The Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six rounded on Charles Haughey for not publicly declaring their innocence or doing more to seek their release, confidential correspondence just released into the National Archives shows.
In a handwritten letter penned from HM Prison Gartree , Paddy Joe Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, pleads with the taoiseach to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“This you have refused to do – stating that under article 25 of the [European] convention [of Human Rights], you could not HELP us!” wrote Hill in the letter, dated July 25th, 1989.
“I would like to remind you what you said about us whilst in opposition.
“I now ask you to take the case of the Birmingham Six to the European Court of Human rights, under article 28. There is absolutely NOTHING preventing the Irish government from doing this and I ask that you do this as soon as possible.”
Hill went on to thank the Irish government for asking for an investigation into the West Midlands Police. "This is the first positive thing you have done done for us, the B'ham Six," he added.
Responding around four months later in November that year, Haughey’s private secretary told Hill the government consistently expressed “deepest concern” about the case and “raised it directly with British authorities on a number of occasions”.
Haughey had also urged British authorities to undertake a complete review of the Birmingham Six case following disclosures relating to the Guildford Four, he wrote.
While he fully understood a decision by the Six to petition the European Commission of Human Rights, "as far as a possible Government initiative in this area is concerned, they believe that the best route forward, at least at present, is for them to continue to press for the reopening of the case by the Home Secretary, as happened in the Guildford Four case.
Deep concern about your case
“Every possible appropriate opportunity will be availed of to underline the Government’s continuing and deep concern about your case,” Haughey’s private secretary added.
Earlier that year, former tánaiste Peter Barry visited Hill and two of the Guildford Four – Gerry Conlon and Paddy Armstrong – in prison.
According to notes written up by an Irish diplomat after the visit in January, Hill complained there had been no interest shown in their case either by the Irish embassy in London or the Irish government until after Granada TV World in Action programme broadcast in 1985, which cast doubt on their convictions.
Barry responded that such a view could be argued but the government was “maintaining an interest now”.
Hill said what they wanted was a statement from the taoiseach that they were innocent.
The notes show he complained of “being all wound up, like being on a tightrope and exploding with little provocation”.
They add: “He has difficulty at time in sleeping and paces his cell in the early hours of the morning. He again referred to going on hunger strike at the end of the year.”
Gerard Hunter, another of the Birmingham Six, was "totally paranoid, accusing Armstrong of trying to poison him and Hill of conspiring with [solicitor] Gareth Pierce to keep him in prison while Hill himself got out".
“Hunter badly needed medical attention,” according to the notes.
During the visit, Conlon told Barry he was “dismayed” that he was still in prison after 14 years “and could not understand why the taoiseach or tánaiste could not issue a statement declaring the Government’s belief in their innocence”.
The Guildford Four were released later that year, while the Birmingham Six spent another two years in jail.