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An application has been made to the Minister for Justice by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties
(ICCL) supported by Fair Trials International, Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ), the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC)  and Amnesty International who is already on record demanding such an inquiry) to establish a Statutory Inquiry, compliant with international human rights standards, into the arrest, detention, interrogation, prosecution, and conviction of Michael Barrett, Osgur Breatnach, John Fitzpatrick, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally and Mick Plunkett (deceased), following the Sallins Train Robbery 1976, and encompassing their treatment by the Irish State since.

The Sallins Train robbery occurred in Ireland on 31 March 1976. The Cork to Dublin mail train was robbed near Sallins in County Kildare. Approximately £300,000 was stolen. Five members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Mick Plunkett, John Fitzpatrick, Michael Barrett, and a former member Brian McNally, were arrested in connection with the robbery. The subsequent arrest of a large number of members and persons associated with the IRSP constituted an assault on a registered political party.

During incommunicado detention and interrogation in Garda Síochána custody, all except Plunkett and Michael Barrett signed alleged confessions, all presenting with extensive bruising and injuries they claimed were inflicted by members of the gardaí. All the Sallins Men denied their involvement in the robbery. In 1980 the Provisional IRA claimed responsibility for it. The Sallins men are long resigned from the IRSP. All the Sallins Men claimed they were held unconstitutionally and illegally; threatened with assault on themselves and their families; all suffered psychological and physical torture to obtain compliance in signing statements. All claimed untrue inculpatory verbal statements were attributed to them.

Some of the Sallins Men were told that their arrest was to ensure people did not join the political party of which they were members or supporters. The Sallins Men claim that gardaí conspired to maliciously prosecute them. The Garda File presented to the DPP included forgeries and omissions. The police station evidence of the interrogations (including the names of Garda officers) was unlawfully removed. The Sallins Men claim they were denied bail for a period that coincided with their bruises diminishing.

  The trial of Plunkett, McNally, Kelly, and Breatnach in the Special Criminal Court became the longest-running trial in Irish criminal history, at 65 days, before it collapsed due to the death of one of the three judges, Judge John O’Connor of the Circuit Court. Complaints that the judge slept throughout the case were ruled against by the trial court (including the ‘sleeping judge’) and subsequently, on the basis of res judicata, by the High Court and Supreme Court. In effect, an evidential requirement of proving innocence was placed on the Sallins Men, thus branding them guilty until proven innocent. Pursuing their civil cases, all were denied the right to sue for assault and battery by use of the notorious Birmingham Six judgment of estoppel and res judicata based on unfair trial judgements.

In 1993, the State, without any admission of liability, entered into a monetary settlement of the civil actions. At the time of settlement internal state papers, including a case review of the criminal prosecution carried out by the Director of Public Prosecutions, were not openly disclosed by the State. The State has never apologised, admitted any culpability or disclosed implicatory documentation in its possession. At no stage has it sought to hold their own officers and agents to account, at all times maintaining that the officers and agents had not engaged in wrongdoing. All legal costs were guaranteed by the State to gardai being sued by the Sallins Men and for any future Sallins related cases. Irrational and damaging findings by the trial court still stand due to res judicata (e.g., that the Sallins Men conspired to lie about their torture to blacken the gardai; that the injuries sustained by  the Sallins Men were self-inflicted or inflicted upon each other).

A Petition on the Sallins Case was submitted to the Minister for Justice in November 2023 but remains unanswered. It is an application to the Minister for Justice and Equality made by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) and Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and Fair Trials International to establish a Statutory Inquiry into the convictions following the Sallins Train Robbery 1976. The men are now elderly and vulnerable. Their treatment constitutes inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment and oppression. Financial compensation does not equate to truth, justice, and accountability.

The investigation would be conducted in accordance with the human rights standards demanded by the United National Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and must be effective, independent and enable the effective participation of those who suffered abuse. There has never been a public statutory, inquiry into the Sallins Case. 


Adrian Hardiman
Supremer Court Justice Adrian Hardiman

As Supreme Court Justice Adrian Hardiman noted in 2007: “Twenty years ago, when Irish society was gripped by the fate of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven, those principles would, I think, have been widely acknowledged. But even in those days there was a contradiction in our attitudes: miscarriages of justice, lies or other short-cuts by the investigators – these were things which took place in other countries, by corrupt or racist police – and were smugly criticised here, where, of course, everything was perfect. The fact is that, during much the same time as these miscarriages of justice were unfolding, so too, in Ireland, was the Sallins mail trail robbery case which led to massive settlements and grave damage to the reputation of our policing and criminal justice systems. But we have never, as a country or as a community, internalised the lessons of that event or of the other declared miscarriages of justice which have taken place since.”


KRW LAW has been assisting Osgur Breatnach and the other surviving Sallins Men in their campaign for truth, justice and accountability following their wrongful arrest, detention, interrogation – including torture – prosecution and imprisonment after the Sallins Train Robbery 1976.

Today the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and other leading civil society organisations will deliver a Petition on behalf of the Sallins Men to the Irish government demanding a human rights inquiry/investigation into their mistreatment. 

Attending the presentation of the Petition today in Dublin, Christopher Stanley, KRW LAW (London) said:

“It is an honour to have assisted Osgur Breatnach and the other Sallins Men in the preparation of this Petition to the Irish government.

The assistance of KRW has been offered pro bono.  It has been a project that sits squarely within our portfolio of Legacy work in which we offer legal representation to all relatives of victims of the Conflict – and survivors such as Osgur – across communities and between jurisdictions.  And which will continue.

 What is often forgotten or misunderstood is that victims of violence continue to hold mental and physical scars – the pain continues.

Kevin Winters of KRW LAW

Truth-Recovery and Information-Retrieval are mechanism which cannot salve or suture the pain of violence – and certainly not an empty public apology offered by way of a statement of closure – but truth can assuage or ameliorate the pain, the loss and the loss and the present suffering.

This is why this Petition made on behalf of Osgur and the remaining Sallins Men from leading civil society organisations lead by ICCL is important .

The Petition demands a human right compliant investigation/inquiry into the treatment of the Sallins Men, treatment by state authorities lead by the police, would now, constitute torture.

The process must be independent of the Irish government, it must be judge-lead, it must have powers to compel evidence, it must facilitate and enable the effective participation of the Sallins Men, and it must command international recognition and support.

The process must have powers to make recommendations based on its findings to other state-authorities in terms of potential civil and criminal liability.

Ireland lodged an application with the European Commission on Human Rights on 16 December 1971 – the inter-state case against the UK – regarding the use of torture by British Security Forces in Northern Ireland.

Judgment in this application was delivered by the European Court of Human Rights against the UK in 1978.

The case was revisited by the Court in 2018 following an application by Ireland.

The arrest, detention, interrogation, torture, conviction, and wrongful imprisonment of the Sallins Men happened in 1976.

Last week the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act became law in the UK. The Irish government is considering an application to the ECtHR to challenge the compatibility of this domestic legislation with the ECHR  – as of today’s date of which the UK is still a signatory.

The Petition on behalf of the Sallins Men is laid at the door of the Irish government today in its own right and as a reminder of the human rights obligations owed to the relatives of the victims and the survivors of the Conflict – including Osgur and the other surviving Sallins men – and the human rights deficit the Irish government has failed to address (Or reliant too much perhaps on post-GFA arrangements between Belfast and London) on its own doorstep.”

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