The Frank Keane Defence Committee, 1970

Submitted by dalcassian on 27 June, 2014 - 9:18

Introduction: a footnote to Republican-Socialist history.

On Friday, April 3, 1970 a group of armed men raided the Bank  of Ireland on Arran Quay, in Dublin. In the course of this raid an unarmed policeman who tried to stop them, Richard Fallon, was shot dead. The police immediately blamed a small urban guerrilla Guevarist organisation called Saor Eire (Free Ireland) for the robbery and murder. They put out a list of men they wanted to “interview”. One of the men, Frank Keane, was soon apprehended by the British police in London. He would spend a year in Brixton jail awaiting extradition. He would eventually stand trial in Dublin and be acquitted.

The Frank Keane Defence Committee was set up in London by Liam Daltun, with a bit of help from me, and in consultation with one of the men wanted by the Irish police, Sean Morrissey, who was hiding in London. We tried to publicise the case in the British labour movement, appealing for help against a police frame-up. Liam consulted solicitors – Ben Birnberg, is the name my memory supplies – and arranged for proper legal representation. He visited Frank Keane in Brixton Prison, attempting to give him what support he could (I went with him to see Birnberg and on one of his visits to Brixton prison, but it was Liam who did the work.) He called a meeting (my memory is very hazy on this.)

The Defence Committee never amounted to much. Socialist Worker, the weekly paper of the International Socialists (the Socialist Workers Party) of which I was a member, carried a couple of pieces on the case. The Mandelite Red Mole carried a statement from the committee. A picket was mounted outside the Irish Embassy in London. In Manchester Harold Youd, John Magennis, a Belfast man who worked on the Manchester Docks, and I 'intervened' at a General Election meeting in an Irish area where the MP for West Belfast, Gerry Fitt, was speaking to help get his friend Gerald Kaufman elected. We demanded that he take a stand on the case. He didn't. Other such things, most likely, were done as well. That's all I remember.

Both the International Socialists and the Mandelites of the Fourth International were at that point focused on work in the British organisation of the Official Republican movement, Clan Na hEireann (within which the Mandel Fourth International had members. One of the Mandelites leading Irish activists, Gery Lawless, was attempting - unsuccessfully - to join the Official Republicans.*) Mandelite fantasy-spinning around Saor Eire was still in the future. There was sympathy but, I guess, the inhibiting sense that not a lot could be done in Britain.

These two pieces appeared in Socialist Worker, and one of them also in Red Mole.

*In the IWG files held by AWL there is a rough draft of an article by Peter Graham denouncing Lawless for this.

Sean Matgamna, May, 2014

Socialist Worker 30th of May 1970:

Frank Keane, an Irish socialist republican, is in Brixton jail awaiting extradition proceedings. He is charged with killing a policeman named Fallon during a bank robbery, said to be the work of militant republicans, which took place in Dublin six weeks ago.

keane says it is a frame up, organised by the notorious special political police arm of Dublin's police, to 'nail' a fighter against Irish capitalism and British imperialism.

Within hours of the robbery the police issued the names and addresses of seven men from whom they wanted 'help' with their enquiries. All seven are militant socialist Republicans.

No warrants were issued, thereby showing that the police, to say the least, didn't have any clear evidence. Indeed they could hardly have had time to even begin the investigation.

However, they did have a list of names of people they wanted to 'get'. Amongst those names was Sean Morrissey, who had been an editor of the Irish Trotskyist magazine Workers Republic. Another was Joe Dillon, whose past experience of the Irish political police sheds a flood of light on the current case and the normal methods of the Irish police.

In 1966 Dillon was framed by the Special Detective Unit (political police) of Dublin Castle for robbery and given a five-year sentence. A left wing member of the IRA moving towards Marxism, he was a natural target for the special police.

Before his arrest he had been offered bribes by the Special Branch to inform on the IRA. When he refused, he was told that 'the Branch' would "get him". And they did.

He was arrested for an attempted robbery that had taken place six months earlier. In an identification parade none of the witnesses identified Dillon. Nevertheless a year later he was tried and given five years.

An international campaign was organised to demand Dillon's release. Eventually the sentence was reduced to 3 years.

The same people who framed him then are attempting it again now, for murder – which in Ireland still carries the death penalty for killing a policeman.

In order to extradite Frank Keane, they will have to present a large part of their 'evidence' to the Old Street Magistrates Court.

They are not above fabricating such 'evidence'. It is part of the everyday work of the Irish political police.

With the present political crisis in the 'Republic', the government desperately needs scapegoats – they need to annihilate groups and individuals who want to combine a militant non-sectarian socialist policy with aggressive anti-imperialism.

Keane was victimised in the past. When he was named by the police, he wrote a letter to the Irish Times. He denied knowledge of the killing, but refused to help the police.

He explained that he had been harried and persecuted in the past for his politics. The police had previously attempted to frame him on a robbery charge and for attempting to burn down a Fianna Fail branch office.

He was jailed and ill-treated on the robbery charge and finally just released.

Socialist in Britain had a duty to aid Frank Ryan. Help keep Frank out of the hands of the brutal Irish police. We must let the Dublin government know that it has the labour movement to reckon with, not only in Ireland but here as well.

Trade unions, I S, Labour Party, Young Socialist, Communist Party and YCL branches, and other revolutionary socialists and Republicans must send messages and resolutions in support of Keane and the other political prisoners, to the Irish Embassy, Mount Street, London W1. Pickets outside the Irish embassy will be organised.

Liam Daltun and Sean Matgamna

( London and Manchester contact numbers for the Frank Keane Defence Committee.)

Socialist Worker, 13th of June 1970:

The Irish police are uncertain that the charge against socialist republican Frank Keane of killing a policeman in April can be made to stick.

So they have brought in a new charge. Keane, at present held in Brixton jail in London pending extradition to Ireland, is now also charged with complicity in an armed bank robbery at Rathdrum on 20 February.

It looks as if the Irish police do not have enough confidence in their ability to fabricate evidence serious enough to pin the murder charge on Keane.

The new charge at this stage probably means it is the one they are relying on most. It does not mean they will stop trying to frame him for murder.

It shows that Keane is right when he says that the murder charge is a frame-up because he was a supporter of a left socialist republican group, Saor Eire (Free Ireland).

It had been expected that at least some of the 'evidence' would have to be presented in the British court at extradition hearings.

But normal extradition no longer exists between Britain and the Irish Republic. Under a special arrangement, no evidence needs to be presented to a court here: only a warrant from Ireland, which is almost automatically endorsed by the magistrate.

An affidavit from the Irish police will also be presented to 'show' that Keane is not wanted, as he claims, for political offences. This does not rule out victimisation and frame-up because of his politics.

There is a possible loophole that may allow the introduction of the political issues. This will probably emerge in the appeal, which is when the fight will really start.

Money is urgently needed. Legal aid covers no more than the magistrates court. The appeals could cost up to £500. Donations and requests for collecting cards should go to Joe Quinn (addresses given) or the Irish Civil Rights Solidarity Campaign.

Liam Daltun and Sean Matgamna


Submitted by Roe. on Fri, 25/07/2014 - 15:34

The Irish Republican & Marxist History Project published your Frank Keane Defence Committee article on the blog.Have bean gathering interviews from former Saor Eire members and the left Republican's from this period.In addition gathering photographs of events and people like Peter Graham,Liam Daltun and Mairin Keegan.If Sean you could do an interview about this time it would be much appreciated.

Submitted by dalcassian on Fri, 01/08/2014 - 17:53

In reply to by Roe.

O k. You realise that, even though I felt a responsibility to solidarise with them against the state, and had strong personal ties to Peter Graham and Liam Daltun, I was highly critical of what Saor Eire was doing? Looking back, I am not less critical now... Even according to the Guevarist theory to which some in Saor Eire subscribed, urban guerrilla war did not make political sense in a stable bourgeois democracy, such as the 26 counties. That would come out in any interview. But ok, I'll talk to you about it.

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