Human rights groups call for inquiry into Sallins train robbery trial in the 1970s

Arrests and convictions of six men over robbery in Co Kildare ‘one of the most significant miscarriages of justice in modern Irish history’

Four human rights organisations are calling for an independent inquiry into the notorious Sallins train robbery in the 1970s.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) and Fair Trials want Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to establish a statutory inquiry into what they say is one of the most significant miscarriages of justice in modern Irish history.

Six men – Osgur Breatnach, Michael Barrett, John Fitzpatrick, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally, and Michael Plunkett (deceased) – were arrested in the wake of a 1976 train robbery in Sallins, Co Kildare.

The men were tried, convicted and imprisoned as part of a convoluted saga involving the non-jury Special Criminal Court, claims of physical assault, forced confessions and a finding by the court that injuries sustained while in custody by some of the men were self-inflicted.


Some of the convictions were overturned on appeal on the basis that the only evidence available was confessions that had been made involuntarily.

In 1992, Mr Kelly received a presidential pardon and he, Mr Breatnach and Mr McNally settled compensation claims against the State in the following year.

Five of the arrested men – Mr Breatnach, Mr Kelly, Mr McNally, Mr Plunkett and Mr Fitzpatrick – were members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), but the IRA said in 1980 that it had carried out the robbery.

In a statement, the human rights organisations said the lives of the six “Sallins men” changed irrevocably when they were arrested, detained, charged, convicted and imprisoned following the robbery.

“Their case remains one of the most significant miscarriages of justice in modern Irish history. The abuse they suffered – and the continuing suffering they endure – is a violation of their human rights. To date, there has been no effective investigation into their case,” the organisations said.

The abuse inflicted on the men when in custody and accepted by other parts of the Irish criminal justice system were part of a “systemic pattern of human rights violations endemic across many years”, according to ICCL executive director Liam Herrick.

He said the truth, justice and accountability the men deserve can only be achieved by way of a fully independent statutory inquiry.

“According to international standards, states must investigate complaints and reports of torture or ill treatment,” said Verónica Hinestroza, senior legal adviser at Fair Trials. She said torture and ill-treatment violations are not subject to any statutes of limitation.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent