Former president of Friends of Sinn Féin dies in New York

Ex-US army judge Jim Cullen served as Sinn Féin’s legal representative in the US

A well-known political and human rights activist, Jim Cullen served as Sinn Féin’s legal representative in the US and took over as president of Friends of Sinn Féin in 2012. He stepped down from the role this year. File photograph: Simon Carswell

A well-known political and human rights activist, Jim Cullen served as Sinn Féin’s legal representative in the US and took over as president of Friends of Sinn Féin in 2012. He stepped down from the role this year. File photograph: Simon Carswell

 

The death has taken place of Jim Cullen, a former president of Friends of Sinn Féin, the political party’s US organisation, and a prominent member of the Irish-American community in New York.

Mr Cullen, a former US army general and human rights lawyer who campaigned for causes in Northern Ireland, died at his home in New York on Friday night. He was in his 70s.

A well-known political and human rights activist, he served as Sinn Féin’s legal representative in the US and took over as president of Friends of Sinn Féin in 2012. He stepped down from the role this year.

He has made a huge contribution to the promotion of human and civil rights in America, Ireland and indeed around the world

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams led the tributes to the Irish-American, praising his work as a human rights lawyer and his defence of Irish republicans in “landmark cases in America”. Mr Cullen was involved in the defence teams supporting former IRA members Dessie Mackin and Joe Doherty in US legal cases.

‘Huge contribution’

“He has made a huge contribution to the promotion of human and civil rights in America, Ireland and indeed around the world,” said Mr Adams.

Friends of Sinn Féin said in a tweet that Mr Cullen “became a human rights lawyer who was determined that the truth about what was happening in the North of Ireland was heard in America”.

Born in New York City to a Sligo father and an Offaly mother, Mr Cullen joined the US army as a private in 1969 after graduating from law school. He was appointed to the army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, the branch of the US armed forces that deals with military justice and law.

While in the army, he represented a chaplain in the investigation into whether there had been a cover-up of the My Lai massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese villagers by US soldiers in March 1968.

Mr Cullen was later promoted to brigadier-general and chief judge of the US army court of criminal appeals. He retired from the US army in 1996 and joined New York law firm Anderson Kill.

Jim Cullen was a righteous man of rare integrity who worked ceaselessly to make the world a better place for all

He was an adviser to Human Rights First, a group that organised retired generals and admirals to speak out against George W Bush administration’s use of torture in interrogations and detentions.

Irish republican cause

The former one-star general was drawn to the Irish republican cause after a visit to Northern Ireland in 1969 when he witnessed how local people were mistreated by the RUC in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

He was the first president of the Brehon Law Society, a group set up by US attorneys of Irish ancestry, and worked with Irish-American lawyers Paul O’Dwyer and Frank Durkan on Irish republican cases.

He testified before the US Congress on the 1989 loyalist murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane and assisted in the inquiry into the loyalist killing of another Northern Irish solicitor, Rosemary Nelson, in 1999.

“Jim Cullen was a righteous man of rare integrity who worked ceaselessly to make the world a better place for all,” said the Irish American Unity Conference, a US-based human rights group.