Miscarriage of justice victim Gerry Conlon said today it has been harder to clear his name than to get out of prison.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair is today expected to apologise over the wrongful imprisonment of Mr Conlon and his father, Guiseppe, who died while wrongly imprisoned for a bombing in Guilford in 1974.
Mr Conlon said: “People thought that when we were released it was the end of it, but it was only the start of it. It has been harder to clear our names than to get out of prison.”
The Conlon family, who will be in the public gallery in Britain's House of Commons today, has previously received a “second-hand apology” sent to SDLP leader Mark Durkan from Tony Blair.
Mr Conlon’s mother Sarah is unwell and won’t travel to London.
“Mark always said that a ’Dear Sarah’ letter from Tony Blair was always going to be better than a ’Dear Mark’ letter,” Mr Conlon told RTÉ Radio.
He added: “If they can damage you that much by convicting you and publicly hang, draw and quarter you, then they have a moral duty to repair that damage.”
The Conlon family has fought a long campaign for a public apology from the British government for the miscarriage of justice.
They have compiled a petition which has been signed by tens of thousands of people.
Their case was brought to international attention through the Oscar-nominated movie In the Name of the Father, starring Daniel Day Lewis as Gerry Conlon and Pete Postlethwaite as Guiseppe.
A House of Commons source confirmed a question was being prepared by the SDLP’s Eddie McGrady, which would “provide ample opportunity for public recognition of the wrongs inflicted on the Conlons“.
“There have been positive signs in recent days from [Northern Ireland Secretary] Paul Murphy and from Tony Blair that an apology is coming.”
Mr Gerry Conlon – along with Mr Paddy Armstrong, Mr Paul Hill and Ms Carole Richardson – were arrested in 1974 and wrongfully jailed for an IRA bomb attack on the Horse and Groom pub in Guildford in England.
The blast killed five people – four soldiers and a civilian. The prisoners became known as the Guildford Four.
Mr Conlon’s father and members of Mrs Annie Maguire’s family were also later arrested and jailed for the attack and other bombings in Woolwich, south east London, after they were allegedly identified as being involved in the bomb plot in confessions extracted by the police.
Mr Guiseppe Conlon, who had a history of bronchial problems, died in prison while serving his sentence in January 1980. In October 1989 the Court of Appeal quashed the sentences of the Guildford Four after doubts were raised about the police evidence.
In June 1991, the Court of Appeal also overturned the sentences on the Maguires and Guiseppe Conlon.
Last year in a letter to SDLP leader Mr Mark Durkan, the British government acknowledged the miscarriage of justice but the family wants public recognition.
Daniel Day Lewis and the director of In the Name of the Father, Jim Sheridan, have joined with thousands of people who have signed the petition.
An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Mr Durkan also lobbied Mr Blair directly during Downing Street meetings last week.
Later, walking into the House of Commons, Mr Conlon told journalists: “This has been a stain on the character of British justice.
“Today, hopefully, Tony Blair is going to remove part of that stain, and the stigma that has been attached to me and my family.”
Mr Conlon was asked whether anything could make up for the years he spent in jail.
He said: “No, no, but hopefully this will go some way to removing doubt that exists in people.”
Mr Conlon said the British government owed a debt to himself and others wrongly jailed.
“Everyone who was arrested around about that time and went to prison has had their lives shattered.
“If you can destroy them, you have the moral obligation when they do come out and that is not forthcoming. We hope that the assistance and the medical facilities that are available to others will be made available to us.”
Mr Conlon added: “This apology is so important, not just for me but for my mother, my sisters, my nieces, my nephews, because this has seeped down the generations.”