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The Court of Criminal Appeal reviewed the Sallins cases of Osgur Breatnach and Brian McNally and found they had been psychologically tortured and ordered their immediate release.

The Appeals by Osgur Breatnach and Brian McNally of their joint 21-year jail sentence was heard in May 1980, over six days. The government closed the case without any independent inquiry, although such an inquiry is demanded by international law. They let the torturers go free.


Breatnach submitted 15 grounds of appeal, McNally 9. The court could not and did not adjudicate on the allegations of physical torture. They were ‘bound in law’ to accept the trial court’s ‘finding of fact’ that physical brutality had not occurred. ‘Findings of Fact’ cannot be appealed, whether true or not. A ‘finding of fact’ by the juryless Special Criminal Court was that Breatnach beat himself up (despite the contrary evidence of numerous doctors, a solicitor and medical orderlies)!


Similarly, the High Court and Supreme Court found themselves constrained by another ‘finding of fact’ about the sleeping Judge in the trial. The Special Criminal Court itself ruled the ‘sleeping judge’ (in its own court) was not asleep. This then became a ‘finding of fact’, despite numerous witnesses and sworn evidence that he was asleep. The medicated and dying judge passed away not long after the rulings.


The purpose of the Appeal Court is to find if there is even ONE ground for overturning the conviction. When found, the Appeal Court does not need to look at any of the other grounds submitted. They found FIVE flaws in Breatnach’s trial.

In its 33-page judgement in Breatnach and McNally’s Appeal the court quashed both sentence and conviction of both men. It found there was no evidence against the men except their alleged statements. The Special Criminal Court (the trial court) should have ruled the statements out, they said.

In the case of Breatnach it mentioned that he:

  • Was in illegal custody
  • Was questioned for 40 hours
  • Was refused a solicitor although repeatedly requested
  • Was disturbed from sleep
  • Was questioned in a menacing tunnel
  • had only one night’s sleep
  • Interviewing rules and regulations were ignored
  • Overall, questioning didn’t pass test of fairness.

Taken together they equalled oppression.


You don’t have to pull someone’s fingernails out to torture them.

And torture, according to the United Nations and the European Convention of Human Rights, is illegal no matter what the alleged circumstances.

“Torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining a confession, whether true or not.

“Oppression” means inhuman or degrading treatment, the use or threat of violence, or excessively prolonged periods of questioning.

Oppression is Torture.

Therefore, the Court of Criminal Appeal found evidence of torture.

The Court went on to say:

 “.. the other grounds of appeal put forward (by Breatnach & McNally) must be left for resolution in a case in which their resolution necessarily arises.”

Did they envisage a public inquiry as laid down by international law?

We will be publishing the full Appeal Court judgement on this website in due course.


International observers from the International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch and others attended at the request of Breatnach and McNally.  The case was also being monitored by, amongst others, the Irish Commission for Justice & Peace, Union of Students of Ireland,  Pax Christi Ireland, The Hooded Men, The Birmingham Six, The Guildford Four, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Amnesty International, Irish Council for Civil Liberites.

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