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19 June 1997 Edition

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Patrick Kelly - killed by British neglect

Sadness in Killenard as Pat Kelly began his last journey

Patrick Kelly was 45 on 12 April this year. Many another former republican prisoner has been released at such an age and has gone on to live a full and active life. But Pat Kelly was released to die and it was the deliberate neglect of the British Home Office which led to his death.

Hundreds of people gathered last Friday 13 April in Killenard, County Laois to sympathise with the family and friends of Pat Kelly as they brought him to his last resting place. He was buried in the family plot with his parents Elizabeth and Patrick. It was in Garryvacum, Killenard that he was born and reared. He went to the local national school. His brother Peter described him as just an ordinary lad from County Laois, a man of simple tastes. He worked from an early age on the family farm and then as a truck driver and owned his own vehcicle. He liked country music and worked in America and England.

But Patrick Kelly was also a republican and his commitment led him to volunteer for active service with the IRA. His arrest in London in November 1992 was the beginning of a long ordeal.

The ordeal came to an end on the evening of 11 June when Pat died. His partner Angela and daughter Sarah, his brothers and sisters, his friends and comrades suffered the loss. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams spoke for all republicans when he said in reaction to the death:

``Despite serious ill-health Pat never gave up and continued to provide inspiration to people everywhere, particularly all those who campaigned so strenuously for his release. His death is a sad loss to all of us.

``Pat's death highlights in the most tragic way possible the attitude of the British government to Irish Republican prisoners. Despite the British knowing for months the full extent of Pat's serious illness they refused to give him the obviously urgent medical treatment which he required and kept him in the appalling conditions of the Special Secure Unit. The callous neglect and deliberate inaction of the British government clearly contributed to his death.

``The fact that this was going on while an IRA cessation was in place is a stark example of the British government's attitude to the peace process. Pat Kelly's death gives an added urgency and impetus to the need to address the question of prisoners and their treatment, particularly those held in jails in England.''

News of Pat's death was followed by Sinn Féin protest vigils on 12 June outside Belfast City Hall and the British Embassy in Dublin and on 15 June outside Downing Street in London. Sinn Féin spokesperson on prison issues Councillor Michael Browne placed the blame for the death squarely at the door of former British Home Secretary Michael Howard: ``Had he shown the slightest degree of humanity Paddy Kelly would in all probability have made a satisfactory recovery.''

It was as a republican, a former prisoner and a family man that Pat was honoured on the day of his burial. Republicans from all over the country, including many former political prisoners, took part in the funeral. MPs Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and TD Caoimhghin O Caoláin were in attendance. The crowd followed the coffin, draped in the Tricolour and beret and gloves of an IRA Volunteer, from the church of St John the Evangelist to the grave in the adjoining churchyard. Depite prior agreements with the family to have a discreet presence there was an overbearing number of Special Branch and uniformed gardai. At least 50 detectives were counted and their cars crowded the car-park opposite the church.

Brian Stanley of Laois Sinn Féin chaired the graveside ceremony. He said people in Laois should be proud of such a republican as Pat Kelly. Among the many wreaths laid were a number from republican prisoners in jails in Ireland and Britain. The Last Post was sounded by a bugler and a piper played a lament.

Earlier that morning in another Laois town, in Portlaoise Prison, republican prisoners gathered to pay tribute to their fallen comrade. Mick O'Brien of Dublin, who shared prisons in England with Pat, delivered a tribute. Among his memories were the following:

``He was always cheerful and willing to have a `bit of craic', doing his utmost to make prison life bearable for his comrades. With new prisoners arriving, he immediately made them feel at ease. Many will fondly remember his unmistakeable Laois accent booming around the wings. He'd always cheer everyone up with his battle-cry `Lads, there's better days coming.'

``Pat was never afraid to enter into political debate with his comrades and on one memorable occasion was more than a match for Dr Mo Mowlam MP, now a British Secretary of State in the occupied Six Counties, when she had discussions with republican prisoners in England.''


Courage and determination

Funeral oration by Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty

I am very honoured to have been asked to speak here today as we pay tribute to our friend and comrade Pat Kelly. Volunteer Pat Kelly was a man who devoted his life to a vision of an Ireland free and united, with justice for all. We gather here today in pride to honour his memory and to commemorate his courage and determination in the face of tremendous odds.

On behalf of Irish Republicans everywhere, I want to extend deepest sympathy and condolences to Pat's partner Angela, to his family and to his brothers Peter, John, Paul and Anthony and sister Mary.

One week from now republicans will gather to honour Theobald Wolfe Tone, the founder of Irish republicanism. Like Wolfe Tone Pat believed in the need to break the connection with England; like Wolfe Tone he died as a result of his treatment in prison by the British government.

Among Republican activists and those who campaigned for Pat's release there was great sadness and anger on hearing the news of Pat's death on Wednesday night. Anger at a British government who delayed and prevaricated over allowing Pat Kelly access to treatment when he was in jail in England. It was this neglect and delay which led to the death of Pat Kelly this week.

In June 1992 Pat was diagnosed as suffering from skin cancer and received treatment in Ireland When he was arrested in London five months later he suffered a recurrence of the disease while on remand in Belmarsh Prison but was refused the necessary medical treatment.

He was sentenced to 25 years in a British court, and transferred to a Special Secure Unit first in Full Sutton and then Whitemoor.

At this time there was a serious deterioration in the conditions under which republican prisoners were held in English jails as a result of the repressive policies pursued by Michael Howard, the then British Home Secretary. These repressive conditions still exist today.

Although ill, Pat refused to allow himself to be degraded and he went on protest in Whitemoor where his condition continued to deteriorate and proper medical attention continued to be refused. For almost two years after his cancer reappeared Pat was not allowed attend a doctor qualified to treat him. It was only after a long, highly public, worldwide campaign, which included the Irish government, the British government in August 1995 allowed Pat to be transferred to hospital for surgery.

When Pat was finally operated on in Peterborough General Hospital, he was chained to a Prison Warder during his entire time there. Within days of the operation he was moved to the medical wing at Whitemoor and then quickly to the Special Secure Unit. Here he was placed on punishment in a cell that had only a mattress and no heating, sanitation or water. He was locked up for 23 hours a day and was refused reading material or a radio.

In December 1995 when it was clear that Pat was terminally ill, the British government allowed his transfer to Maghaberry Prison. It was while he was in hospital in Belfast that myself and Martin McGuinness first met with Pat. A year earlier I had tried to see him when I was visiting republican prisoners in Full Sutton jail. While I did meet with Michael O'Brien and other prisoners the prison authorities refused to allow me to see Pat. On that day they spoke of the courage, suffering and determination of Pat Kelly.

It was some months later (October) when he arrived in Portlaoise that I met with Pat for the last time. On that day I arrived to find out how he was and all he wanted to do was to talk about the republican prisoners who were still in English jails and what was happening in the peace process. He remained there until the Irish government gave him temporary release for urgent medical treatment. The temporary release also allowed him to spend some time with Angela, his young daughter and family, something he had spoke of at some length while in England.

Here in Laois today we lay to rest a good Irish patriot whose life was dedicated to the people. He was a life long republican who showed courage and determination in everything he did. He devoted his entire life to the establishment of an independent Ireland because he believed, as we all do, that only by the removal of the British government and partition can the people of Ireland live in a just and equal society.

His family can be proud of him. And we, his Republican comrades, his friends from all walks of life, from all parts of this country and beyond are proud to have known and loved him.

Slán, Pat, rest in peace. We will continue the struggle for freedom, justice, peace and equality.


Statement from the Family of Paddy Kelly

12th June 1997
It is with great sadness that we the family of Paddy Kelly announce that Paddy died at his home in Portarlington at 9.15 last night [11 June]. Paddy suffered a long illness exacerbated by the official neglect of the British government, in the person of the Home Secretary Michael Howard, while Paddy was held as a Republican Prisoner in Britain.

Paddy was diagnosed as suffering from cancer while on remand in Belmarsh Prison. He was denied proper medical attention by the Home Office. Had Paddy received proper medical attention at that time he would be alive today. A British Court may have sentenced Paddy to twenty five years, but it was the Home Office, and in particular Michael Howard, who sentenced him to death. Michael Howard may have killed Paddy's body but he will never kill his spirit which remains with us today in his love for his country.

As a family we will always remember the courage shown by paddy throughout his illness, and the kindness and help given by many people who came to know him. We want to thank all those people who campaigned so hard for his release. We also wish to extend heartfelt thanks to the Staff of the Mater Hospital, the Staff of St Luke's Hospital, the Staff of the City Hospital Belfast, the local nursing and medical staff here in Portarlington, and Dr Shah from Canada who tried so hard to save Paddy's life. These people could not have been more helpful.

We would also like to extend heartfelt thanks to all of Paddy's comrades both inside and outside of prison and the many friends, neighbours and supporters who showed such help, support and kindness. Paddy's sufferings is now over. As a family we will remember his courage, his sense of humour and his strength of will.

Codladh samh a Phadraig. Fanfaidh tú inár gcuimhne go deo.


Issued on behalf of Paddy Kelly's partner Angela.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1