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The Sallins Case – a Timeline


1973-1977: Fine Gael/Labour Coalition in power:

(Garda Commissioner: Ned Garvey: Sep 1975 - Jan 1978)

1978-1983: Fianna Fáil in power

(Garda Commissioner: Patrick McLaughlin)

The Court Cases 


Trial No. 1 District Court: 

8th April 1976 – 9th Dec 1976                   245 Days 

Trial No. 2 Special Criminal Court: 

19th Jan 1978   

Trial No. 3 (Trial within a trial)

-16th June 1978                                              65 Days 

Trial No. 4  (New trial)                                  

10th Oct 1978                   

Trial No. 5 (Trial within a trial)                     

– 13th Dec 1978                                             51 Days 


Legal representation

Trial 1:

Accuseds' Solicitors: Dudley Potter, Garret Sheehan (now retired Judge)

Trials  2 -4: 

Accuseds' Solicitors: Pat McCartan (now retired Judge) and Michael White


Accuseds' Counsel:  Paddy McEntee, S.C. (Breatnach + Plunkett)

                                         Seamus Sorohan, S.C. (RIP) (McNally & Kelly)

                                         Anthony Sammon Jnr B.L.

                                        James Connolly Heron B. L.

                                         Martin Giblin B.L. (now S.C.)

Prosecution:              Noel McDonald, S.C. (RIP) + Robert Barr S.C. (RIP Judge) +                                            Kevin Haugh, B.L. (RIP Judge)

Civil Action for inter alia, Damages

Solicitor: Greg O'Neill (retired) 

Counsel: Barry White, (retired Judge)+ Paul Carney (RIP Judge)

Maurice Gaffney SC (RIP)

Anthony Sammon, Jnr B.L. (now SC)



31 Mar, 1976: Dublin to Cork Mail Train Robbery near Hazelhatch, Co. Kildare                                   near Sallins, called by the media the “Sallins Mail Train Robbery”.​

4 Apr,1976        Gardaí arrest circa 40 people (members, supporters                                                      and family of members of the IRSP- a registered, legal political

                            party. This is the biggest round up of suspects since WW2.

The uncorroborated ‘suspects’ list is supplied by Inspector Ned Ryan who is leading the investigation.


Not on any arrest list, Osgur, a journalist, is kidnapped at 13.30 pm and repeats request for his solicitor and his interview to be in his native tongue-Irish. Remains in custody from 14:00 pm – 20:00 pm on the 6th April when he is   

interviewed in Irish by two guards. Legal access is denied and told he has

               ‘no fucking rights under the Offences Against the

               State Act’.

In another interview he is informed

               ‘no one will want to join your party by the time we

                are finished with you’.

His detention is extended to 48hr. Legal representation to all suspects denied by Gardai.

7 Apr,1976     After 11 suspects have been torture in police custody,             

                           Kelly, McNally & Fitzpatrick sign false incriminating

                           statements (but not Plunkett) dictated by Gardai. These

                           statements ‘confirm’ a Garda list of suspects that alleges

                           all their participation in the robbery.


At 05.20 a.m. Osgur is tortured in an underground tunnel,

which goes from the jail section to the Bridewell Garda

Station to the nearby Bridewell District Courts.

He is then brought to a locker room where other Gardai

join in further torture. Osgur signs false dictated

statement incriminating himself alone.


                      Different gardai then stay with Osgur and falsely

                      allege verbal admissions. Osgur is returned to his cell.


                     Osgur considers suicide in his cell but after seeing his solr.,

                     he is released. As he walks out of the Bridewell he is re-

                     arrested – his fifth consecutive detention.

                     Osgur's father telephones GP Dr. Noel Smith to examine

                     Osgur. A Habeas Corpus application to High Court judge

                     Hamilton J., is made to produce Osgur in Court.

                     GP Dr. Smith declares Breatnach is “severely ill” and

                     possibly suffering from concussion.

                          Court directs Osgur’s transfer to Richmond Hospital.



Now there are 6:



7 Apr,1976   McNally, Kelly, Fitzpatrick + Plunkett are brought to  

                     Bridewell’s District Court to be tried by jury and formally

                     charged with “conspiracy to commit armed robbery and

                     steal IR£221,000”:


                     Plunkett rips open shirt pointing to injuries and shouts                 

                     he was beaten. Judge tells him to raise the allegations

                     elsewhere and remands them back to Bridewell on garda



                     Contrary to Prison Rules they are detained together.  

                     Gardai subsequently state all injuries must have been

                     inflicted while they were together.

                     Breatnach is seen by three more Drs., in Hospital. Others

                     also seen by Drs.

8 Apr,1976        Breatnach illegally arrested on way back to High Court                   

                          from hospital.


                          Aidan Browne B.L. represents the Director of Public

                          Prosecutions (DPP) and later gives evidence that the

                          High Court appearance of Breatnach was like those of the

                         tortured Hooded Men whose case the Irish Government had

                         taken against Britain in the European Court!


                          Breatnach is released by High Court without any objection

                          by the State.

                          Outside the court, Gardai re-arrested and charge Osgur.

                          He is remanded with the rest to Mountjoy Prison this

                          time and examined by a Dr. there.

8 Apr,1976        All five accused are transferred to Portlaoise prison and

                          medically examined again.


9 Apr,1976        Michael Barrett arrested (he was named in Fitzpatrick’s

                          statement but both he and Fitzpatrick had the solid alibi of

                          being with other witnesses).


                          The foundation of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties by,

                          amongst others, Law lecturers Kadar Asmal and future

                          Irish President Mary Robinson, is driven by the Sallins





On obtaining a reduced bail, from tens of thousands to one thousand, some weeks later, (-now that the bruises had disappeared), a large number of Civil Cases for assault and battery etc were announced by those tortured.


Nov,1976          The Court of Criminal Appeal in the “Madden” Case

                          directs that Appeal Courts should usually accept as a

                          finding of fact anything decided by the Special Criminal

                          Court (SCC) to be a fact.


Now there are none

8 Dec,1976       O’hUadhaigh J., in the District Court throws out DPP Case    

                          against Breatnach and all the others on the grounds of       

                          failure to present any evidence.


​ But now there are 4 again:


17 Dec,1976     Breatnach, NcNally, Plunkett, and Kelly re-arrested:

                     Barrett not re-arrested. Fitzpatrick declared “missing”.

                     All Four accused brought before the juryless Special

                     Criminal Court and formally charged with “stopping the

                     train with intent of stealing mail bags” and each granted

                     low bail.


Feb,1977           Front page Irish Times exposé reveals existence of “Garda

                          Heavy Gang” and extensive ill-treatment of prisoners.

June,1977         Amnesty International sends observers to Ireland and

                          issues report expressing great concern and mentions the

                          matter of garda torture and malpractice in the Special

                          Criminal Court in its 1977 World Report seeking an

                          impartial Inquiry.

                          Fianna Fáil (FF) win landslide general election victory

                          committing to inquiry.

                          In government, an impartial Inquiry is rejected by FF. A  

                          three-man committee, chaired by Barra O’Briain J., is

                          established to recommend future safeguards.

                          All its recommendations are subsequently rejected by    





19 Jan,1978      Judges James McMahon (High Court),

                          John O’Connor (Circuit) and John Garavan (District).


Feb,1978           Hibernia journalist Niall Kiely reports ‘judge O’Connor J.,

                         nodding off’ on 10th., day of Trial and wrote about same

                         on 03/02/1978 – nothing happens

                         Dublin architect and Fine Gael member, Martin Reynolds,

                         observes the same on the 06/02/1978 (see pages 139

                         Blind Justice.)


15 Apr,1978      Sunday Independent reports a Belgian lawyer has the

                          names of most of the Heavy Gang members and reports

                          ‘...we get special pay..unless we are ordered to stop .. we

                          we will continue...’


26 Apr,1978      On the 50th., day of the Trial, Defence SCs Sorohan and         

                          McEntee asks the Court to discharge itself on the sleeping 

                          judge issue.

                          Court adjourns to back room, returns and refuses

                          application stating the court is fit to continue. It

                          ignores the sleeping judge issue.


                          The evidence of 3 judges hold more sway than 4

                          defendants, two Senior Counsel, an architect and a

                          journalist. The court turns Art 40 (1) of the Irish

                          Constitution on its head: ‘All citizens shall as human

                          persons be held equal before the law.’


28 Apr,1978    Next day, eight Affidavits (of the 4 accused, architect

                          Reynolds, Journalist Kiely, and defence solicitors

                          McCartan and White) swear affidavits to the High Court

                          about observing ‘sleeping judge.’


  High Court President, Finlay J., refuses Application. Court

  ‘feels bound by the finding of fact’ that the SCC court ruled

  that there was no sleeping judge.


4 May,1978       Accused appeal to Supreme Court. Judges O’Higgins,

                          C.J.,Henchy J., Griffin J., Kenny J., and Weldon Parke.

                          Court demands the Affidavits of the Solicitors be withdrawn                                      “immediately.” They further denounce Reynold’s Affidavit.


                          Their Judgment finds ‘the length of delay in making the

                          application is reason enough to deny the appeal… Court  

                          feels bound by the “finding of fact”.

                          Nine judges have now ruled that sleeping Judge O’Connor    

                          J., is following all the evidence in due discharge of his



5 May,1978       Plunkett shouts in court that O’Connor J., is asleep.

                          Nothing happens.


6 May,1978       Hibernia reporter Kiely reports that O’Connor is asleep.

                          Nothing happens.


May,1978       Garda Review editorial (published by the Garda 

                          Representative Association) alleges Garda Commissioner  

                          misleading public. Commissioner moves to indict the entire  

                          editorial board.

                          Concerned Gardai send a delegation to Garret Fitzgerald  

                          who went to the Taoiseach/ Prime Minister. The complaints 

                          about the Heavy Gang are brushed aside.


June 1978        Trial now the longest in Irish criminal history.


6 June 1978    Judge O’Connor J., dies while preparing to go to Court.


                         State spent estimated IR£500,000 on the 2nd trial.



Oct 10, 1978     Judges Liam Hamilton (High Court),

                          Gerard Clarke (Circuit Court) and Cathal Ó Floinn

                          (District Court)


                          Three accused (Breatnach, McNally, Plunkett) plead not

                          guilty again and blame Inspector Ned Ryan’s Heavy Gang

                          and plead a State conspiracy:

                          Evidence is given by 50 plus gardai, Drs., and the accused.


                          Garda Commissioner Ned Garvey is sacked amid

                          controversy that he was working with British Intelligence.


Oct 11, 1978     State witness claims Detective wrote statement in her

                          name ‘identifying’ Plunkett. She denies identifying Plunkett.

                          The court acquits Plunkett.


Now there are 3




As the case against McNally commences it digresses to a ‘trial within

a trial’ to determine if the statements signed by the three accused should be admitted in evidence. All accused give evidence of being refused solicitors, of being oppressed and tortured and supply medical evidence to the fact.

26 Oct, 1978:    Breatnach gives evidence of torture and that he

                          contemplated hanging himself to escape his tortures who

                          wanted him to implicate innocent people.


                          Aidan Browne, barrister for the Director of Public

                          Prosecutions gives evidence in support of Osgur, as do


10 Nov,1978:    Kelly gives evidence of torture.


27 Nov,1978     Submissions conclude on 33rd., day of ‘Trial within a Trial’                      

                          (31days of evidence).


Ruling on ‘Trial within a trial’


1 Dec, 1978        The court rules that

  • All the statements made by accused were made voluntarily

  • No torture took place by the gardaí

  • All injuries were self- inflicted or inflicted with the assistance of other co-accused.


                           Defence Counsel admonished in Court for expressing                  

                           surprise at the court’s “reasoning”! Written Ruling refused!


4 Dec, 1978      Trial “proper” commences with opportunity to cross-

                          examine witnesses again: McNally & Kelly give evidence

                          Breatnach believes, as always, that they will be

                          convicted and refuses to take the stand to repeat his       



9 Dec,1978      Kelly does not appear in court. His whereabouts are

                         unknown. Court decides to, uniquely, try him in abstentia.





 Process of Appeals commence. 17-month delay in preparing trial  

 transcripts.. ‘as photocopying machine broken.’

 My brother, Caoilte, escalates international campaign to release men and clear their names. Worldwide human rights groups (eg Amnesty International, International Commision of Jurists..) contacted.


27 April 1980 I.R.A. publicly admits responsibility for the robbery,                        declaring those convicted all innocent.


12 May, 1980   McNally’s and Breatnach’s Appeals take place before the

                         Court of Criminal Appeal (Judges Tom Finlay, Donal

                         Barrington and Seamus Henchy) with international

                         observers present: after six days at hearing, judgment



22 May, 1980   Court quashes McNally and Breatnach sentences and

                         convictions, declaring statements made by them “not

                         legally admissible” but fails to give its reasons.




4 June, 1980     Kelly returns from the U.S.

                          He seeks “extension of time” to lodge an Appeal.                    


18 Dec,1980     Court of Criminal Appeal (Judges Weldon Parke, John        

                          Gannon and Mella Carroll) refuse extension of time


                          Refusal appealed to Supreme Court.


16 Feb,1981  Nine months later the Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) delivers    

                          its   McNally & Breatnach Judgment: Gardaí’s accused of    

                          oppression and the SCC rebuked however no explanation is given

as to how the men achieved their injuries in police custody. The CCA refused to interfere with the Court of Trial’s finding that there was no assault by any member of the Guards- the gardai are again left off the hook.

29 July,1981     Supreme Court overturns the refusal to Kelly and allows

                          “full”  Appeal” to be brought- but reserves its findings


11 Jan,1982      O’Higgins C.J., gives his reason for allowing Kelly Appeal to be brought before the CCA as it was “just” and “equitable” supported by Henchy J., Kenny J. + Walsh J.

2 April,1982      CCA (Finlay P., Henchy J., and Barrington J.) reject Kelly’s


                     Release Nicky Kelly Campaign launches international


                     Kelly and others process civil actions for Damages for

                     assault, etc.

13 July,1982     Supreme Court asked to overturn CCA’s refusal of Kelly’s

                          appeal against his conviction. Court reserves its  


29 Oct,1982      O’Higgins CJ., Walsh J., Griffin J., Hederman J., and

                          McWilliams J., affirmed the CCA’s refusal and end

                          Kelly’s legal challenge for good.  “It is seldom that the appellate jurisdiction of our courts has been so fully exercised but it is proper that it should have been so in order to satisfy the requirements of justice”

1 May,1983       Kelly begins first hunger strike

25 May,1983     Justice Minister Michael Noonan (FG) says Kelly can’t be released without "new evidence".

27 May,1983     Kelly moved to Curragh Military Hospital.

1 Jun,1983        Irish Commission for Justice & Peace urges an Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights

3 Jun,1983       Amnesty International expresses concern to Minister Noonan.

​                          Chanel Four TV makes documentary on trad-rock band “Moving Hearts” and Kelly Case with narration by Keith Donald, musician

6 June,1983      Kelly’s lawyers (Garret Sheehan, Mary Robinson and Prof. Kevin Boyle, UCG) initiate appeal to European Commission

7 Jun,1983        Kelly comes off hunger strike after 38 days to allow    

                          European appeal to proceed –

                          Government issues statement inviting Kelly to pursue his   

                          legal action (thinking it time- blocked.)

                          Local Government Authorities, trade unions and high 

                          profile personalities pass call for  Kelly’s release.

31 Oct,1983  Fitzpatrick comes out of “hiding” and gives press  

                          Conference: why was he not re-arrested with the others  

                          having signed a statement of involvement?. He says he was                                      tortured and forced to incriminate himself and others and that

                          the guards always knew where he was. Was it because he had a

                          firm alibi (with Barrett)?


                          The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) reviews the entire Sallins Case and rescinds the order to arrest Fitzpatrick, believing he was not involved in the robbery.


                          Consequently, Kelly’s false statement stating Fitzpatrick was at the robbery was obviously false. As was Fitzpatrick’s statement stating that Kelly was there.


1 Nov,1983       Kelly’s lawyers initiate release Petition to Minister Noonan on “medical grounds”

Nov, 1983         Dept., of Justice demands payment of cost of security transport from prison to Dublin in advance of allowing Kelly be medically examined for his legal Action.

Jan, 1984          Justice Dept., withdraws demand for payment.


May, 1984         State argue Kelly shouldn’t be allowed to sue as the issues involved have already been “decided” by the SCC 6 years previously. Hamilton J., directs a ‘Trial of a Preliminary Issue’ without a jury

17 May,1984     European Court rejects Kelly’s Appeal as it was lodged more “than 6 months after final Supreme Court” Rejection (on 29/10/2982)

17 July,1984     Minister Noonan tells divided Cabinet that he is going to release Kelly on “humanitarian grounds”. Ministers Alan Dukes, John Boland, John Bruton and Attorney General Peter Sutherland oppose Kelly’s release. Justice Minister Cooney absent.


1991 & 1992      Case raised by Amnesty in Worldwide Reports with concerns about the continued existence of the Special Criminal Court and calling for an Inquiry to be established

Jul, 1991              The Irish Council for Civil Rights (ICCL) makes a submission to the then Government for an independent Inquiry

                          Fitzpatrick takes Civil Action before Judge & Jury.

                          DPP’s Review finding Fitzpatrick was not involved in robbery, withheld from court.

                          Judge invites jury to consider if Fitzpatrick robbed train.

                          His case fails and he appeals to Supreme Court.

Apr,1992           Government ask Irish President to ‘Pardon’ Kelly and confirms “exoneration” of McNally & Breatnach

1992/1993         Committee formed to press for an Inquiry.  Paper published and launched on RTE News

1993                  Osgur appears on Nighthawks RTE TV and The Gay Byrne Hour RTE Radio 1 (GB on the 31/05/1993), causing outraged “Heavy Gang” members to issue Contempt of Court Application against Byrne to the High Court. After a number of days at hearing, judgment is reserved by Morris J. (of the later Morris Tribunal) before dismissing the Committal Application against Gay Byrne.


July, 1993         Compensation agreed with the accused’s (Breatnach, Kelly, McNally & Fitzpatrick) lawyers.


                           No inquiry ever held.


UN Declaration of Human Rights Art 5

‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or

degrading treatment or punishment.’


What is torture?


UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT Art 1.1)


‘Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him… information or confession… or intimidating or coercing him..when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of, or with, the consent or acquiescence of, a public official, or other person acting in an official capacity….’

53 x Gardaí involved who gave evidence:

  1. Felix McKenna – later involved in CAB 

  2. William Meagher

  3. James Grehan

  4. John Courtney RIP – former Chief Superintendent later headed The Murder Squad involved in Kerry Babies, now retired (pinpointed by McEntee S.C., as an “expert” interrogator)

  5. Gerard O’Carroll – later part of Murder Squad, involved in ~Kerry Babies case, now retired 

  6. Superintendent Ned Ryan RIP– headed Garda case and attend Trial throughout, was never pressed by the Court to reveal his source

  7. Chief Superintendent John Joy

  8. Superintendent Patrick Casey

  9. Chief Superintendent John Fleming

  10. Myles Hawkshaw

  11. Francis Campbell

  12. Michael Drew

  13. Kieran Lawlor

  14. John Hegarty

  15. Michael Canavan (pinpointed by McEntee S.C., as an “expert” interrogator)

  16. James Butler

  17. Brian McGauran

  18. Michael Finn - was in November 2002 appointed as investigator to the Morris Tribunal examining allegations of criminal activity on the part of a number of policemen in Donegal.

  19. Joseph Egan

  20. John McGroarty

  21. John Jordan

  22. Vincent McGrath

  23. Michael Carey

  24. Martin Purthill

  25. William Ryan

  26. Peter Canavan

  27. William Fennesey

  28. Thomas Boland

  29. Christopher Godkin

  30. Bernard Cullen

  31. Michael Egan

  32. Owen Fitzsimons

  33. Inspector John Murphy (interrogated Breatnach in Bridewell tunnel and locker room)

  34. Thomas Ibar Dunne (interrogated McNally, Kelly and Breatnach pinpointed by McEntee S.C., as an “expert” interrogator)

  35. Thomas Fitzgerald (interrogated Breatnach in Bridewell tunnel and locker room)

  36. Philip Bowe

  37. Fintan Dunne

  38. Brendan Breen (P.O. in Portlaoise who examined Breatnach on admittance to Mountjoy confirmed bruising)

  39. Joseph Holland

  40. Adrian O’Hara

  41. Patrick Cleary

  42. Martin Dowling

  43. Thomas King

  44. Joseph Holland

  45. Michael Noonan

  46. Richard Murphy

  47. Patrick Raftery

  48. Hubert Reynolds

  49. Patrick Waters

  50. Patrick Byrne

  51. Joseph Collins

  52. Patrick Culhane

  53. Bernard Cullen


9 x Doctors who gave evidence:

  1. Noel Smith (for Osgur) 

  2. Patrick Carey, Richmond

  3. Prof. John Paul Lanigan, R.C.S. (requested by Potter, solr.)

  4. John Reidy

  5. Dr. James Leitch (then casualty officer in Richmond)

  6. Dr. Samuel Davis (Mountjoy) + Paul McVeigh (Mountjoy)

  7. Richard Burke (Portlaoise Prison)

  8. Sean Ó Cléirigh (assisted by David McGee)

  9. Prof. Robert Daly


Other (common) Prisoners x 4 who gave evidence:

  1. William Royale (heard screaming from prisoners)

  2. George Royale (heard screaming from prisoners)

  3. James Lawlor (heard screaming from prisoners)

  4. Peter Harrington (heard screaming from prisoners)


Bridewell Matrons x 2 (both widows of gardaí) who denied they heard any screaming:

  1. ​Ann Fitzpatrick

  2. Mary Surdival




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