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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Captain's battle to clear name
One of the main characters in the Irish Republic's most historic trial has died. Captain James Kelly, along with former prime minister Charles Haughey and two others, was cleared in 1970 of illegally importing arms for the IRA's use in Northern Ireland.

BBC NI's Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison reports that Captain Kelly was a sometimes controversial figure.

Captain James Kelly
Captain James Kelly believed that he was acting on official orders
Captain James Kelly had spent the last 33 years trying to clear his name of any implication of wrong-doing arising out of the turbulent events of 1969, when the crisis in Northern Ireland exploded.

The Irish Government had not prepared for the violence and unrest, and used Kelly as its spy to report on developments north of the border.

Worried that Northern Ireland's Catholics might, as in the past, come under massive attack from Protestant mobs, a plan was devised to send weapons north for nationalists to protect themselves.

Who devised this plan and at what level has long been debated in Irish politics.

Captain Kelly believed that he was acting on official orders, based on a cabinet decision.

But the then Irish prime minister, Jack Lynch, disputed that belief and sacked two members of his cabinet, including Charles Haughey, when the opposition told him in 1969 that it knew of the attempt to import arms.

Charles Haughey
Charles Haughey: cleared of charges at 1970 arms trial
Captain Kelly was found not guilty at the trial in the following year.

Despite the verdict, he believed his life was ruined, his career prospects were blocked and that he was effectively unemployable.

He resigned from the Irish army that year and, like Mr Haughey, he spent years in the political wilderness as Mr Lynch sought to impose his authority while the Northern Ireland crisis deepened.

Captain Kelly's attempt to clear his name and regain his reputation began almost immediately with his book, Orders for the Captain, which he had to publish himself.

He was a constant writer to the letters pages of the newspapers and won several libel actions, the most recent being a 70,000 euro award in May against an Irish publishing company.

As recently as last week, he began a High Court action against the Irish State, seeking a declaration that his right to a fair trial had been breached at the original hearing.

For my part, I have never found any reason to doubt his integrity
Bertie Ahern
Irish Prime Minister
The day before his death, the former Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, called on his successor, Bertie Ahern, to issue a statement clearing the Captain's name.

On Wednesday night, hours after the death, Mr Ahern said: "It is my belief that at all times during those difficult days in the early period of the Troubles, Captain Kelly acted on what he believed were proper orders.

"Historians will make their own judgements about the events of that era.

"For my part, I have never found any reason to doubt his integrity."

Captain Kelly died, aged 73, at a Dublin hospice surrounded by his family.

He is survived by his wife, Sheila, and six children.

BBC NI political correspondent Gareth Gordon
"Something close to the apology Mr Kelly had long sought came after his death"

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18 Mar 03  |  Northern Ireland
Haughey leaves intensive care
20 Mar 01  |  Europe
Public gripped by payments inquiry
27 Jul 00  |  Northern Ireland
Former Irish PM in payments probe
21 Jul 00  |  Northern Ireland


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