News Analysis- Daily Ireland – by Conor McMorrow - Friday
March 4, 2005-
Time for arms trial apology
Defendant’s widow wants admission that evidence was altered and trial
should never have gone ahead
The widow of an Irish army captain acquitted during the 1970 arms trial has
called on the Irish government to apologise for having treated her late
husband “like some sort of pariah”.
Before his death in July 2003, Captain James Kelly devoted much of his life
to a campaign to clear his name following the charges that he had conspired
to illegally import arms for use in the North of Ireland.
Although Captain Kelly was found not guilty of the charges along with his
co-defendants Charles Haughey, John Kelly and Albert Luykx, he spent 33
years seeking justice. He always maintained that he should never have been
His wife Sheila told Daily Ireland yesterday:”Jim was acquitted during the
arms trial but in 2001 the archives from the time were opened and it was
discovered that information vital to the defence was withheld.
“If this evidence was not withheld, there would have been no arms trial”.
The whole controversy cast a dark shadow over Captain Kelly’s life and
career and the lives of his family.
“It has been a dreadful experience. Had it ended in 1970, we would have been
able to forget about it but, instead, Jim was treated like some sort of
said Mrs. Kelly.
At the time of the secret mission to procure arms for nationalists in the
North, Captain Kelly kept his immediate superior – Colonel Michael Hefferon,
the director of army intelligence-fully briefed on his activities. Colonel
Hefferon, in turn, had been briefing justice minister Jim Gibbons on the
When state papers for 1970 were released in January 2001, Captain Kelly
discovered documents that satisfied him that he had been the victim of a
He discovered that one document setting out Colonel Hefferon’s original
statement to the gardai investigating the aborted arms import had been
altered in the book of evidence. The altered document excluded references to
the minister being kept informed of the operation.
Speaking from her Dublin home, Mrs Kelly said,” When the archives were
opened, it was found that Colonel Hefferon’s evidence had been doctored. Jim
knew about the doctored evidence in 1971 as Colonel Hefferon told him that
his statement had been altered.”
After discovering that Colonel Hefferon’s evidence had been doctored,
Captain Kelly decided to sue the government but he passed away before this
came to fruition.
After Captain Kelly’s death, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said, “Captain Kelly
acted on what he believed were the proper orders of his superiors. For my
part, I never found any reason to doubt his integrity.”
In reference to this statement, Mrs. Kelly said, “When Jim died, Bertie
Ahern came out with a mild-mannered statement but we still have to get some
sort of gesture from the Irish establishment that he should not have been
“There is a pretence out there that these men were guilty and just happened
to slip through the noose.
That attitude has to change with a gesture from the establishment.”
In the wake of the 2001 revelations of evidence being withheld during the
arms trial, an inquiry was conducted by John O’Donoghue, the then minister
for justice, and the attorney general of the time, Michael McDowell.
The inquiry concluded: “The claims of conspiracy to suppress vital evidence
are unlikely to be true but cannot be ruled out entirely.”
Mrs. Kelly said, “The inquiry has said there is no evidence of conspiracy.
There may be no evidence of conspiracy but there is evidence of documents
While Captain Kelly passed away in July 2003, the campaign to have his name
cleared has been kept alive with the work of civil rights’ veterans, who
spearhead the Derry-based Captain Kelly Justice Campaign.
The people behind the campaign have echoed the Kelly family’s calls for the
Taoiseach to apologise for the Irish government “smearing and scapegoating"
Captain Kelly during the arms trial.
Campaigner manager, Fionnbarra O’Dochartaigh said, “It’s high time the Irish
Taoiseach publicly cleared the ex-army captain who was smeared and
scapegoated in the infamous arms trial.”
Mr. O’Dochartaigh said he believes that the time is now right for the Irish
government to apologise to Captain Kelly’s family in the wake of British
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s apology to the Conlon and Maguire families.
Mrs. Kelly pointed out that while the Irish establishment shunned her
husband, he did have supporters across the world.
“Jim always got great support in his campaign for an Irish government
apology from the US and, when he passed away they erected a plaque to him in
New York state”, she said.
“He was also the recipient of the Celtic Cross Award for people of
outstanding ability in Boston before his death.”
For more information, including an international on-line petition to clear
Captain’s Kelly’s name, log unto