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Charlie Haughey was urged to pressure 'British arrogance' over Birmingham Six and Guildford Four

The convictions of the nine men and one women were ultimately quashed.

Taoiseach Charlie Haughey and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Taoiseach Charlie Haughey and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Image: PA Images

TAOISEACH CHARLIE HAUGHEY was urged to “keep the pressure on the British” as part of numerous letters he received about the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases in the 1980s.

Details of correspondence and government briefings on the high-profile cases have been released to the National Archives as part of the 30-year rule.

The documents show that the government of the day was keen to inform campaigners that it was “very active” in the cases due to the possibility that they constituted a miscarriage of justice.

In both cases, those convicted of carrying out IRA bombings saw their convictions quashed and declared unsatisfactory after serving between 15 to 16 years in jail.

The Guildford Four were freed in 1989 and the Birmingham Six were released in 1991.

Three years beforehand in 1988, the British Court of Appeal had ruled that the convictions in the case of the Birmingham Six were safe and that a full appeal was not needed.

Following this decision, the Irish government released a statement emphasising its “great regret and disappointment”.

“Today’s judgement has not removed the serious concern which has been consistently expressed by the government, and conveyed by them to the British authorities, that there may have been a miscarriage of justice in these cases,” the government said following the court’s decision.

The decision also prompted a deluge of letters to the then-taoiseach in support of the nine women and one man.

“I am a 35-year-old middle-class Dublin woman. I am also a secondary school teacher. I have never been very active politically. I am writing because I feel that it is totally unacceptable to me as an Irishwoman to be treated in this way by the English,” Helen Jones wrote to the Taoiseach.

I refer to the English legal system which will never behave fairly in regard to the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four. We must not accept this British arrogance any longer. Enough is enough.

Patrick McIlkenny, a family member of one of the Birmingham Six, wrote:

My only plea to you now Mr Haughey, is that you don’t let your interest in this case wane. Please keep the pressure on the British, as it is the only way we can ever hope to have these unfortunate men released.

The Birmingham Six Paddy Hill speaks to the crowds gathered outside the Old Bailey after the Birmingham Six were released. Source: PA Archive/PA Images


The Taoiseach also met with Marian Hill, the wife of Paul Hill of the Guildford Four, in New York in mid-1988.

A briefing document prepared for the Taoiseach ahead of the meeting informed him that she was an American citizen named Marian Serravalli who had married Hill while he remained incarcerated in Long Lartin Prison earlier that year.

The document stated that their relationship had developed through “correspondence and occasional meetings”.

“Mrs. Hill is likely to raise the conditions under which Hill is being held in Britain. He has been moved on a number of occasions to different prisons throughout Britain at short notice,” the document states.

“During his imprisonment he has spent a large amount of time in solitary confinement (Mrs. Hill claims up to 1,623 days ) and is currently in solitary confinement.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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