Full transcript of speech
Gerry Conlon delivered this speech at a solidarity meeting for Chelsea Manning during a visit to Dublin by members of Chelsea’s Welsh-Irish family in November 2013.
First of all, you know I think it’s a great cause to support, and in the past when ourselves and the Birmingham Six were in prison we needed the help of people we didn’t know, and it’s wonderful to see so many people attending this meeting about a case that’s thousands of miles away.
And it’s a bit ironic standing here tonight because 39 years tomorrow morning I was kidnapped from my bed by soldiers with greasepaint on their faces, dragged from my bed, handcuffed and taken to the police station and tortured. I was then hooded and handcuffed and flown to a foreign country – England – and tortured again, and in a period of seven days the British Government – and I don’t say the British police, I say the British Government – Roy Jenkins in particular, Merlyn Rees as well – one of those two signed a form to give immunity to the police who were allowed to torture us.
And I mean torture – to be held naked, to have Alsatian dogs set upon you, to be taken out naked to country lanes, hooded, handcuffed, the hood taken off and told to open your mouth, and when I shook my head they hit me in the head with a revolver and I went ‘Oh!’ and they stuck the gun in my mouth, pulled the hammer back, and pulled the trigger.
This is what they did! This is what they were allowed to do! This is why no policeman has ever been convicted of – not just framing the Guildford 4, the Maguire 7, and the Birmingham 6 – but any innocent prisoner.
And then we were taken before a judge and the outcome was already decided; the only thing that was in the balance was the length of time we would get. And Donaldson, on 22nd Oct 1975, when we were found guilty of a crime we didn’t commit, said that he wanted to know from the Home Secretary why the proper legislation was no longer on the statute book – why hanging wasn’t available as a sentence to him.
And he looked at us; myself, Carole Richardson… who’s now dead by the way. Carole died last year, 55 yrs of age, several breakdowns in prison, being administered mind-altering drugs, came out to a world she didn’t understand, confused, went to live with her lawyer, Alastair Logan (I went to live with Gareth). And she went into Guildford one day and the people in Guildford came up to her and expressed their sorrow and horror and pain at what had happened to her, and she couldn’t take it. And she went back and she decided that she didn’t want to go out and be recognised again. So she ate herself to 22 stone and was still taking psychotic drugs from the legacy of the horror she went through in prison.
And in my head I still hear Carole’s screams on the 22nd Oct when they dragged her down the stairs and could hear her feet being dragged along the corridor by male screws, and the whimpering of her and the howls of her, and then the doors opening and them going in and administering an injection to her to calm her down – Carole was never the same. Carole’s dead now. Dicky McIlkenny of the Birmingham 6 is dead now. Pat Malloy out of the Bridgewater 4 is dead now. Innocent people railroaded to jail on the back of what they were allowed to do to innocent Irish people. And they wanted to hang us!
But I knew, I always knew I was going to get released. Because I shouldn’t have been there! I didn’t deserve to be there! I’d done nothing except be Irish. And when they released me, my fathers words were burning into my brain. The last time I’d seen my father alive was Friday 18th of January 1980 when they took me out – McNulty and Saunders; Saunders being the the security screw at Wormwood Scrubs – and I was taken up to the room he was in. And it was full of people in suits, the corridor was full of people – policemen in uniform with guns – and him reaching out to hold my hand and trying to pull the oxygen mask off his face, and him saying to me:
“I’m dying – you’re never going to see me again. But don’t be worrying – my death’s going to be the key that opens the door to your cell, that gets you out. And when you get out, you go out the front door because you remember they put us in the back door.”
And that’s what I did; I went out, and burning in my brain was Paddy Hill who lived in the cell across from me in Gartree for the last two years of my sentence. Paddy used to do marquetry and every night he would be sanding it and varnishing and I often wondered – was he doing the sanding and varnishing to cover the tears and the whimpering of missing his family? And Paddy came out and we fought for other innocent people because innocent people fought for us. And Paddy set up MOJO – the miscarriage of justice organisation – a funky name that resonated with people, and he set it up out of his own compensation. And Paddy’s on the dole, and hes not well; he’s just come out of hospital with a prostate operation.
And me and Paddy went… because we haven’t let this go, because we haven’t had justice; Tony Blair apologised in 2005; on Tuesday the 9th Feb, but did he mean it? No! It was electioneering; it was to get Irish votes in England; that’s what it was about… but we met Maria Eagle who was the undersecretary to Jack Straw at the Ministry of Justice, on Fri 17th Dec 2007, with Mark Durgan, Willie Rennie, Harry Cohen and John Hemming – a cross party delegation of MPs – and she came out of the side door and she went over to me and Paddy and she started crying. And she said “I’ve been in the back room reading your files; yous were not a miscarriage of justice, yous was something else.”
We always knew we were something else! This wasn’t a mistake; this was deliberate policy by the British Government in order to stop a murderous campaign in England by the IRA. In 1994, after the Royal Commission into the Birmingham 6 convictions, Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, ordered the government to put a 75 year Public Interest Immunity Order on our case – Public Interest Immunity Order; the Official Secrets Act; the only criminal cases in British history to have this Official Secrets Act on it. Why? To protect the people who made their names on it!
And let me tell you who they are – Michael Havers, who prosecuted us. Who withheld evidence. Who sat on forensic evidence that could have cleared the Maguires and my father. Thatcher made him Attorney General and then Lord Chancellor. Imbert – the policeman who was the negotiator between the Balcombe St and the Special Branch – he was a run of the mill detective sergeant! He organised the perjury! They made him head of the Metropolitan Police! Thatcher knighted him and Blair made him a lord, and when he was made a lord, Blair also offered Gareth Peirce an OBE for her services to justice. And when Gareth heard that Imbert was having an investiture at the same time, she turned it down.
And Donaldson…the judge who tried me and then three months later tried my father and as soon as the jury was sworn in said to the jury ‘you’re gonna hear the name Conlon running through this trial; that’s because the man sitting at the end is Guiseppe Conlon, the father of the Guildford pub bomber who I sentenced to life plus 30 yrs three months ago.’ How was my father ever going to get a fair trial?
But I’ll tell you what; I wish there had’ve been a Julian Assange, an Edward Snowden, a Bradley Manning around when we were in jail to get unearthed the papers that the government are holding and refusing to let the public see! I wish there was a Bradley Manning around then. And what has Bradley Manning done? Bradley Manning’s kept the contract between the people and himself – because us as people elect politicians that go into power on our behalf; to enrich our lives, to keep us safer, and to give us better economic conditions. We don’t elect them to get into bed with oil companies! We don’t elect them to get into bed with the likes of Cheney’s Halliburton and all the rest! And we don’t elect them to bail out the bankers! We needed a Bradley Manning here when the Anglo Irish Bank was collapsing and people were being taxed to death and having to dig them out of a hole! That’s what we needed!
And you’ve got to ask yourself: are we richer and wiser because of what Bradley Manning did? You bet your arse we are! And are we more informed about making choices when the next election comes up as to the dirty deeds that are done dirt cheap by politicians and bankers and oil companies? I would think we are!
I’ve spoken in Australia about Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, and I was recently in New York speaking to different groups – Irish groups mainly; the AOH [Ancient Order of Hibernians] and other concerned groups. And we don’t have to look far to see where the dripfeed of information is coming in relation to the cases of collusion and murder in the north of Ireland. The Pat Finucane Centre is getting hold of relevant information that’s helping families understand why their loved ones were murdered and who they were murdered by. We’ve Rosemary Nelson murdered. We’ve Pat Finucane murdered; if we’d have had a Bradley Manning, a Julian Assange, an Edward Snowden, the people in Derry would have known, and the soldiers who murdered them would have been put on trial a long time ago. The victims of the Ballymurphy massacre – they would have known. And the people of Kingsmill, whose families were murdered by the IRA, would know who was involved in it. We would have a clearer picture of who attacked Monaghan and Dublin.
But what Bradley Manning did was expose the horror of what governments expect their children – their sons and daughters – to do on their behalf. The pretext of going to war to liberate people, who the ally is now the enemy and the enemy is now the ally – was referred to Abu Ghraib – the hooded men. We all need to be aware of what is being done in our name! Because it’s not my name they’re doing it in! I didn’t vote for a politician to take me to war, or to take my country to war, or to send young men and women to war to be blown up and shot, some of them coming back without limbs, some of them coming back so traumatised that they become outside of society. That’s not what you get politicians into power for!
We have to stand up and tell them: You represent us, not big business, not PennyMac, not mortgage companies, not JP Morgan, not Chase America! We need them to enrich our life, not destroy our lives! We need people who go into the army to go into the army as a career, not because there’s no jobs!
You know, at times like this people are sitting in cells across the world – Shaker Aamer in Guantanamo, Bradley Manning in Kansas – and they can’t hear our voices. But if we talk about it and debate it and encourage others to become part of it, they will hear our voice! And not only will they hear our voice, but the politicians will hear our voice! It was people power that got the Guildford 4, the Birmingham 6 out of jail, and it’s been people power that’s got everybody else out of jail. Politicians are there to represent us, not to talk down to us, because if they talk down to us, we have the choice never to elect them again. We need them to fulfill the contract that they make with us. We need to hold them to that contract.
And I’d just like to say, I could’ve been hung for something I didn’t do. And thank God that capital punishment is no longer in existence in England! And as I was coming through Belfast city centre today, at Castle Court there was one of the security people who was searching cars going into it, and he was saying to the motorists: “My idea is if we made an example of a few of these people and hung them we’d soon stop it all.”
It didn’t stop it all when they tried to hang us.
Thank you very much.
Thanks to Lindi Carter for transcript.