Banged up with three equally innocent co-accused, his father to follow and ultimately perish in prison, the old British legal maxim of innocent until proven Irish added another notch to its gavel. His fate like that of the Birmingham 6, the Maguire family, Judith Ward, resulted from one of those many nefarious understandings between the British police and the British judiciary. Hannah Arendt had she lived past 1975 might just have looked at the case and tweaked her own much quoted phrase to make it sound something like ‘the legality of evil.’
When I emerged from the H-Block for a week’s Christmas leave at the end of 1989, Gerry Conlon was standing outside the jail, obviously there to greet somebody. I went over and shook hands with him, before liberally plying myself with a generous measure of Southern Comfort graciously put in my hand by Tony Catney. TC, himself not long released, was rapidly emptying the bottle into plastic cups he had brought up for the occasion. He was also there to greet people. I was glad he greeted me first. Both men would later be drawn together in recent years as they jointly campaigned for justice in the case of the Craigavon Two. Poignantly, both suffered the effects of cancer as they campaigned.
Very infrequently after that first 1989 encounter I would bump into Gerry at book launches or conferences. Usually he was accompanied by Richard O’Rawe, who delivered a eulogy at Saturday’s funeral. The few Facebook messages I received from him were invitations to sign petitions in support of someone on the receiving end of judicial and government abuse. That is what Gerry Conlon did; he campaigned tirelessly against all forms of injustice.
His nostrils instinctively flared when they sensed a miscarriage of justice, their sensitivity enhanced by the Brendan McConville/John Paul Wooton conviction which stank like a judge’s toilet. He felt that it cut no mustard when it came to justice done and seen to be done.
One irony that should not escape us was the contrast between his position and that of the British state’s top prosecutor in the North, Barra McGrory, who at one time would have spoken out against judicial abuse. Gerry Conlon was fighting to have two imprisoned men freed because he believed their trial was, not unlike his own, a judicial farce. Barra McGrory, rather than emit as much as a squeak about the issues surrounding the Craigavon Two case, actively sought to have the sentences imposed on both men by a Diplock court increased. The punishment dished out by the British judiciary was not severe enough for McGrory so he pressed for it to be harsher. This type of mentality won him the scorn of Ian Paisley Junior who mockingly described him as a poacher turned gamekeeper. So embedded is McGrory in the world of British jurisprudence that he considered such a slur a compliment. None more enthusiastic than the convert. Meanwhile the pursuit of justice is left to those whom it was always left with: those who stand well outside the institutional tent.
It is vital to British liberal democracy that voices like Barra McGrory are heard in defence of the establishment. It is equally vital to Irish radical democracy that voices like Gerry Conlon are raised against the establishment. John Stuart Mill explained the conflict which is the essence of the matter:
As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.Gerry Conlon knew exactly what side he battled on. A principled poacher to the end.
It was Gerry Conlons family house that Brendan Hughes took refuge in when D-Company broke the Lower Falls curfew. After a gun battle he ran out of ammo near Cypress Street and entered a house where Gerry’s father Giuseppe agreed to pretend he was his father (and Brendan would claim to be Gerry) when the Brits came, as they were putting in doors of the rest of the street looking for him.ReplyDelete
Nice tribute, a man of integrityReplyDelete
Please sign the Craigavon 2 petition it was Gerrys last action as a campaigner.ReplyDelete
The Late Debate Tuesday 13 January 2015 - The Late Debate ...ReplyDelete
Cormac was joined by Deputy Brian Walsh, Fine Gael TD for Galwayy West. Deputy Mattie McGrath, Independent TD for Tipperary. Deputy Eamon O' Cuiv, Fianna Fail