Joe O’Connell’s Speech From The Dock And British Torture

On the day three Kenyans successfully fought for the right to force the full trial over their torture at the hands of British state it is worth recalling Joe O’Connell’s speech from the dock at the end of his and his comrades, Hugh Doherty, Eddie Butler and Harry Duggan, trial. During the speech he explicitly mentions British state torture in Kenya and other places as he tears into imperialism and its apologists. During the speech O’Connell also declared the innocence of Carole Richardson, Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill and Paddy Armstrong. The speech had such an effect on the jury that they asked for a typed copy of it to assist their deliberations. The judge refused their requests. 

Joe O’Connell and his comrades would serve 23 years in English jails and became known as ‘our Nelson Mandela’s’. They were transferred back to Ireland in 1998 and 107 Cowgate was present at the 1998 Ard Fheis when the four men appeared on stage to a standing ovation. They were finally released in 1999. Below is an extract from the speech delivered at the trial in January 1977.

Members of the Jury: There has been an attempt by this court to isolate certain incidents which have been called ‘crimes’. These incidents have been put completely outside the context in which they occurred in a way that is neither just nor consistent with the truth. The true context is that of the relationship between this country and our country – Ireland. That relationship is one of a state of war against the occupation of Ireland by Britain.
No mention has been made in this court of the violence suffered by the Irish people; of the use of internment without charge or 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 of the brutalities of British colonial rule. The judge has attempted to restrict the reference to bombings and shootings to ‘terrorist’ offenses. We would like to ask the judge whether the bombing of Hiroshima or Dresden were terrorists offenses? Whether the torture carried out by British soldiers in Aden and Cyprus and Hola Camp, Kenya were acts of terrorism? Whether the British were guilty of terrorism when they forced thousands of civilians into concentration camps in South Africa where thousands of them died?

We say that no representative of British imperialism is fit to pass judgment on us, for this government carried out acts of terrorism in order to defend British imperialism and continues to do so in Ireland. We have struggled to free our country from British rule. We are patriots. British soldiers in Northern Ireland are mercenaries of British imperialism. Yet none of them has ever been convicted for the murders of unarmed civilians which they had committed in Ireland. We ask the members of the jury to consider this paradox. We are all four Irish Republicans. We have recognised this court to the extent that we have instructed our lawyers to draw the attention of the court to the fact that four totally innocent people – Carole Richardson, Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill and Paddy Armstrong – are serving massive sentences for three bombings, two in Guildford and one in Woolwich, which three of us and another man now imprisoned, have admitted that we did.
The Director of Public Prosecutions was made aware of these admissions in December, 1975 and has chosen to do nothing. We wonder if he will still do nothing when he is made aware of the new and important evidence which has come to light through the cross examination by our council of certain prosecution witnesses in this trial. The evidence of Higgs [principle scientific officer for the Crown in the Guildford trial] and Lidstone [forensic scientist] played a vital part in the conviction of innocent people. Higgs admitted in this trial that the Woolwich bomb formed part of a correlated series with other bombings with which we are charged. Yet when he gave evidence at the earlier Guildford and Woolwich trial he deliberately concealed that the Woolwich bomb was definitely part of a series carried out between October and December, 1974 and that the people on trial were in custody at the time of some of these bombings.

Lidstone in his evidence at this trial tried to make little of the suggestion that the Guildford bombs could have been part of the ‘Phase One’ bombings with which we were accused with the excuse, and this appeared to be his only reason, that the bombings in Guildford had occurred a long time before the rest. When it was pointed out to him that there were many clear links between Caterham and Guildford and the time between Guildford and the Brooks Club bomb with which we were originally charged was 17 days and that Woolwich occurred 16 days later, and that equal time gaps occurred between many of the incidents with which we are charged, Lidstone backtracked and admitted that there was a likely connection.

This shifty manoeuvring typifies what we, as Irish Republicans, have come to understand by the words ‘British justice’. Time and again in Irish political trials in this country innocent people have been convicted on the flimsiest evidence – often no more than extorted statements or even ‘verbals’ from the police. Despite this often repeated claim that there is no such thing as a political prisoner in England, we would like to point out that the stress laid in Irish trials on the political beliefs of the prisoners and the fact that over the last few years convicted Republicans have been subjected to extreme brutality in English prisons. This brutality has led to prisoners being severely injured like six Republicans in Albany in September last year and to the almost constant use of solitary confinement for such prisoners. It has also resulted in the deaths of three of our comrades – Michael Gaughan, Frank Stagg and Noel Jenkinson.

We do not wish to insult the members of the Jury when we say that they are not our peers. An English jury can never be the peers of Irish men and women.
We will be judged only by our countrymen. Any verdict or sentence from this court is nothing more than the continuation of the hypocrisy of British rule in Ireland and the injustice it has inflicted on our country and its people.
We admit to no ‘crimes’ and to no ‘guilt’, for the real crimes and the real guilt are those of British imperialism committed against our people.

The war against imperialism is a just war and it will go on, for true peace can only come about when a nation is free from oppression and injustice. Whether we are imprisoned or not is irrelevant for our whole nation is the prisoner of British imperialism. The British people who choose to ignore this or to swallow the lies of the British gutter press are responsible for the actions of their government unless they stand out against them.

As Volunteers in the Irish Republican Army we have fought to free our oppressed nation from its bondage to British imperialism of which this court is an integral part.

Joe O’Connell, Eddie Butler, Harry Duggan, Hugh Doherty

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