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Blair apologizes for wrongful IRA jailings

Wrongly Convicted Guilford Four Hoping For Public Apology
Gerry Conlon, left, speaks to reporters Wednesday as he arrives at the Houses of Parliament before British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued an apology for the wrongful jailing of 11 people, including Conlon, in connection with 1974 bombings blamed on the Irish Republican Army.Bruno Vincent / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a public apology Wednesday to members of two families whose wrongful imprisonment for IRA bombings three decades ago was dramatized in the film “In the Name of the Father.”

Members of the Conlon and Maguire families were jailed in connection with Irish Republican Army bombings in Guildford and Woolwich in England in 1974. One attack killed five people and injured 54 others.

“I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice,” Blair said in a statement. “That is why I am making this apology today. They deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated.”

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair leaves Downing Street, London, for Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons February 9, 2005. One of four men who spent 15 years in jail wrongly convicted of an Irish Republican Army bombing that killed five people in 1974 goes to parliament on Wednesday hoping to hear a public apology from Prime Minister Blair. REUTERS/Kieran DohertyKieran Doherty / X00352

Guiseppe Conlon and his son, Gerry, were imprisoned for the bombings. Guiseppe Conlon died in prison in 1980, while Gerry Conlon was released after serving 15 years.

The 1993 film “In the Name of the Father” earned seven Oscar nominations. Pete Postlethwaite portrayed Guiseppe Conlon and Daniel-Day Lewis portrayed Gerry.

Blair set a precedent for such apologies soon after taking office in 1997, when he offered a statement of regret for British policy during the 1845-1852 potato famine, during which 1 million people died in Ireland and another 2 million fled to Britain or North America.

Blair’s gesture Wednesday came during the latest deadlock in Northern Ireland’s long-running peace process and with pressure mounting on Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party, over the outlawed group’s alleged $50 million robbery of a Belfast bank — the biggest cash theft in history.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has said he believes the IRA committed the Dec. 20 raid on Northern Bank and that senior figures in Sinn Fein authorized it. The IRA has denied involvement, and police have made no arrests and recovered none of the cash.