Solicitor at 1970 Dublin arms trial praises integrity of army officer

Captain James Kelly
Captain James Kelly

The solicitor who defended an Irish army intelligence officer from charges of importing arms for the IRA has spoken out about the integrity of his client.

Frank Fitzpatrick was the solicitor for Capt James Kelly, who was charged with treason in the 1970 arms trial in Dublin.

The plot to import arms caused a political scandal at the time but the Irish state blamed it on a rogue element. Four men went to trial, including a minister, Charles Haughey, and Capt Kelly.

He claimed he was importing arms with official consent, but this was denied by the Irish state.

“Because of tension north and south you would think very carefully before agreeing, but I did agree to meet him [Kelly],” Mr Fitzpatrick told The Detail, a news website.

“Very clearly he was a person who was telling the truth.”

The Irish state said it knew nothing of the arms plot.

And when the case went to court, its key witness was to be Capt Kelly’s senior officer, the head of Irish army intelligence, Col Michael Hefferon.

But Mr Fitzpatrick has now revealed for the first time on camera how Col Hefferon decided to turn the trial on its head.

“At the first trial on the first morning of the court, someone came to me and said, ‘Col Hefferon – Capt Kelly’s commander – wants to meet his [Kelly’s] solicitor’.

“I met him in main hall of the court,” Mr Fitzpatrick told The Detail. “He was a tall dignified person who said to me ‘I spent two hours in the church this morning ... and I am not going to commit perjury. I have to tell you that your client is telling the truth.”

Col Hefferon told the court that Kelly was acting under orders and that the colonel had been briefing the Irish defence minister about the arms importation. Hefferon had been destined for the top but after that was ostracised professionally and socially.

l This interview was carried out as part of a new series by

Only eight of 110 extradited

Statistics supplied by Westminster confirm that from 1973-1997 the UK sought extradition of 110 republicans from the Irish Republic, but that only 42 were arrested and only eight were extradited.

The Detail website found a 1982 House of Commons debate revealed that in 34 cases, refusal to extradite was because the offence was “political”. In a further nine cases it was because there was no comparable offence in the Republic.

Kenny Donaldson, above, of South East Fermanagh Foundation, said the Irish state must account for border security during the Troubles. “Security and extradition policies were never really developed to actually, firstly intervene to prevent the problem, but certainly then to either combat terrorism, or, the other end of it, to actually hold people accountable for their actions,” he said.