The National Archives/State Papers
State Papers

The Christmas cards sent to Haughey asking him not to forget The Birmingham Six

“This will be the 16th Christmas that my father and the five men… will spend imprisoned for a crime that they did not commit,” one letter said.

TAOISEACH CHARLES HAUGHEY received Christmas Cards in 1989 calling for the release of the Birmingham Six – as well as a poem from one of the six Irish prisoners. 

Documentation has been released to the National Archives under the 30-year rule showing the intense lobbying to the Irish government on behalf of the five Belfast men and Derryman in their 16th year in prison.

The Birmingham Six Christmas cards were created by the Birmingham Six Committee to raise awareness of the case, but also to raise funds. Four were sold for £1, and there was a special rate of five for £1 for orders of more than 50. 

“Dear Sir,” one card read, “I hope you will think of these six Irish men when you are enjoying your Christmas dinner.” 

Another said: “Make 1990 the year The Birmingham Six are released. Not enough is being done. We want positive action so that these men, totally innocent, are released.”

“Please continue to request the British government to review the case of these prisoners,” another person wrote. “During your presidency of the European Parliament, you will have a unique opportunity to highlight the case of the Birmingham Six.”

In 1990, Ireland held the presidency of the European Community (a precursor to the EU), which rotated semi-annually between the member states. 

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In 1975, six Irishmen were sentenced to life imprisonment for the IRA Birmingham pub bombings, in which 21 people died and 182 were injured. Those men were Patrick Joseph Hill, Richard McIlkenny, Gerard Hunter, William Power, Hugh Callaghan and John Walker.

Following a number of allegations of misconduct by the West Midlands Police, in March 1991 the men won a court appeal after initial forensic evidence that had indicated two of the six men had handled explosives was discounted.

The judge called the convictions “unsafe and unsatisfactory”, and all six men were released and financially compensated.

In a yellow card from Maggie McIlkenny, the daughter of Dick McIlkenny, she wrote the following message to Haughey and attached a poem written by her father in prison:

“On behalf of the Birmingham Six and their families, I would like to wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

“This will be the 16th Christmas that my father Dick McIlkenny and the five men will spend imprisoned for a crime that they did not commit.

“PLEASE think of them this Christmas, and help us in any way you can.”

The poem written by Dick McIlkenny, who died of cancer in May 2006, begins with the line “What price justice for the innocents”:

IMG_1715 The National Archives / State Papers The National Archives / State Papers / State Papers

About 1989

The year 1989 was an unstable one in Irish politics: efforts were being made by the UK and Irish authorities to stabilise Northern Ireland, which was still almost decade away from the Good Friday Agreement.

There was a spike in violent incidents against UK forces in Northern Ireland in the previous year – meaning the total of British Army deaths in 1988 was the highest since 1974. In 1989, ten thousand people marched in Dublin calling for British withdrawal from Northern Ireland.

In June, Charles Haughey resigned as Taoiseach, but remained in the role as a caretaker pending elections.

Margaret Thatcher was in her second last year of an 11-year tenure as British Prime Minister, and Ronald Reagan left the White House in January 1989 to make way for George Bush as US President. 

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