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Order 'The Thimbleriggers' by James Kelly - The Dublin Arms Trials of 1970
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 on trial.

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 pariah,”
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 affair.

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 conspiracy.

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 tried.

“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 being withheld.”

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 www.captainkelly.org.
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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