Feature article: Daily Ireland [Belfast],
Tuesday, August 23 2005
Derry civil rights campaign veterans urge Michael McDowell to clear
Captain James Kelly’s name
Letter calls for apology
By Conor McMorrow
VETERANS of the North’s civil rights campaign have written an open letter to
Justice Minister Michael McDowell asking him to apologise to the late
Captain James Kelly’s family for the way the Irish state treated him.
Captain Kelly came to national prominence during the 1970 Arms Trial over
the Southern state supplying arms for Catholics to defend themselves in the
North of Ireland.
He was acquitted during the trial but his family have repeatedly called on
the Irish government to apologise for having treated him “like some sort of
Before his death in July 2003, Captain Kelly devoted much of his life to a
campaign to clear his name following the charges that he had conspired to
illegally import arms.
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
Now the October Fifth Association, a network of civil rights campaign
veterans, have thrown their weight behind the campaign and this week sent an
open letter to Mr McDowell calling for a state apology for Captain Kelly.
In the letter, Fionnbarra O’Dochartaigh, organiser of the Captain Kelly
Justice Campaign, said:” Although Captain Kelly and his co-accused were
acquitted, several matters, relating not only to Captain Kelly, have been
left to fester, without official resolution, to an extent which we consider
to be our nation’s shame.
“We are totally convinced that Captain Kelly was made a scapegoat.
“He and his family suffered greatly as a direct result of carrying out his
official duties, sanctioned by the then Taoiseach and his Cabinet,
regardless of later denials, and what can only be described as selfish
cover-ups and an unjustified smear campaign.”
The detailed letter outlined a number of reasons why the Kelly family and
the October Fifth veterans (the date refers to the famous civil rights march
in 1968 which was batoned off the streets of Derry by the RUC) believe that
Captain Kelly was innocent and why his family should be given an unequivocal
The controversy cast a dark shadow over Captain Kelly’s life and career and
the lives of his family.
After Captain Kelly’s death in 2003, 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.”
However, his family still believe that they deserve a full state apology,
notwithstanding Mr Ahern’s favourable comments.
Mr. O’Doherty, in his letter to Mr. McDowell, added: “It is our hope that
after considering this dossier that you too will come to the realisation
that this is “an extraordinary story of injustice,” to quote Tony Benn, a
former [British] Labour MP and Minister.
“The historian and commentator, Tim Pat Coogan, has previously referred to
Captain Kelly as “the Irish Dreyfus” and said that his name should be
For more information, including an international on-line petition to clear
Captain Kelly’s name, log on to
The Full Text of the Letter appeared on Page 22,
and is now on the website.