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Order 'The Thimbleriggers' by James Kelly - The Dublin Arms Trials of 1970
Derry News on Sunday - January 4th 2004- Reporter: Darinagh Boyle

Derry activists demand posthumous clearance for Captain Kelly

A Derry rights group will this month launch an international petition to clear the name of the late Capt. James J. Kelly, smeared and ‘scape-goated’ in the arms crisis of the early 1970s.

The campaigners are calling on the Irish State to issue a posthumous apology and have written to former Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey as well as contemporaries of the Army captain and political leaders.

Capt. Kelly, an Irish Army intelligence officer at the time faced arms import charges with Haughey and two other men.

He oversaw the procurement of an arms consignment from Germany, which prompted the trial, but claimed he had Irish Government authorisation for it.

All of them were acquitted but Capt. Kelly had to leave the Army and said the smear destroyed his life, according to the Derry-based October Fifth Association.

They recently received a letter of thanks from Capt. Kelly’s widow, Sheila, in which she stated that successive Dublin governments had refused to admit her husband had been wrongly tried.

No apology

Capt. Kelly died in July 2003 after a 33-year old battle to clear his name of any wrongful implication. Even on his deathbed, Mrs. Kelly said, he had held on to the hope that he would receive an apology from the State.

The crisis rocked Ireland in the early 1970s and has been described as the most dramatic legal event in the history of the State.

Spokesman for the lobby, author and historian, Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh, recently appealed to Mr. Haughey, himself thought to be in ailing health, to exonerate the late captain.

“I need not remind you that like yourself [Haughey] and others, he [Kelly] was one of the main characters in the Irish Republic’s most historic trial”, he wrote.

“You were all cleared in 1970/71 of allegedly providing material aid for your fellow countrymen and women…we believe Capt. Kelly was acting on official orders, based on a cabinet decision. Despite the verdict Capt.
Kelly believed his life was ruined, his career prospects were blocked, and he was effectively unemployable.”

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said publicly, a day after Capt. Kelly's death, that he had acted on what he believed were proper orders and personally had no reason to doubt his integrity.

However, Mr. Ó Dochartaigh insists that although welcome – only a fully official apology clearing Capt. Kelly’s name of any wrongdoing would bring closure to the Kelly family.

He commented, “We believe that the Irish State should, as a matter of  urgency, take whatever steps are necessary to belatedly right the wrongs inflicted on this soldier and servant of the State. Only then can it be said that he was truly laid to rest.”
Books on the Arms Crisis

Order 'The Thimbleriggers' by James Kelly - The Dublin Arms Trials of 1970
The Arms Conspiracy Trial
The Arms Conspiracy Trial: Ireland 1970

Military Aspects Of Ireland's Arms Crisis Of 1969

August 1969: Ireland's Only Appeal To The United Nations
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