Orla Connolly: Sean and the rest of my family have had a strong republican upbringing. We attended the Gaelscoil and we also speak as gaeilge. My mother and father wanted us, from a young age, to be taught our history, language, culture and sport of our proud country. Back then, there were hardly any Gaelscoileanna in Dublin and my mother and father, like many people, protested for this as we had no scoil of our own. We had been moved from school to school until finally they achieved this goal and had a scoil built in the memorial park in Dublin. Sean himself was in the cumann of Logue and Marley at the age of 15.
TPQ: What caused the leap from being member of a cumann to becoming a fully fledged IRA volunteer?
Orla Connolly: To Sean it was a natural progression to join the Republican Movement as he wholeheartedly believed that this was the right thing to do.
TPQ: And from this background, shared by many others, he gravitated towards armed republicanism. Consequently, he ended up in prison, and is currently housed in Portlaoise for a third spell. What has brought him to the attention of the Gardai and ultimately before the courts?
Orla Connolly: Sean's first conviction was in 2000 when he was jailed for four years by the Special Criminal Court. Upon release he became active again and in 2005 was arrested for explosives and membership. He was bailed under strict conditions and in 2006 was again jailed for six years. Upon Sean's release he embraced the new amalgamation of the Republican Movement. He has always been a very loyal republican and has always abided by the structures and rules during his time in gaol and while he was released.
TPQ: How much time has he actually spent in prison?
Orla Connolly: He has spent the last 15 Christmas's behind bars and has always abided by the Army's rules. Sean has been involved as a member of the gaol staff.
TPQ: All his convictions came after the Good Friday Agreement which for many people heralded the beginning of the end of the armed conflict in the North. There was no war going on by 2000, nor since. No one seems to know what armed republicanism does apart from make nothing happen. The observation is relevant because if people are to support prisoners, even on humanitarian grounds, those republicans behind bars need to be able to portray themselves in a setting that is not as harsh as the red tops present it. Part of doing that is to plausibly explain the purpose of armed republicanism. My own experience is that the wider public has no tolerance for it and tends not to distinguish between the republican world and that of the Love/Hate crime drama underworld. It is difficult to imagine the public concerning itself too greatly with Nidge and his cohorts falling out behind bars. Why would it be any different for Sean and his consociates?
Orla Connolly: I don't really know I can answer this as it would be hard for me in my own words to describe how Sean feels about this. I haven’t believed in an armed struggle for a long time. I feel there's a hidden agenda with people who claim they are republican and then take money from drug dealers - the scourge in our society who have caused so much misery and death - and say to them it's ok to do drugs once you pay for doing it. These people doing this are here only to decimate and dissolve republicanism. They are allowed to thrive as the Free State and British want to make sure that an armed struggle will never again be allowed to gain momentum.
TPQ: Are you suggesting this fits with an overall London-Dublin state level strategy to allow these groups to exist as a sort of plug hole down which republicans who tend towards armed activism will be drained and flushed away into the prison system?
Orla Connolly: I couldn't agree more with this. Many republicans have fallen foul to something not right. They were effectively abandoned to state sponsored drug dealers who murdered them. Other individuals have been executed on the whims of those who have brought republicanism to this point. Hasn't this always been the way - brother against brother, comrade against comrade, divide and conquer the old British and Free State's biggest weapon?
Even though the British still control the six counties, this is all part of normalisation. There is no appetite for armed struggle at street level but there is always opposition to the Good Friday Agreement. But I believe this can be expressed through a political voice and opinion different from the status quo who have yet to achieve a republican socialist 32 counties. Take the Proclamation that was read out on the steps of the GPO that Easter morning 1916 by the men and women who died believing in republicanism. These people today are definitely a far cry from what I and many people my age or a little bit older were led to believe.
TPQ: Sean is now back in prison. What led to the conviction this time around?
Orla Connolly: In December 2012 Sean executed a major crime lord, who for decades had been poisoning the entire Dublin community along with the rest of Ireland with drugs.
TPQ: We are talking about the late Eamon Kelly here who was shot dead by some IRA or other a few years ago in an operation that had many question marks over it. The Gardai certainly had both advance and advanced knowledge of the operation, much as they seemed to have regarding the killing of Peter Butterly. The direction I am taking this in is one of considering the possibility that Sean might have been more loyal to his colleagues than they were to him. And if what I allude to has substance, it seems he has been cast aside again. All of his time as a sentenced republican prisoner was spent on the republican wing up until recently. He is no longer on the republican wing having left involuntarily. You feel this is both unjust and potentially harmful to his safety.
Orla Connolly: We as a family have grave concerns for Sean's safety and the safety of his children and the rest of our family as the situation in Dublin at present is extremely volatile. We feel that the urge for revenge for the execution of this major drugs lord, as instructed by the Republican Movement, has left Sean his children and the rest of our family in real and extreme danger.
TPQ: Is this because of the vulnerability that rejection produces? Once outside the pack, does the family feel it is easier for the friends of Eamon Kelly to declare open season on both it and Sean?
Orla Connolly: Sean is a republican prisoner. The only person convicted of this execution, he is now housed in the non-republican C-Block on the instructions of the republican gaol staff, his supposed comrades. This leaves him on his own and open to a revenge attack as this block houses many of the country's most extremely volatile and dangerous criminals and drug dealers. They would be happy to exert revenge for money on behalf of this crime lord's former associates who are willing to seek revenge.
TPQ: There was an incident in the jail that seems to have led to the conflict between your brother and the republican gaol staff. Can you shed some light on that?
Orla Connolly: In Sean’s words:
the only reason and explanation that was given to me was on the day I was being removed from the republican wing. Three members of staff called me at dinner time and said two people had come down and said I was to removed immediately, and it was over the drugs.
The head screw also said that Ronan looked like a man under serious pressure and that authorities were happy that the drugs were going to C block. I offered to leave the block the day after those drugs were found. I was told by 2 members of staff that I would be going nowhere as I had done nothing wrong and that I was innocent.
I apologized for my brother’s actions and was embarrassed at what he had done. I was reassured my place was secure on the wing. When I was in the segregation unit later in in evening (of the day of expulsion) I met three members of staff and another prisoner who came over to see me. I asked if there was an investigation into my alleged wrong doing and they said that they didn’t know what was conducted; they had just been told to remove me from the block.
I told them that I wanted to challenge what I was accused off and asked for a day or two, so I could write out a comm, which I did, demanding a full explanation for my removal and appeal the decision to remove me … and demanded I be rehoused back on the wing … and could I get a visit from a member of the army council to explain to me what have I done wrong. At no time and still to this day I have not heard word back and I don't know what type of investigation was carried out and by who coz to this day no one has spoken to me or challenged or quizzed me about my brother.
I gave the comm to 2 members of staff and they informed me a few days later that the proper people in the 6 counties received my comm and I was to get a visit which never took place.
TPQ: In concise terms, Sean’s brother Ronan was smuggling drugs into the jail. Was he visiting Sean?
Orla Connolly: The background to Sean's removal was that Sean's visitor had handed over drugs to the screws that were destined for C-Block. On the day this happened Sean had a “spec visit” which is an unexpected visit. This happens and it is not uncommon for republican prisoners to receive them. Only the day before Sean and another prisoner had received one from a member of the IRPWA. On the day this happened Sean asked the screw who his visitor was. This was after 2.30 or 2.45. The screw informed Sean who his visitor was.
TPQ: We need to be precise here for purposes of clarity. Who was the visitor?
Orla Connolly: Sean's visitor was our younger brother Ronan who has a serious heroin and tablet addiction. Everyone on the wing knew this about Ronan. Sean and Ronan hadn't spoken in a few years and when Ronan entered rehab two years ago they began to speak with one another. Ronan didn't complete his rehabilitation although he was in in second stage of the treatment. Another person who was in also getting help for his addiction was an associate of Eamon Kelly who discovered who Ronan was. He subsequently threatened Ronan and as a result our brother cut short his treatment. Ronan has tried on numerous occasions to get clean since and on one occasion he had a visit with Sean and another prisoner who was also an addiction counsellor. They had an hour and a half visit with Ronan in order to help him get back in the rehabilitation. The counsellor promised Sean and Ronan he would help as he understood how vulnerable he was and how much help he needed to become clean. He said he knew other counsellors and services that Ronan could receive with his help.
Ronan was put under a tremendous amount of pressure from the people he owed money to. The drug dealer used this to his full advantage to try to exploit Ronan. Sniffer dogs are not used on republican visitors to republican prisoners. So the dealer leant on him to carry the drugs through the search area and drop it off along the pathway. Ronan was told that someone would pick it up. At no stage was it going to E-Block as Ronan handed over the package straight away to the screws and asked them to make it look like they found it on him as he was afraid of the retribution if he said he lost it. He did in fact ask for Sean but as I've said before Sean didn't know he had a visit and Ronan explained this to the screws that Sean knew nothing about this and said the drugs were destined for the non-republican C-Block on the day this happened.
TPQ: So only at that stage did Sean know who his visitor actually was?
Orla Connolly: Yes. Sean got ready and proceeded to the visitors’ section and was waiting for his visitor. The ACO then informed Sean that there was a problem with his visitor and told Sean his visitor had handed over contraband and some drugs - he didn't know what drugs they were - to the screws. Sean asked why was he called out. They told Sean that his visitor had explained that they were destined for C-Block and that his visitor had asked them not to tell Sean. Sean proceeded up the stairs and informed the gaol staff of what the ACO had said. Later that evening the “three bar” had informed the gaol staff what had happened, and about the drugs. He said the gaol authorities were happy that they were not intended for the republican block but for C-Block and that the visitor was under serious pressure. The republican staff told Sean this and they never questioned Sean as they knew he didn't know he had a visit and were happy with what they were told by the screws.
The next day after Sean had a visit with his partner he approached the gaol staff and asked them if they wanted him to leave. They told Sean under no circumstances should he leave as he cannot be held responsible for the actions of his visitor and said that they were only afraid that the gaol would have an excuse to use the sniffer dogs on republican prisoners’ visitors. Until the day of Sean's removal he wasn't questioned about this they was nothing said about how much was caught or who were the drugs going to as the gaol staff were happy with what they were told by the screws.
TPQ: If all this is correct, is there the possibility that Sean is being slapped for some other reason - a personality clash, dissent, a clash of the alleged egos republican groupings are now said to be infested with?
Orla Connolly: The reason that was giving to Sean on the day he was removed was that the gaol staff told Sean that they received a visit from two members from the six counties whom they had never met before and received the instruction that Sean was to be removed over the drugs. The staff informed Sean of this at dinner time, around 12.30. This was the only reason given to Sean on why he was to leave the republican block. Nobody from the Republican Movement from the outside has seen Sean. It was the very same people who claimed to have believed both the gaol authorities and Sean who informed him that he was to leave.
Sean and the rest of our family deserve to know why and how a decision was made without any questions having been asked of Sean and why there hasn't been court of inquiry into this or a court martial. This is all Sean and the rest of our family deserve. The transcript proves there was no real attempt to smuggle the drugs and the individual had not received any charges for this. Sean and the rest of the family have the proof of Sean's innocence.
TPQ: So, again, for purposes of clarity, I will summarise: Sean has never had explained to him by the republican jail staff, the reasons why he has been expelled from the republican part of the jail. There appears to have been no hearing or any type of IRA court martial, just an arbitrary decision with no right of appeal. He has not been allowed to challenge the evidence of the verdict. Everything has been carried out in a furtive manner. Is that an accurate summation?
Orla Connolly: Sean has never formally been informed by the Republican Movement even though it was gaol staff who obviously told Sean he was to leave the republican block. But before this, the gaol staff believed Sean fully on what had happened. There was no court of inquiry or a court martial and this is all Sean and the rest of the family are looking for as Sean is innocent of all the allegations that have been made against him by certain individuals.
TPQ: But is the problem not really that no allegations have in fact been laid before him and that he is also unable to ascertain which “certain individuals” have been pulling strings so to speak?
Orla Connolly: Sean has never been officially informed by the Republican Movement. This is despite it having been the republican gaol staff who asked him to leave. As I've said before, they believed Sean had nothing to do with this whole incident - there was no court of inquiry or a court martial. So, it seems abundantly clear that certain individuals are pulling the strings in order to criminalize Sean and ostracize him from the whole republican community. My father and I have only spoken to three members of this group and produced all the evidence we had in regards to Sean. On one occasion they said they would get back to us. Sean was told that he would be getting a visit from members of the Republican Movement. To date this still hasn't materialized. On the three occasions they arranged for my father and I to meet, they failed to turn up. All Sean and the rest of my family are looking for is proper explanations. Sean is innocent of what is being alleged and he can prove his innocence.
TPQ: Thanks for your time. Whether right or wrong in your assessments and analysis it takes courage to speak out against militaristic groups of any hue. Armed republicanism has a long censorious and authoritarian history which even Sinn Fein, despite having abandoned everything else associated with republicanism, finds it hard to jettison the intolerance for alternative ideas.