothing when he is made aware of the new and important evidence which has come to light through the cross examination by our council of certain prosecution witnesses in this trial. The evidence of Higgs [principle scientific officer for the Crown in the Guildford trial] and Lidstone [forensic scientist] played a vital part in the conviction of innocent people. Higgs admitted in this trial that the Woolwich bomb formed part of a correlated series with other bombings with which we are charged. Yet when he gave evidence at the earlier Guildford and Woolwich trial he deliberately concealed that the Woolwich bomb was definitely part of a series carried out between October and December, 1974 and that the people on trial were in custody at the time of some of these bombings.
Lidstone in his evidence at this trial tried to make little of the suggestion that the Guildford bombs could have been part of the 'Phase One' bombings with which we were accused with the excuse, and this appeared to be his only reason, that the bombings in Guildford had occurred a long time before the rest. When it was pointed out to him that there were many clear links between Caterham and Guildford and the time between Guildford and the Brooks Club bomb with which we were originally charged was 17 days and that Woolwich occurred 16 days later, and that equal time gaps occurred between many of the incidents with which we are charged, Lidstone backtracked and admitted that there was a likely connection.
This shifty manoeuvring typifies what we, as Irish Republicans, have come to understand by the words 'British justice'. Time and again in Irish political trials in this country innocent people have been convicted on the flimsiest evidence - often no more than extorted statements or even 'verbals' from the police. Despite this often repeated claim that there is no such thing as a political prisoner in England, we would like to point out that the stress laid in Irish trials on the political beliefs of the prisoners and the fact that over the last few years convicted Republicans have been subjected to extreme brutality in English prisons. This brutality has led to prisoners being severely injured like six Republicans in Albany in September last year and to the almost constant use of solitary confinement for such prisoners. It has also resulted in the deaths of three of our comrades - Michael Gaughan, Frank Stagg and Noel Jenkinson.
We do not wish to insult the members of the Jury when we say that they are not our peers. An English jury can never be the peers of Irish men and women.
We will be judged only by our countrymen. Any verdict or sentence from this court is nothing more than the continuation of the hypocrisy of British rule in Ireland and the injustice it has inflicted on our country and its people.
We admit to no 'crimes' and to no 'guilt', for the real crimes and the real guilt are those of British imperialism committed against our people.
The war against imperialism is a just war and it will go on, for true peace can only come about when a nation is free from oppression and injustice. Whether we are imprisoned or not is irrelevant for our whole nation is the prisoner of British imperialism. The British people who choose to ignore this or to swallow the lies of the British gutter press are responsible for the actions of their government unless they stand out against them. As Volunteers in the Irish Republican Army we have fought to free our oppressed nation from its bondage to British imperialism of which this court is an integral part. © Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008
*See Gerry Conlon