Arguments for re-opening Birmingham Six case ‘unanswerable’ – Charles Haughey

Then taoiseach Charles Haughey told Margaret Thatcher that the arguments for re-opening the Birmingham Six case were “unanswerable”, recently released government records reveal.

Documents made public under the 30-year rule show that Mr Haughey pressed the then prime minister about the controversy during a meeting in Strasbourg on the fringes of the European Council in December 1989.

The taoiseach told Mrs Thatcher that some way must be found in which the case could be reviewed.

The meeting, which was held in the British Delegations in the Palais de la Musique, lasted about 30 minutes and took place on December 9.

The meeting was described as “constructive and cordial”.

The taoiseach said “he must mention the Birmingham Six” adding that the arguments for re-opening the case were unanswerable.

He said that while he knew the British position he felt that some way must be found in which the case could be reviewed.

The Prime Minister told the taoiseach that it had been before the Court of Appeal once, and had been the subject of a very extensive judgment, every word of which she had read.

Mr Haughey said that there must be some way in which the case could be dealt with to “everybody’s satisfaction”.

It also emerged that then foreign secretary Douglas Hurd sent a message to then minister for foreign affairs Gerard Collins days before the Strasbourg meeting in which he address matters about the Birmingham Six.

Mr Hurd said: “If there were any fresh doubt about the safety of the convictions of the Birmingham Six, I know the Home Secretary would consider further intervention.”

Crime – Birmingham Six
Custody shots of the Birmingham Six, from left, top; Patrick Hill, Hugh Callaghan and John Walker. Bottom; Richard McIlkenny, Gerard Hunter and William Power (PA)

Referring to the message, an Irish government official said in a note that the general impression created by the paragraph is that the British authorities “are casting around for a way to resolve” the Birmingham Six case.

At the time, the European Parliament had asked its Legal Affairs Committee to enquire into the convictions of the six men, however Mr Herd told Mr Collins it would be wrong of the European Parliament to do that.

Paddy Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker were wrongly convicted of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings.

During the 1989 meeting, Mrs Thatcher also said they must continue the battle on security in Northern Ireland, adding that there have not been many successes.

The taoiseach said that the people in Northern Ireland appear to be satisfied, however Mrs Thatchers responded that “we can’t ever be satisfied while terrorism continues”.

“The terrorists seem to have access to colossal amounts of explosives,” she added.

Politics – Haughey and Thatcher – 1980
Charles Haughey with Margaret Thatcher (PA)

The taoiseach told Mrs Thatcher that paramilitaries received a big consignment of Semtex.

Mrs Thatcher stated that the Anglo-Irish Agreement “seems to be alright” adding that there will be a devolution once again.

“The politicians are all right around the table. They will talk forever.

“But when you come to a point of action they disappear and the whole thing breaks down,” she added.

Mrs Thatcher also revealed she did not want the unification of Germany.

She said: “With unity, it could be bigger than France, Italy, Spain together. I am sorry for (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev. He doesn’t want German unity. Neither do I.

“Even as things are, Germany has a balance of trade surplus with every country in the Community.”

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