Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan’s rejection (viz, Sean O’Rourke RTÉ Radio 1, July 8) of a 43-year-old apology together with a statutory Inquiry into the 1976 Sallins mail train robbery/miscarriage of justice case should come as no surprise to me, to my family or to the other families whose loved ones were wrongly accused, beaten in garda custody and imprisoned in connection with it.
That year, I had just turned 13 years old when my brother Osgur, aged 26, was arrested. After many twists and turns, and various trials, he was sentenced to 12 years penal servitude for a crime he did not commit, a sentence which was quashed on appeal 17 months later.
Thanks to the Arts Council (the Government’s development agency for the arts), which supported me with public funding from 2014-2019, I was encouraged to take a personal journey to reflect how this nightmare affected me from my teenage years into adulthood.
The challenge I faced was to try to exorcise the pain, hurt, embarrassment, humiliation, and all else which goes with a traumatic event such as this. “Music was my saviour” are the words I used in RTÉ’s Documentary On One (broadcast on July 6 and 7). Before the radio doc was broadcast, I decided to alert Mr Flanagan by email asking him to do the right thing and give us a long-awaited apology.
I had met him at the Dublin-Monaghan bombings commemoration last May after which he approached me to chat about my whistle-playing. The day after I sent that email, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was acknowledged by his private secretary. Naively, I took that to mean that the minister would listen in.
He could have listened to either broadcast on Saturday or Sunday, or simply checked out the programme on RTÉ’s DocOnOne website where he could have learned more about the programme’s content. He could have also listened to an advance podcast which was released by RTÉ on the eve of the broadcast.
Perhaps his officials did listen in but when asked by Sean O’Rourke whether he heard it, Mr Flanagan admitted he hadn’t. One would have thought — perhaps I am naive again — that given the subject matter which has bedevilled so many administrations over a period of 40 years, that he would have done the right thing and listened to my programme. If he had, he would have heard, for example, the voice of Judge McCartan who described the Sallins case as “the most serious miscarriage of justice” to date.
Miscarriages of justice affect the accused, their families and the wider community. Bearing witness is our duty if we are to learn from the mistakes of the past, and Mr Flanagan bears a special responsibility in this regard, not least because of his official duty to uphold justice. I appeal once again to the minister and to the Irish Government to let justice be done though the heavens may fall
Cormac Juan Breatnach
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on 15 July 2019.