I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

The Strasbourg Case


Michael Lillis writes: In the summer of 1972 I was transferred from the Irish embassy in Franco’s Madrid, where I had served as a Third Secretary (the lowest form of diplomatic life) for four years, to the Department’s headquarters in Dublin and assigned to its new Anglo-Irish Division, which was dealing with the crisis in Northern Ireland following the disastrous introduction of internment without trial on August 9th, 1971 which gave rise to substantial recruitment of young Catholic men to the Provisional IRA. On the following day ten Catholics were killed in the ‘Ballymurphy Massacre’ by members of the Parachute Regiment. The impact of these events was reinforced by widespread accusations of torture and even illegal executions by British and Northern Irish security forces and critically by the horrific massacre of thirteen civilians by members of the Parachute Regiment in Derry on Bloody, January 30th, 1972.

In December 1971 the Irish government, under the leadership of Jack Lynch, had launched a case against the United Kingdom government before the European Commission for Human Rights in Strasbourg, alleging widespread and deliberate breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. Thus began the most bitterly adversarial episode in Anglo-Irish relations since Partition.

My job was to help our legal team in Strasbourg by collecting evidence of ill-treatment and torture across Northern Ireland, but especially in the ghettoised communities in the cities and towns from the victims themselves and from secondary witnesses such as doctors, lawyers, family members and other witnesses.

Sean Donlon, my immediate superior, had already collected several hundred cases and presented them to the European Commission for Human Rights (ECHR), along with the evidence for the infamous ‘Hooded Men’, fourteen individuals who had been subjected to ‘in depth interrogation’ (years later renamed ‘enhanced interrogation’ by the US authorities to describe similar and in some cases identical practices in Guantánamo Bay). The ‘Hooded Men’ cases became the focus of media , somewhat to the neglect of the hundreds of other cases that Sean had collected and the government had submitted as part of the Ireland vs. the United Kingdom case in Strasbourg before I became involved. Sean had, in my estimation, a quite unique feel for the anguish experienced by the Catholic community at that time, largely inspired by the connections he had made with the Catholic clergy at all levels in Northern Ireland during and since his own days as a seminarian in Maynooth. His access to this network at the level of the hierarchy and, in many cases, at parish level, provided an incomparable source of information and access to direct, secondary and other witnesses to the abuses that had taken place across the region. Crucially Sean also enjoyed the trust and admiration of the taoiseach, Jack Lynch.

On February 18th, 2020 The Irish Times published a letter of mine paying tribute to the late psychiatrist Professor Bob Daly, a key adviser and witness for the Irish team in Strasbourg, who in my estimation had been one of the heroes of this entire episode.

Robert J Daly and ‘hooded men’ case
A chara, – Your fine obituary ‘Psychiatrist instrumental in holding British to account for torture’ (February 15th) of the eminent psychiatrist and human rights activist Bob Daly, a key expert and witness in the case before the European Commission on Human Rights (Ireland v the United Kingdom), recalled a dramatic day in Strasbourg in the spring of 1973.
Prof Daly was being cross-examined by the UK attorney general and other prominent British silks in the hectoring traditions of the Old Bailey. The tone began to change when Prof Daly explained that as a young psychiatrist in the US he had consulted for some years for the US Air Force who were training American military personnel who might be captured in combat to resist sophisticated forms of torture, including the ‘five techniques’ that the Irish government alleged amounted to torture.
He explained how knowledge of these ‘techniques’ had originated with the debriefing by US experts of the crew of the US Navy vessel USS Pueblo which had been captured by North Korea in January 1968.
During 10 months the captain and crew were subjected to various forms of torture, including the ‘five techniques’. Several suffered long-term psychological and physical damage.
By now the hectoring had stopped and was replaced by an expectant silence from the commission members and the entire courtroom. Prof Daly produced irrefutable written evidence from US government sources of the transmission of the findings by the US medical and intelligence authorities on the impact on their victims of the North Korean techniques to their counterparts in the UK.
He explained devastatingly how British medical and security experts had used these methods on the 14 ‘hooded men’ knowing beforehand how damaging their effects could be, including possibly major damage to a victim’s nervous system.
The British attorney general and his team made no attempt to refute any of this.
As a junior official of the Department of Foreign Affairs, I was an adviser to the Irish government’s legal team in collecting evidence in Northern Ireland of abuse of detainees at that time.
My strong recollection is that none of our legal experts had expected Prof Daly’s evidence to be as starkly conclusive as it proved to be.
Speaking to him years later he told me that he had had no political motivation whatever but, even knowing the risks to his professional standing that could arise, particularly in the UK, he had felt an obligation as a doctor to expose those of his own profession who were literally supervising torture.
Bob Daly is an heroic example to every Irish medical student today and to the rest of us. – Is mise,
Michael Lillis.

Sean introduced me to several of his key sources and contacts, beginning during a wet and miserable night in Divis Flats in Belfast where an exchange of live fire between the British army and the IRA was taking place in complete darkness, because every street light had been destroyed by one or other of the two sets of combatants. There I was introduced by Sean to the leadership of the Association for Legal Justice, determined West Belfast activists against the abuse of Catholic detainees, and to Fr Brian Brady of St Mary’s teacher training College in Belfast: I quickly learned that many of the Catholic activists were dubious about the real commitment of Dublin to fight their corner. Needless to say I was terrified. That was in effect my first day ever in Northern Ireland: I had briefly passed through a corner of the jurisdiction nearly ten years earlier when travelling with my mother to Saint Patrick’s penitential island in Lough Derg in Co Donegal. Like 99.9 per cent of Southern Nationalists I had never met a Unionist. I had on occasion met IRA activists from the late ’50s and early ’60s at the home of the great Mairtín Ó Caidhin, a close friend of my parents, but had never taken them seriously. As with other episodes I often have difficulty today in believing that I was there at that time.

For about eighteen months I travelled in a modest car (what we used to call in those days a ‘banger’) to every Catholic corner of Northern Ireland to collect further evidence of British security service abuse. At this stage the Provisional IRA campaign of permanent violence was well launched and the Provisionals and the Irish government had identified each other as irreconcilable antagonists; the Irish state used emergency measures to try to counteract, imprison and neutralise the IRA, while the IRA denied the legitimacy and even the existence of the Irish state, even though they depended on its sovereignty for the pursuit of many of their objectives.

The Catholic community was divided between those (a majority until the IRA ceasefire of 1994) who, despite widespread revulsion at the behaviour of the British and Unionist security forces and the policies they represented, supported a non-violent approach, and a minority who supported the ‘men of violence’ as we called them and who were determined to pursue a campaign and policy centred on violence to the end of what they called a ‘long war’. The corresponding but barbaric campaign of kidnapping, unimaginably savage torture and killing of innocent Catholics by extreme and frequently deranged loyalist terrorists was sometimes abetted by members of the local or British security forces. Our calculation was that people like me, a Dublin official wandering alone around the North in a Southern-registered car, would probably be subject to threatening and insulting behaviour if we fell into the hands of the Provisional IRA:  we would enjoy a measure of protection from the IRA’s own ordinance against deliberately killing the agents of the Irish state which for the most part they observed. But we would almost certainly be tortured, killed and probably ‘disappeared’ if we ran into a patrol by the UDA or other loyalist terrorists because the sovereign Irish state represented, however absurdly, to their paranoia the most extreme threat of all to their tribal dominance and survival at this time of convulsion and heightened violence.

Most of my weekdays and -nights and many weekends were spent in Northern Ireland. Because of the nature of my work I made many friends among the Catholic community and particularly among those at what the French call the most ‘popular’ level. These were a people who since the foundation of Northern Ireland in 1921 had known only oppression and systematic discrimination. There is undoubtedly a special kind of kindliness and empathy, and a unique strain of good humour and self-deprecation, about those who are the innocent victims of systematic oppression and which make them irresistible to outsiders such as I was. That is what I encountered repeatedly during those years and it remains my abiding sense of their magnificent worth as human beings. It is forever epitomised in John Hume’s favourite party piece, Phil Coulter’s love song to Derry, ‘The Town I Loved So Well’.

In the early morn, the shirt factory horn
Called women from Creggan, the Moor and the Bog;
While their men on the dole played a mother’s role
Fed the children and then walked the dog.
And when times got rough, there was just about enough
But they saw it through without complaining
For deep inside was a burning pride
In the town I loved so well.

The strategists for the Dublin cause in Strasbourg were planning to present physically before the Commision for Human Rights a set of about thirty ‘illustrative witnesses’, but we strongly preferred that the cases we presented would be on behalf of victims who were themselves not involved in violence. The preference here was not a political choice, rather because the credibility of any victim who was involved in IRA violence would be likely to be destroyed in the witness stand by British barristers who would probably prove that such witnesses were active terrorists seeking to exploit the ECHR purely for anti-British propaganda purposes. The Commission comprised seasoned and often learned jurists from across the forty-three member states of the Council of Europe, most of whom were likely in those days to be far better disposed to the legend that Britain was the cradle of modern democracy than to our relatively unknown jurisdiction. The reverse is today more likely to be the case, largely though not entirely because of Ireland’s well-established and admired commitment to the European Union, by contrast with Brexit, most of whose vociferous supporters favour Britain abrogating its adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights.

One of the main sources that I relied on was Fr. Denis Faul, the well known fearless human rights advocate. A man of adamantine courage and integrity, he represented the old-fashioned principles of the Irish Catholic tradition, taking an absolutist traditional position on all religious controversies such as divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality, to the point of signalling his obduracy by wearing an outsized clerical collar, much larger than the slimmer version that had become more common among the rest of the clergy. At the same time he was an indefatigable and formidable advocate on abuses of human rights of prisoners and citizens. I spent many evenings in his company in his flat in St Patrick’s College in Dungannon. I hugely respected his courage and enjoyed his surprising wit and was intrigued by his well-stocked shelves of contemporary French novels. I also relished the high quality of his spoken Irish (Donegal dialect). One evening he told me that he had been at a British holding centre the previous night looking for a detainee from Derry whose mother was shouting to her son who was a prisoner inside the base: ‘If ye have to die, die; but tell them nathin’.’ Father Faul later addressed a well-spoken young subaltern, probably an Etonian or the graduate of some other prestigious public school: ‘In the name of the Holy, Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, I command you to release unto me Patrick Doherty.’ He said that his demand had been met with meek acquiesce and that Paddy Doherty, though badly beaten, was restored to his mother. Fr Faul believed, perhaps even correctly, that the British, including their officer class, could be intimidated by what he called ‘the Church militant’.

Another miserably wet evening I came to meet him as he was training the Gaelic football team of his school; the goalkeeper had just been knocked down  by an incoming attack and was unrecognizably disguised in layers of mud. Faul immediately addressed him in an English version of perfectly assonantal Irish verse:

Are you Aurora, or the Goddess Flora, or Timidora or Venus bright?

During those years my overwhelming desire on most Friday evenings was to get back to Dublin, even though it made huge sense to wait wherever I found myself until the following morning. I was stopped at late-night checkpoints repeatedly by the British army and the RUC: they obviously disliked and distrusted the drivers of Southern-registered cars, which they nearly always searched for weapons and explosives; my main concern was to avoid being caught in live exchanges between them and the Provisional IRA. I vividly recall the palpable fear and trembling hands and coal-blackened faces of teenage British squaddies. Fortunately they never read the hundreds of pages of witness statements of complaints against the outrages committed by the  security forces in the boot of my ‘banger’. My ridiculous excuse now for my reckless improvidence then has to be the insouciance of youth; I was still in my mid-twenties. I occasionally encountered IRA checkpoints but I did not have any difficulties with them. I remember well two late-night encounters on the Northern outskirts of Belfast with loyalist gunmen, the UVF or the UDA, pitiless torturers and killers of Catholics, for whom I would have been a desirable prize had they identified me. The worst moments were the fear that consumed you as you sat in the queue of cars that approached the checkpoint (a dash to escape would have ensured a hail of bullets) and the best moments were in the relief that overwhelmed you once you had been unaccountably waved through. I had one very bad experience with the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), the local force that ‘replaced’ the infamous B Specials (a distinction without any real difference). I was driving through a narrow country road from Dungannon , having left the flat of my friend Fr Faul. I was waved down by a group of soldiers and quickly realised from their accents that they were UDR. As directed I stepped out of my car and saw them searching the boot and discussing together some documents which of course were complaints against the security forces, many of them precisely against the UDR. Moments later I was bundled into an armoured car and driven to a nearby military barracks, which I later learned to be Drummad, the headquarters in Northern Ireland of the UDR. I was placed in a holding room and some moments later two burly soldiers began to beat me. I am no hero and was screaming that I was a Dublin official and needed to speak to a senior officer. This did not mollify my abusers; on the contrary. But they did finally desist and one of them left the room while his companion continued to berate me orally in choice Loyalist epithets. Some minutes later a senior officer, an Englishman, entered. In a moment’s inspiration I told him that I had been visiting Fr Denis Faul, the well-known human rights activist, that they should check with Faul (whom the officer knew of – and probably detested) and that Fr Faul would raise the alarm if I failed to appear in Dublin later that night. It worked. Very much the worse for wear, another English officer drove me in my own car back to St Patrick’s College in Dungannnon, accompanied by two army vehicles. Fr Faul called a doctor (it must have been 2 am) who patched me up. No bones were broken. I resolved with Faul to say nothing in Dublin. At this stage the secret talks preparatory to the Sunningdale Agreement, in which Donlon was heavily involved, were moving forward and I had no desire to be the cause célèbre who destabilised them.

The strategists of Ireland’s case in Strasbourg were concerned that the group of illustrative witnesses that we had selected lacked a rural dimension. Accordingly I had recourse to Fr Faul, who agreed to help. He assured me that he had precisely the ideal men in mind ‘farmers from the heart of the Sperrin mountains’. Mindful of my stipulation he asked me to return a week later; by then he would have taken measures to assure me of their ‘bona fides’. When I came back he introduced me to the three, one of whom was clearly the leader. I asked ‘Dinny’, as he was called by some of his closer clerical friends, how he had ensured that our stipulation was reliably ensured. For the first time in our acquaintance he looked a little sheepish but he did in a rather roundabout way hint that he had dealt with the issue in the confessional. I did not pursue the matter beyond that but I privately distrusted the leading Sperrins man and, by extension, his two acolytes.

A few weeks later our entire team of officials, lawyers and over twenty-five victim-witnesses, including Fr Faul’s three denizens of the Sperrins, led by our attorney-general, Declan Costello, returned to Strasbourg. We all stayed at the very modest Hotel Terminus in the Place de la Gare, which like many traditional railway centres throughout France, in those days was a centre for petty crime and street prostitution. Most of our principal witnesses had never been outside Belfast and several had not even got that far. We had help from several of the lawyers and medical professionals who accompanied them in keeping them optimistic and in good spirits. I was blessed by the help and companionship of a colleague, Tom Bolster. Tom had many of the attributes of successful diplomacy: an absolutely brilliant linguist, he had trained for several years in several European universities to become a Franciscan priest. Like the founder of that order he personified humility and bonhomie and was popular with the witnesses. It happened that there was a carnival taking place in Strasbourg’s famous Place de la Cathédrale, which included the usual amusements, notably a rifle range. Tom and I and indeed several others could not help noticing that our three witnesses from the Sperrin Mountains were coming back each evening laden with the spoils of marksmanship: large teddy bears, boxes of chocolates, trinkets. I feared the worst. So did the owner of the rifle range, who closed shop after three nights.

Most of our witnesses were powerfully effective over the following days in presenting a highly credible picture of physical and mental ill-treatment and stood up to the bullying cross-examination by Queen’s Counsel with success because they were speaking with unimpeachable conviction. Two of them fainted in the witness box under the pressure of recalling the trauma of their ill-treatment. Unfortunately our three heroes from the Sperrins proved to be disastrous. Their leader, a thuggish individual, was broken down by the British barristers to a point of admitting to attempted murder of security force personnel. His two companions were pathetic. When their leader emerged from his well-deserved ordeal he threatened to have me killed. I arranged for the three of them to be sent home almost immediately. It was clear that they were under the command of the Provisional IRA who clearly wished them to be part of the case put forward by the Irish government and perhaps to gain some credit for deceiving ‘ those traitors in Dublin’ as well as for exposing British torture. In fact the effect of their foolish effort was to damage our campaign but providentially only to a very limited extent. The good man they betrayed most cynically was Denis Faul.

At the beginning of December 1973 , our attorney-general, Declan Costello, sought me out in Strasbourg to explain that he would have to leave to take part in the talks at Sunningdale in England, which it was hoped would lead to a political settlement in Northern Ireland. It happened that at that stage we had about thirty ‘secondary witnesses’, mainly doctors and lawyers, waiting to be called to give evidence. There were no primary witnesses or direct victims of abuse on our side at that moment in Strasbourg.

Costello was an impressive performer in the Commission. His attacks on his surprisingly bumbling British opposite number, Sir Peter Rawlinson, were merciless. His style of address was cold and venomous, particularly when skewering UK policy issues, a characteristic exemplified by a number of Fine Gael politicians, such as our taoiseach at that time, Liam Cosgrave, and one of Costello’s successors, John Kelly, by contrast with some of their Fianna Fáil colleagues who, in direct contact with British ministers, were often surprisingly emollient.

Costello appointed me as temporary leader of the remaining Strasbourg team while he and Mahon Hayes, the head of the DFA’s legal division, were in Sunningdale. He instructed me to take all the professional Irish witnesses to a splendid dinner and to spare no expense. Most if not all of these had travelled to Strasbourg at their own expense, foregoing in many cases opportunities for earning fees during their absence.

I took Costello at his word and my gifted colleague Tom Bolster fully booked out a beautiful small restaurant, perfectly situated on the old Cathedral Square. The dinner was a brilliant success with our party spread over, and moving between, three floors of the sixteenth century wooden house with ancient beams framing a delightful atmosphere throughout. The wine and food were terrific. Good cheer and hilarity reigned in a way that could only be created by a company of men from Northern Ireland determined on enjoyment and relief from not being in the midst of the tensions and horrors that dominated everyone’s lives every day at that time in the North.

Next morning , though somewhat exhausted, I made my way to our designated rooms at the Commission to be confronted by a written message from Paul Fifoot CMG, deputy legal adviser at the British Foreign Office (Companion of St Michael and St George, an official British decoration – more popularly retranscribed at lower levels of the Foreign Office as ‘Call Me God’) . He needed to speak to me urgently. I went to his office in the Commission. He immediately accused me and my colleagues of deliberately exposing members of his team to extreme danger. He said that a member of our team had aggressively photographed several members of his group. Moreover he demanded to know the identity of the photographer and that I deliver the negatives from his camera. He added that he had sent a message to prime minister Heath in Sunningdale describing this outrage and suggesting that he cancel the Sunningdale Conference in view of the deliberate risks we had created for the British delegation. Naturally I said I had no idea what he was talking about but said I would investigate and let him know if I had any observations to make.

It took me several hours to piece together an idea of what had happened. It transpired that, at about midnight the previous evening, the landlord of the Restaurant de la Cathédrale had admitted three English men in ‘belted overcoats’ and with the permission of some of our guests on the ground floor had seated them in a corner of the main room. One of our guests was a consultant in the Mater Hospital, the main Catholic institution at that time in Belfast. He and several others identified the three intruders in their ‘belted overcoats ‘as British army personnel. The consultant, let’s call him John, had his car stopped and searched every time he entered or exited the Mater, sometimes as often as six times a day. John’s hobby was photography; indeed he was permanently burdened with a battery of cameras while he was in Strasbourg. With an access of fury he went up to the table of the British ‘spies’ (his probably correct description), placed his cameras immediately in front of each of them and snapped to his heart’s content. Naturally I told John that he had possibly damaged the all-important Sunningdale Conference on which all our hopes for peace were resting and that I was going to arrange for him to fly home next morning.

But I had to do something to deal with Fifoot’s threat that he had suggested to Heath that the Sunningdale meeting be cancelled .I was not privy to the talks, but I had heard enough to know that it was possible that some on the British side (for example Hailsham, the Lord Chancellor) might welcome any excuse to cancel them. It was vital that I let Dublin know immediately.

Ireland had a permanent representative to the Council of Europe, the umbrella body over the ECHR and the European Court of Human Rights. He was Dr Seán Ó Héadáin, who had earlier fired me from the Department within a month of my probation until Charles Haughey saved me by taking me into his Department of Finance for six months. He was a known eccentric: later when I found myself in the embassy in Washington DC, where Ó Héideáin had previously served, I discovered numerous files of clippings from the Washington Post and other US and Irish newspapers which he had ordered to be marked and filed as ‘Secret’.

I knew that he was in Strasbourg, where he lived in isolation and eschewed the company in the Terminus Hotel of the Irish legal team and our witnesses. I tracked him down and gave him a brief account of the events of the previous evening and that morning, stressing the threat to Sunningdale. He told me he could not help as he had no access to cyphers in Strasbourg. On the other hand he was not surprised as he himself was being followed around by two individuals, one of whom ‘had the long nose of a British spy’.

So I had to find a different route to a solution. Like Ó Heideáin I had no cyphers to protect any message. I therefore went to a public phonebox and spoke to Patrick O’Connor in our embassy in Paris. Fortunately Patrick had moderately good Irish and I was able to give him a succinct account of the problem. I asked him to forward my message to Dublin and arrange for its content to be forwarded from there to our delegation in Sunningdale.

I returned to the Commission and told Fifoot that I was awaiting instructions. I did not contact him further.

Another week elapsed in Strasbourg when, at the request of both delegations, the hearings were postponed.

Probably a week later, after the dizzying success of the Sunningdale Agreement, I learned of the fate of my message from Strasbourg (in Irish) to Paris, and from Paris to Dublin (in cypher), and of its eventual transmission to the Irish team in Sunningdale. I believe my informant was Sean Donlon who had been in the Irish delegation room in Sunningdale and who had read out its contents to the taoiseach, the minister for foreign affairs, the attorney general and their colleagues.

It must be recalled that the Irish language shares a peculiarity with several other European tongues in employing the same word ‘cos’ for both ‘foot’ and ‘leg’. And so, when referring to my British opposite number Fifoot in my telephone call to O’Connor from Strasbourg to Paris, I used the Irish form ‘Cúig-chos’.

When this was translated to English, whether in Paris or in Dublin, the narrative took the following form:

Fivelegs said to me… and Fivelegs said he had suggested to Mr. Heath … and I told Fivelegs that I would if instructed contact him …

Until the end, when in an additional coda to my purported message, apparently it unaccountably concluded: ‘correction: for Fivelegs read Fiftylegs’.

Apparently this narrative was greeted with mounting hilarity and almost as a welcome relief at a tense moment in the Sunningdale negotiations by all our ministers. I was glad to have furnished a measure of respite at such a vital moment. Nothing further was heard of Mr Fifoot’s threats.

Four months later the British government, now under Harold Wilson, backed down cravenly in the face of the loyalists’ strikes and Sunningdale and the great hopes surrounding its achievement were destroyed. There followed a barren decade of British fatalism epitomised by Merlyn Rees, Roy Mason and Humphrey Atkins.

This was perhaps the lowest period for what we used to call the ‘constitutional nationalists’, in my lifetime at least.

Those of us involved in Strasbourg soldiered on and we brought a few more draughts of witnesses to the city on the Rhine. The last one I was involved with was heard in the final days of February 1974. I particularly remember one of the witnesses, a janitor in a primary school on the Falls Road. His name was Paddy, a small but lively man. He was beaten so badly and his face and jaw so damaged that the shorthand notetakers in the Commission appealed to me afterwards to try to reconstitute his evidence. Aside from having lost a good deal of his jaw in a prolongued and savage beating of an innocent man of over sixty, his basic accent was so strong that it bested my own efforts. We gave the shorthand notetakers a copy of Paddy’s original statement to us and approved their giving it to the British side.

On the freezing cold morning of March 3rd a group of some fifteen passengers of our group assembled at the Terminus Hotel, Paddy among them, to go to Strasbourg Airport to take an Air Inter flight to Orly Airport so that several of us could connect with a Turkish Airline flight from Orly to Heathrow and connect onwards from there to Belfast or Dublin. As we walked across the runway to board the Air Inter propellered ATR airplane, I remember Paddy, in feisty mood, shouting ‘Up the Provies, Up the Stickies!’. When we got to Orly Airport I remember insisting with the group that we should stick together come what may. When the time came to go to the departure gate for the Turkish airlines flight, Paddy was missing. After a few minutes I changed our reservation to a BA flight departing slightly later. Paddy showed up eventually (he had found a bar) and we went to our new gate. Turkish Flt 981 was cleared to fly to London Heathrow. Its DC-10 30 climbed to 1,200 feet and crashed into a forest. All 348 passengers died. There were no survivors. There was a fault in the cargo door on the aircraft which created a catastrophic decompression explosion.

Thank you Paddy.

Postscript: I left the Anglo-Irish Division in 1974 for a posting in the United States. In 1976 the European Commission for Human Rights found the UK Government guilty of torture. In 1978 the European Court of Human Rights, a superior instance, found the UK guilty of inhuman and degrading treatment but not guilty of torture. In 2018 the European Court upheld this decision. In 2022 the Hooded Men won their case before the UK Supreme Court which ruled that their treatment amounted to torture.


Michael Lillis was appointed diplomatic adviser to the taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, in 1981 and was one of the negotiators of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. From 1985-87 he was first Dublin-based head of the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Maryfield, Belfast (the ‘’Bunker’) set up under that Agreement. From 1990 until recently he was involved in leasing aircraft, mainly in Latin America.


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