7 May 1998 Edition
Six more POWS transferred
Balcombe Street Volunteers come home
``Welcome but long overdue'' was the verdict of Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member Martin Ferris on the transfer of six republican prisoners to Ireland from Britain last Tuesday 5 May.
Harry Duggan and Joe O'Connell from Clare, Hugh Doherty from Donegal, Eddie Butler from Limerick, Paul Magee from Belfast and Liam Quinn from San Francisco left years of isolation and sub-human conditions in British Jails to await permanent release in Ireland.
In a statement Ferris said ``Today's transfer of six republicans to Ireland from Britain is welcome but long overdue. Four of these prisoners have served over 23 years and had been told prior to Christmas that they would have to serve their entire lives in Jail.
``The harsh treatment endured by these prisoners over the years has been exacerbated by the treatment of their families who on arrival from Ireland for visits were regularly told that the prison had been moved. Over this lengthy period these men were consistently denied compassionate parole''.
Ferris also stressed that ``All of the remaining political prisoners in England who wish to transfer to Ireland should be transferred pending release''.
Former Crumlin Road Gaol escaper Paul Magee gave a clenched fist salute upon hitting the tarmac at Baldonnel airport, a salute not seen in public since Bodenstown 1981. He has been incarcerated in prisons in the 26 and Six Counties as well as Britain.
The other five prisoners transferred were all members of an IRA active service unit operating in Britain in the mid 1970s. Hugh Doherty, Martin O'Connell, Eddie Butler and Harry Duggan were arrested in London's Balcombe Street in December 1975.
During their trial the four instructed their lawyers to ''draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people ''were serving ``massive sentences'' for three bombings in Woolwich and Guilford.
The British prosecution service ignored these statements and for 15 years the Guildford Four languished in British prisons.
In February 1977 Martin O'Connell spoke for the Four. He also told the court:
``No mention has been made in this court of the violence suffered by the Irish people; of the use of internment without trial in the Six Counties; of the conviction before the European Court of Human rights of the British Government for the torture of Irish people; nor the many brutalities of British colonial rule.
``We will be judged only by our countrymen. Any verdict or sentence from this court is nothing more than the continuation of the hyprocrisy of British rule in Ireland and the injustice it has inflicted on our country and its people....true peace can only come about when a nation is free from oppression and injustice.''