Taoiseach urged to intervene to end hunger strike

The Taoiseach has been urged to help end a hunger strike by a 68-year-old Kildare woman who won a long battle to clear her name of involvement in the Northern Bank Robbery but now cannot get the state pension.

Kathryn Nelson

Kathryn Nelson lost her career after she was arrested in connection with the 2004 robbery in which €39m was stolen from the Northern Bank in Belfast. Now living in Laois, she has supported herself through a defamation award she received from a newspaper which branded her an IRA gang member after her arrest but says she is now penniless.

She applied for the state pension but the fact that she spent most of her career abroad has complicated her claim. She ran out of time in responding to requests to provide further information and now has to appeal a decision to refuse her claim.

However, she says she is too tired and weak to go revisit the process. She gave up eating more than two weeks ago.

Ms Nelson worked as a teacher and diplomatic liaison officer. She was linked to the robbery after being approached in Bulgaria to set up meetings with business people who might be able to invest large sums of Irish money there.

She spent 56 days on hunger strike in 2007 in an ultimately successful attempt to get a letter from the then Garda commissioner formally declaring she was no longer under investigation — but it was several more years before her defamation case concluded.

Veteran Labour Party politician, Joe Costello, is familiar with her case and appealed to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to give it his attention: “Some days prior to going on hunger strike she sent a letter to the Taoiseach outlining the reasons why she felt obliged to take such drastic action. Her health is such that she could not possibly survive such a prolonged period without food now. I am calling on the Taoiseach to respond and to act to address her grievances.”

In 2012 Ms Nelson wrote a book, A Terrible State, about her ordeal. She recently completed a draft of a second book about her time as a teacher in Libya.

In her letter to Mr Varadkar, she says she wants the State to make amends for her wrongful arrest and its devastating consequences. His office has been contacted for comment.

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