Aer Lingus hijacker complained about his treatment to taoiseach

A MAN who hijacked an Aer Lingus flight on route from Dublin to London wrote to then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald from his prison cell in Paris complaining about his treatment while he lived and worked in Ireland.

According to recently released state papers from 1981, shortly before the aircraft was due to land in London, Laurence J Downey emerged from the toilet having doused his clothes. He said it was with petrol and threatened to immolate himself if the pilot did not fly the plane to Teheran. There were 108 passengers and crew on board.

The pilot flew to Le Touquet near Paris, where a seven-hour stand off ensued. Transport minister Albert Reynolds flew out to Paris to coordinate with the French authorities.

Downey insisted on flying to Teheran as he had written a new constitution for the people of Iran. He also demanded the disclosure of the third secret of Fatima.

He allowed one woman with five children to leave the aircraft, and then he also agreed to allow another woman to leave after she apparently became ill.

When the ambulance crew came to collect her, a handful of French security men ended the stand-off by storming the plane and overpowering Downey, who was armed with nothing more than a bottle of water.

The story caused a sensation in Ireland, where Downey was depicted as a deranged former Trappist monk. He was an Australian who had studied for the priesthood with the Cistercians in Rome for four years, but was ejected as they considered him unstable and unsuitable.

“I went to Ireland thinking she was an oppressed underdog,” Downey explained.

He set up a language school in Shannon, and tried to interest SFADCO in building a 20,000-seat all-purpose stadium, but he had no money to back his ideas.

“I tried to help in the hope that I might be accepted in the land of my ancestors, but they hated me without cause and told me not to interfere,” he wrote.

“They destroyed my business in Shannon through spite and jealousy, because they couldn’t bear to be told how to develop their land effectively and profitably. They held me up to public ridicule, they reduced me to poverty I had never known before, they refused me residence and threatened me with gaol and deportation, all because I loved them.”

He was not a legal immigrant and was refused permission to remain in the country. He went into hiding to avoid deportation.

“Expulsion was the last straw,” he continued. “Because I am Anglo-Irish, ‘Brits Out’ has become a personal matter and the Irish part of me has turned to anger. The history of all hitherto existing Irish Society is the history of conflict and division among themselves.”

“Right back to the time of Wolfe Tone angry and violent men have adopted self-destruction, individual and national suicide as the foundation stone on which to build Irish Freedom.

“The four million emigrants that left Ireland did not abandon their country, they went to build and possess an Empire which today is their rightful inheritance.

“If a handful of violent men wish to sever the branch from the vine, then they must reckon with the descendants of those four million and not the Angels alone. It’s time we all stood up to be counted.”

He tried to exploit the excitement surrounding the hunger strikes. “Consistent with the national and individual spirit of suicide, I decided to fight fire with fire by faking a suicideattempt.

“The ‘attempt’ was relatively successful from a publicity point of view because the ‘Hijack Hoax’ of the Aer Lingus Dublin-London flight on May 2nd was reported all around the world.

“What was not known at the time by the press was that I had sprinkled my clothes with water, not petrol, and the water bottle I carried in my shirt was also filled with water. I had no intention of harming anybody, much less myself. I was arrested at Le Touquet, and when the French police discovered I was unarmed they treated me courteously. I am much better off than I ever was in Ireland.”

Downey was incarcerated for a couple of years in Paris before he was tried, convicted and sentenced to five years in jail. He was freed after 16 months and returned to Australia.

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