A note from the editor: This article is about the late Paudge Brennan, the Fianna Fáil Minister who resigned a little over 50 years ago after the eruption of the Arms Crisis. It is written by his son, Sean. Not surprisingly, it is partisan. It does, nevertheless, yield an insight into a perspective on Irish politics that has been shielded by the mainstream media, especially The Irish Times and RTE. Not a word of it has been changed.
Shortly before Neil Blaney died, he went for a meal with some very close friends. Blaney reminisced about his political career. When it came to the period of the Arms Crises 1970 Blaney told the others that as far as he was concerned the unsung heroes of that period were “Kevin and Paudge”. He was of course referring to his two closest political friends and colleagues, Kevin Boland and Paudge Brennan. Paudge Brennan was my father.
When the events of the 1970 Arms Crises are discussed, the name Paudge Brennan is rarely mentioned. However, Paudge’s political career was hugely influenced by these events. Shortly after Neil Blaney was sacked on 6 May 1970, Paudge tendered his resignation as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government.
At the time, the media generally reported that my father resigned out of loyalty to Neil Blaney. This was not the case. While my father was always a very loyal colleague and friend, he did not resign out of loyalty to Blaney or Haughey but rather out of loyalty to his own principles and high personal standards.
He did not wish to be part of a set-up which was riddled with deception, lies, treachery and betrayal. He knew that Jack Lynch’s actions in sacking Blaney and Haughey for their involvement in the government-approved plan to import arms was treacherous and dishonest and motivated by the then Taoiseach’s desire to preserve his own position at all costs. It was a huge act of betrayal by Lynch of his cabinet colleagues.
Because of Paudge Brennan’s very close relationship with Neil Blaney and Kevin Boland, who were key players in the events leading up to the ministerial sackings, I believe that he was very much aware of the arms importation plan. He would also have been aware of the pivotal role played by the Minister for Defence, Jim Gibbons, in the events surrounding the arms importation plan. My father also believed that Lynch was aware of the plan to bring in the arms but then, when the plan was in danger of being uncovered, Lynch denied all knowledge of it in order to preserve his own position – and betrayed his ministerial colleagues, Blaney, Haughey and Micheál O’Moráin.
Paudge Brennan did not want to be part of that deceit. Not only did he sacrifice his position as Parliamentary Secretary but due to the fact that there were now four ministerial vacancies and only six Parliamentary Secretaries of which he was one of the most senior, there was a very strong probability that he would have been appointed a minister in May 1970.
After Fianna Fáil won the 1969 General Election there was much speculation by political commentators that Paudge Brennan was going to be appointed the Minister for Defence. This did not happen, however – and Jim Gibbons got this job. If Paudge Brennan had been appointed the Minister for Defence in 1969, then history would have been very different and there might not have been an arms trial. Lynch would not have been able to manipulate my father into colluding with him in telling lies and covering up Lynch’s role in the arms plan. My father was far too honourable to behave in such a deceitful manner.
Paudge Brennan’s father, Tom Brennan, was the Commandant of the 4th Battalion of the North Wexford Brigade of the IRA during the War of Independence. He took the anti-treaty side in the civil war. When my father was a baby his mother brought him by pony and trap to Enniscorthy so that his father, who was in prison, could see his young son. However, the prison guard on duty refused to allow my grandmother and my father in to see my grandfather.
Tom Brennan was interned in Tintown Prison Camp at the Curragh. During his time there he went on a three- week hunger and thirst strike. One of his fellow internees in Tintown was Niall Blaney whose son Neil became a great friend and political colleague of Tom’s son Paudge many year’s later.
Paudge was one of 10 children and grew up in the village of Carnew in south County Wicklow. The village population consisted mainly of pro-Free State supporters, with the result that my father, being a son of a Republican, would have been an outsider in political terms. However, he was well able to stand his ground and look after himself and was hugely proud of and loyal to his father.
My grandfather Tom Brennan was asked to stand for Fianna Fáil in the 1927 General Election in the constituency of Wicklow. As he was originally from Wexford, he felt that he was in some way a blow-in in Wicklow and he was therefore not comfortable standing for election in that constituency. By 1943, however, he agreed to be a candidate for Fianna Fáil in Wicklow in that year’s General Election. Kevin Boland’s first time in Carnew was when he accompanied his father Gerry Boland to Carnew to persuade Tom Brennan to stand for Fianna Fáil in the 1943 General Election. While Tom failed to get elected in 1943, he was elected in the general election in 1944.
My father was a very good footballer and played corner forward for Wickow for many years during the 1940s and 1950s. Wicklow had some very good players during that period.
My father took over the family’s successful building-contracting business when his father was elected a TD in 1944. The contracting business specialised in public works such as churches, schools and sewerage.
Tom Brennan was delighted one day in the Dáil in early 1949 when a young newly-elected TD from Donegal by the name of Neil Blaney went over to him to introduce himself. Tom Brennan and Neil’s father were great friends and served not only in the Dáil but in prison camps together.
1953 Wicklow By-election
In 1950 Paudge married Mary Smith from Wicklow Town. Mary was very supportive and was a huge asset to Paudge during his political career. She ran his constituency office from their home in Carnew as well as rearing a family of six and attending political functions. Some people would credit a large part of Paudge’s huge polling record to Mary who was very hospitable, methodical and efficient in dealing with constituent’s problems. Mary died recently at the age of ninety five.
When Paudge’s father Tom died in 1953 Paudge was asked by De Valera to stand as the Fianna Fail candidate in the 3-seater Wicklow constituency by-election. While my father never indulged in self -promotion, he acceded to Dev’s request and stood in the by-election. Paudge polled very well, but because of vote transfers between Fine Gael and Labour he did not succeed in being elected.
Shortly after the election count Paudge got a telegram from De Valera stating “Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach” and Dev was right as Paudge was elected in the General Election in 1954 and headed the poll in all the subsequent General Elections up to and including 1969. He was one of the top vote getters in the country and in the 1957 General Election he polled 40.09% of the first preference votes. His surplus was sufficient to elect his running mate, Jimmy O’Toole. This was a huge achievement in a three-seat constituency.
Donogh O’ Malley
Another TD who was first elected in 1954 was Donogh O’ Malley who later had a successful career as a minister and to whom a great gratitude is due for his introduction of free education. Paudge and Donogh became great friends and when in the mood for reminiscing, Paudge would tell great stories about Donogh. Not only was Donogh a minister with a social conscience but he could also be very funny. Donogh use to call Paudge “Pablo”, being the Spanish for Patrick or Paudge.
One time when Paudge, Neil Blaney and Brian Lenihan were eating in the Dáil restaurant, Donogh came into the restaurant and went over to their table. He greeted Blaney, who he referred to as “Black and Decker” (because of Blaney’s oratorial style, there being no full stops or pauses) and said “hello Pablo” to Paudge. He then rubbed Brian Lenihan’s black curley hair, as one would with a child and said “And what are you going to be when you grow up Brian”. Lenihan was the Minister for Justice at the time!
I think it was Charlie Haughey who said that the fun went out of politics when Donogh died. Neil Blaney was in our home in Carnew at the time that the news came that Donogh had died of a heart attack while campaigning for Fianna Fáil in the Clare by-election that elected Sylvester Barrett. My mother remembered Neil Blaney crying when he heard the news of Donogh dying.
My father was a very dedicated and successful TD and was highly regarded by his colleagues and in particular by Sean Lemass. According to Lemass’s daughter Peggy O’ Brien, Sean Lemass said that Paudge Brennan was worth ten TDs. Obviously a slight exaggeration but nevertheless an indication of the regard in which Lemass held my father.
After Fianna Fáil won the General Election in 1965, Lemass cleared the cabinet of the old guard and appointed new Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries. Lemass appointed my father as a Parliamentary Secretary. It was Lemass’s intention to appoint himas his own Parliamentary Secretary which would have included the role of Chief Whip. However, my father’s preference was for Local Government as this was an area in which he had a special interest and knowledge. He had also been a member of the Council of European Municipal Authorities. The Minister in Local Government was Neil Blaney. When Blaney subsequently moved to Agriculture, Kevin Boland took over the Local Government portfolio.
Brennan, Blaney and Boland 1966-1970
Paudge Brennan had formed a very special relationship with Neil Blaney and Kevin Boland and together with Kevin and Neil he headed up the organisational aspects of Fianna Fáil. They successfully directed and won many by-election campaigns and during the period 1966 to March 1970, Fianna Fáil, who were in government at the time won seven out of the eight by-elections held. This was a phenomenal achievement that had never been managed before and has not been matched since that time. It is a well- known fact that Government parties tend to lose rather than win by-elections.
Blaney, Boland and Brennan had a great team of people who took 3-4 weeks off work to help out in each of the by-elections. The election campaigns were managed with military precision and no holds were barred. After-mass meetings were held at practically every church in the constituency. There was a particular incident where my father had arranged for an after-mass meeting to be addressed by a particular minister at a 10am mass in one village and the same minister was to speak at another village, which was 10 miles away and where the mass started at 11.00am. As both masses were expected to last for approximately 45 minutes, this meant that there was a chance that the minister would be late for the second after-mass meeting. Paudge solved the problem by asking the priest saying the second mass if he could “drag out the mass a bit “. The priest duly obliged and instead of the second mass lasting for the expected 45 minutes it went on for an hour and 5 minutes. The minister arrived at the second mass well on time. Everybody was happy. Except for the parishioners who could not figure out why the mass was going on for so long. Minor matters like the principle of the separation of Church and State were never going to interfere with the success of the Fianna Fáil election machine.
The Limerick East by-election caused by the death of Donogh O‘Malley
While Blaney, Boland and my father were very successful in winning by-elections in the 1960s, sometimes success can be a double-edged sword. This was the case with the Limerick East by-election caused by the death of Donogh O‘Malley in 1968.
It was the organisation’s preference to have Donogh’s widow Hilda O’ Malley as the Fianna Fáil candidate. However, Des O’ Malley who was Donogh’s nephew wheedled himself in as the candidate. He was a disaster from the very start and was a very unpopular candidate among the Fianna Fáil grassroots in the Constituency. Paudge Brennan was the Director of Elections. Shortly after the campaign started, he found himself in the position where half the Fianna Fáil organisation could not be motivated to work for Des as in their view he was a closeted Blueshirt.
Des proved them right when he later formed the PDs who were even further right on the political spectrum than Fine Gael. In order to salvage the situation my father called on Neil Blaney to come down and help him to whip the soldiers into action. A meeting was arranged at which Blaney explained to the Fianna Fáil members that he too agreed that O’ Malley was not a good candidate but, now that he was the candidate, they had no choice but to try to get him elected. This they did.
Albert Reynolds told a story about what happened at the count centre on the day of the counting of the Limerick East by-election votes. According to Reynolds, O’ Malley was a bag of nerves as the results were very tight and it was not unlikely that O’Malley would be defeated. Des was biting his knuckles, something which he tended to do when nervous (he did the same thing when he met Peter Berry for the purpose of discussing his meeting with Haughey where Haughey asked whether Berry could be induced or intimidated to change his Arms Trial’s evidence) and was pestering Blaney about whether he was going to be elected or not. Blaney eventually snapped and said to O’ Malley “Go home and go to bed son and I will wake you up when I have you elected”. Eventually O’ Malley scraped in on the third count. My father would later say that in retrospect it would have been much better for Fianna Fail if O’ Malley had not been elected.
Donogh O’ Malley’s widow Hilda O’ Malley (née Moriarty) was a 22-year old medical student at University College Dublin, when Patrick Kavanagh became obsessed with her, despite the fact that he was 20 years older than her. Hilda was the inspiration for Kavanagh’s poem On Raglan Road which later was recorded as a song by Luke Kelly. My father and Blaney were certain that Hilda would have easily been elected on the first count and Fianna Fáil would have benefited greatly as a result of her membership of the parliamentary party.
The Troubles erupt
Paudge Brennan, Neil Blaney, and Kevin Boland were the heart, soul and engine of the Fianna Fáil organisation and that is what bonded them together. Donogh O’ Malley once said that “Neil Blaney is Fianna Fail”. The same could have been said of Paudge Brennan and Kevin Boland. When they resigned or were expelled from the organisation in the period 1970-1972, the party lost its soul and never recovered its true essence. It was my father who first said that he didn’t leave Fianna Fáil but that Fianna Fáil left him.
Our house in Carnew was a true Fianna Fáil house. Everything revolved around politics. I remember at the age of nine helping my mother, addressing envelopes for election literature at the 1965 General Election. I remember Sean Lemass’s election sticker, “Let Lemass Lead On” in 1965 and Jack Lynch’s sticker “Lets Back Jack” in 1969. I remember the public-address system for the election cars and after mass meetings. I also gave my uncle a hand with the National Collection which was held outside the church, writing down the name of each contributor and the amount contributed by them. They would then get a receipt for their donation from Fianna Fáil headquarters. Everything was transparent and above board. Not a brown envelope to be seen.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s we as a family holidayed in Rossbeigh, County Kerry for the month of August. This was family time and my father liked nothing better than to lie in the sun reading a book. My father had made many friends in Kerry during his time campaigning at the Kerry South by-election in 1966 which elected John O’ Leary, and he and my mother socialised with these people while on holidays in Rossbeigh. Everything was great.
And then the troubles flared up in 1969 and in particular the Battle of the Bogside. When the government held an emergency cabinet meeting on 13 August 1970, my father left the family holiday home in Kerry and went back to Dublin so as to be available for whatever was required of him. As he was very close to Blaney and Boland, my father no doubt was in the loop in terms of knowing what was going on in relation to the Northern situation between August 1969 and May 1970.
He would have known that Blaney and Haughey were trying to arrange for a consignment of guns and ammunition to be brought in from the continent as a contingency in the event of a Doomsday scenario where they would be supplied to Northern nationalists to protect themselves and their families. He would also have known that the Minister for Defence, Jim Gibbons, was very much involved in this covert arms importation plan. I understand that it was also his view that many of the other Fianna Fáil Ministers also knew about the arms importation plan despite the fact that they denied any knowledge later on. If any of those ministers did not know what was happening, then that would have had mostly to do with their lack of interest in or commitment to the plight of the beleaguered Northern nationalist.
The CDCs and requests for arms
During the period from August 1969 up until May 1970, numerous delegations from Northern Ireland came to Leinster House to meet the Taoiseach and other Ministers. These delegations were seeking arms and ammunition for the Citizen Defence Committees (CDCs) to enable them to provide some sort of protection for the defenceless nationalists in Derry and Belfast who had been subjected to armed and arson attacks from loyalists thugs and B Specials during August 1969.
The CDCs were formed after Catholic residents of mixed areas in Belfast were burned out of their homes in August 1969. John Kelly from Belfast, who was one of the co-ordinators of the CDCs in Northern Ireland, was a member of those delegations which came to Dublin seeking arms. John Kelly was a familiar figure around Leinster House during the early part of 1970. So too was Paddy Kennedy, MP for the Republican Labour Party in the Belfast Central constituency. Paddy was a founder member of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and he made no secret of the fact that he had visited Leinster House on several occasions seeking assistance from the Taoiseach and other ministers in acquiring arms for the Citizen Defence Committees.
My father became very friendly with both John Kelly and Paddy Kennedy and, after the Arms Trials, I remember both John and Paddy visiting our home in Carnew. I believe that my father first became acquainted with John Kelly and Paddy Kennedy in the period before May 1970 during one of their visits to Leinster House, i.e. before the Arms Crisis erupted.
It is important to point out that the CDCs were legitimate organisations whose members consisted of respected businessmen, members of the legal profession, members of the clergy and the ordinary law-abiding citizens of Belfast and Derry whose only concern was the protection of their families, neighbours and communities from murderous attacks from loyalist extremists, and sections of the RUC and B-Specials.
Almost 500 nationalist homes were burned out by loyalists in Belfast in August 1969. So, it is very important to understand the context in which these delegations from the North came to Dublin seeking arms and ammunition from the Irish Government.
They were not trying to overthrow partition, they were not trying to arm the IRA and they were not the aggressors.
All they were doing was trying to protect themselves, their wives, children, mothers and fathers from being burnt out and slaughtered by loyalist thugs, RUC and B Specials. They had nowhere to turn to in their hour of need except to the Irish Government.
When Jack Lynch went on television to address the nation in August 1969 and said “The Irish Government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse”, the defenceless Nationalists in Derry and Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland took great solace and comfort from what Lynch said, for the simple reason that they actually believed what he said. My father and other Fianna Fáil TDs also believed it and that Lynch would not stand idly by. What else were they expected to believe at this stage? That is if words were meant to mean anything. However, they did not at that stage understand what that wise old political commentator, John Healy, referred to as “Lynch Speak” i.e. saying one thing and meaning another thing. Lynch was a master at “Lynch Speak”. It was also Healy who christened Lynch with the prefix in “Honest Jack”. He was being cynical and this referred to “Lynch Speak”.
Therefore you can only imagine the shock and sense of betrayal that the Northern nationalists felt when their “friend” Jack Lynch turned his back on them after promising them support. They could not believe that anyone could be so treacherous and cowardly.
They were thrown to the wolves; and their allies and friends, Blaney, Haughey and Captain Jim Kelly were also thrown to the wolves, arrested and charged with criminal offences which they did not commit and which if they had been convicted would have resulted in up to 20 years’ imprisonment. They could not understand how Lynch could be so treacherous and devious. Neither could Paudge Brennan and that is when he resigned.
It was explained to us at the time of my father’s resignation that the reason for his resignation was that he knew that Gibbons was working in tandem with Blaney and Haughey in sourcing arms from the continent and that if Haughey and Blaney were to be dismissed then Gibbons should also be dismissed.
If Lynch had been honest and honourable and stood his ground when approached by Liam Cosgrave with the information that three of his ministers were involved in a plan to import arms, there would not have been an arms crisis.
The Irish Government was entitled to legally import arms, either covertly or overtly and did not need to apologise to anyone for doing so. As the plan to send the arms to the North was only going to happen in the event of a Doomsday scenario there therefore had not been any breach of diplomatic relations with the UK in May 1970 as no arms had yet been sent North.
I think that Jack forgot that we were an independent country and we did not need British approval for anything. However, Lynch was always slavishly anxious to please the British. Based on various reports of meetings that Jack Lynch had with the UK Ambassadors Andrew Gilchrist and Sir John Peck it is evident that Lynch was continually seeking their approval. This might also explain why Lynch cunningly advised the UK Ambassador Andrew Gilchrist in August 1969 that he might be “compelled to string along” with the Blaney Republican Wing of Fianna Fáil. Was this what he was also doing when he led the Northern Nationalists up the garden path – “Stringing them along”? It would appear to be the case. Lynch was very devious.
The role of Jim Gibbons
It was for this reason that my father felt that he had no option but to resign as Parliamentary Secretary when Blaney and Haughey were sacked by Lynch, and Gibbons was promoted. If Lynch was prepared to sack Haughey and Blaney because they were involved in some plot behind his back then surely he would have sacked Gibbons who, as Minister for Defence, may have played an even bigger role than Blaney and Haughey in the arms plan. My father was vindicated later on when a copy of the anonymous Garda note which Cosgrave showed to Lynch became available. This note referred to three ministers who were involved in a “plot” to import arms and the note included Gibbon’s name as well as Blaney and Haughey’s names. If these three ministers were involved in the plan to bring in guns then how could Blaney and Haughey be sacked and Gibbons be promoted. Lynch never mentioned the fact that Gibbon’s name was also included in the note, when he addressed the Dail during the marathon Dail debate immediately following the sacking of Blaney and Haughey. However, Lynch did state in the Dail that not even the taint of suspicion could attach to any of his ministers and that this was why he dismissed Blaney and Haughey. And yet Lynch was prepared not only to keep Gibbons in the cabinet but to promote him to one of the most powerful cabinet portfolios in the Department of Agriculture. Where had the taint of suspicion suddenly disappeared to? Was Gibbons being rewarded for colluding with Lynch in covering up Lynch’s knowledge of the arms importation plan? This was obviously the case.
Lynch’s behaviour in turning his back on his fellow countrymen in their hour of need and sacking his ministerial colleagues who were acting with cabinet approval, while covering up and telling lies in order to save his own skin was cowardly, disgraceful and treacherous.
After the ministerial sackings it was believed that Paudge Brennan’s home phone was tapped.
Blaney and Boland’s phones were also tapped.
It is not clear as to who was authorising the phone tap. Was it the Minister for Justice, who was Des O’ Malley, at the time? I suppose nobody can answer that question except Des O’ Malley who also has a lot of other questions to answer in terms of his behaviour during the period 1970-1972, when he was Minister for Justice.
The Arms Trials
The first Arms Trial commenced on 22 September 1970 but was aborted on 29th September 1970 when the judge, Justice O’ Caoimh, who felt that his independence was being challenged, stepped down.
The new trial, under Justice Henchy started on 7 October 1970. The prosecution case suffered a significant setback in the first trial when their witness Colonel Michael Hefferon refused to go along with the prosecution which had doctored Hefferon’s witness statement to suit its case (Hefferon’s original statement was corrupted to delete all references to Gibbon’s knowledge of what went on during the arms importation plan). On the morning of the first trial Colonel Hefferon told Captain Kelly’s solicitor that he was not going to perjure himself for anybody. Pressure was being brought on him by the prosecution to change his evidence so that it was in line with the doctored version of his witness statement. This would support the prosecution’s false and dishonest claims that Gibbons had no knowledge of the covert government approved plan to import arms. Hefferon refused to perjure himself and told the truth under cross examination and thereby contradicted the false evidence which was presented by Jim Gibbons.
Because he was not prepared to go along with the prosecution and commit perjury, Michael Hefferon was dropped as a prosecution witness for the second trial.
On the weekend before the second trial my father and mother went to Kelly’s Hotel in Rosslare. While there, my father could not believe it when he saw Jim Gibbons (The former Minister for Defence), Colm Condon who was the Attorney General and another individual, in the hotel.
At that time there was no DPP and the role of state prosecutor was one of the functions of the Attorney General.
So here you had, two days before the new trial, the chief prosecution witness, Jim Gibbons and the state prosecutor, Colm Condon meeting with each other in some covert manner.
If they were doing nothing wrong then why did they not meet in Leinster House or any other place in Dublin? Why was it necessary to travel all the way to Rosslare which was at least a 4 hour round trip drive from Dublin. Was the chief state witness being in some way coached by the chief state prosecutor?
As the last man standing Des O’ Malley may also have the answer to these questions and he may be in a position to reveal the name of the third person that accompanied Gibbons and Condon. The identity of the third person has been suggested to me but it would be very helpful if Des O’ Malley, who according to his recent Sunday Independent article was so centrally involved in the events surrounding the arms crisis, could reveal this information.
My father, Neil Blaney (Who had been acquitted earlier on in a District Court Hearing ) and Kevin Boland attended the Four Courts each day of each of the two trials.
The motion of no confidence in Jim Gibbons and losing the FF whip
After the defendants in the Arms Trials were acquitted the opposition party, Fine Gael, tabled a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Agriculture Jim Gibbons. Charlie Haughey voted with the government even though his evidence and Gibbon’s evidence in the Arms Trials contradicted each other and the judge even suggested that one or other (or maybe both) were committing perjury.
My father could not do what Charlie did and he and Blaney abstained. After their abstention on this vote my father and Blaney lost the party whip. The vote to take away the whip was overwhelmingly passed with only 9 deputies voting against the motion. Those opposing the removal of the whip were:
Chub O’ Connor
Dr Bill Loughnane
Many of the deputies who voted to remove the whip knew that my father and Blaney were men of honour and did not deserve to lose the whip. However, when it came to political survival and self- preservation the notion of “honour” did not appear to feature very highly. After losing the whip my father and Blaney continued to vote with the government on all issues except those relating to Northern Ireland.
The 1972 Offences Against the State Act and the expulsion of Blaney and Brennan
In November 1972, Des O’ Malley, as Minister for Justice brought the Offences Against the State Act before the Dail. This legislation was not exactly the type of legislation which you would expect in a functioning democracy. Under the Act, a Garda Superintendent’s opinion that a person was a member of the Provisional IRA or any other proscribed organisation could be taken in evidence when that person was charged and brought before the Courts. Fine Gael originally were opposed to the bill. However, on the night of the vote there were two bomb explosions in Dublin. One of the bombs exploded in South Leinster Street which was very close to the Dail and I understand that the sound of the explosion could be heard in the Dail. Fine Gael panicked and voted with the government to pass the bill. Paudge Brennan and Neil Blaney voted against the bill as they were not happy with the implications of the legislation for civil liberties. I think, when one reflects on what went on within the Gardai in recent years and in particular the injustices that were done to Garda Maurice McCabe, Brennan and Blaney may have been the only ones who got it right on the night of the vote. It is now almost certain that the bombs were organised by British Secret Intelligence in order to ensure the passage of the bill. Their plan worked. Once again, British Intelligence played the Irish for fools, very successfully. My father and Blaney were expelled from the Fianna Fail organisation for voting against the Offences Against the State Act.
The Letterkenny Table
During the period from May 1970 until the general election in February 1973, my father, Kevin Boland, Neil Blaney, Des Foley and Sean Sherwin were referred to as the dissidents. In the Dail restaurant, there was a table in the corner which was reserved for the dissidents.
It was a great vantage point for them to observe the other Fianna Fáil TDs. It was sometimes referred to as the Letterkenny Table.
Muhammad Ali sat at this table when he visited the Dáil in 1972 at the time of his fight against Alvin Lewis in Croke Park in 1972.
The promoter of the fight was a friend of Chub O’ Connor who was supportive of Brennan and Blaney. My father remembers Muhamad telling the legendary Dáil waitress Rosie that she was “the greatest”. Any Fianna Fáil TD who was seen at this table would be reported to the upper echelons of Fianna Fáil as being “suspect or having the ‘taint of suspicion’”.
This table was also used by close supporters of the dissidents such as Gerry Jones. Jones was the charismatic tall grey haired distinguished looking character with the black eye-patch. After the defendants in the arms trials were acquitted, Erskine Childers claimed that Gerry Jones had bribed all of the jury in the trial to ensure that they would vote for the acquittals. This was absolute rubbish, but not surprising when one considers that it came from the mouth of this anglicised Cambridge educated snob. Childers liked to be wined and dined by the British Ambassadors, Andrew Gilchrist and Sir John Peck and appeared to be more comfortable in their company than in the company of his party colleagues. It is worth noting that Ambassador Andrew Gilchrist, before being appointed Ambassador, had worked hand in glove with the Information Research Department (IRD), the Foreign Office’s black propaganda machine. Sir John Peck, who succeeded Gilchrist as Ambassador was also the former head of the Information Research Department (IRD). The IRD worked very closely with various branches of British Intelligence. There is therefore a question mark over where Childers’ loyalties lay and the reason behind his friendship with not just one Ambassador but both Ambassadors. If he had been the Minister for Foreign Affairs there may have been some justification for this friendship but he was in fact the Minister for Health, which should not have involved any interaction with the Ambassadors.
In the political wilderness
My father stood as an independent in the February 1973 General Election which was held on his birthday 18th February. He did not succeed in being elected and his future looked very grim.
My father had a very small TD pension which meant that he suffered significant financial hardship during his years in the political wilderness. I started studying in UCD in October 1973 and my younger brother and sister were still in secondary school. My father struggled to make ends meet and to meet the cost of our continuing education. He was very fortunate that my mother Mary was very supportive and was always there to share the load. She always said that my father had a very kind bank manager as he looked after my father for several months until the TDs pension was sorted. She also said that she never felt so sorry for my father as she did on the day that the new Dail convened after the February 1973 election. Paudge missed being in Leinster House. His life had been devoted to politics and while he did have a small farm, he was never really a farmer as such. It was a very dark time for him. During his period in the political wilderness Paudge kept in touch with Kevin Boland and Neil Blaney and also with Des Foley who lost his seat when he stood as an independent in 1973 and was a great friend of my father.
After my father lost his Dail seat in February 1973 there was a very significant drop in the number of “friends” calling to our house to meet and chat with my father. It was as if my father was no longer a man of any consequence as far as certain people were concerned. These people disappointed me. However, there were still a number of loyal and trusted friends who kept in touch with my father during his years in the political wilderness. I will never forget these people and their loyalty to my father. My father told me once that people over use the word “friend” and that it amazed him when people talked about all of the friends that they seem to think they have. In his opinion, if you had as many real friends as you have the number of fingers on both hands then you were a very lucky person. After all of these years I think I now know what my father meant when he said that.
Independent Fianna Fail
In 1976, there was a by-election in Donegal and Neil Blaney fielded a candidate, Paddy Keaveney for his Independent Fianna Fail organisation. Paudge Brennan was the Director of Elections and Keaveney was elected. This was a boost for Paudge and he really enjoyed being back campaigning.
Then in 1979, Neil Blaney decided to contest the European Elections in the Connaught Ulster Constituency. Once again Paudge Brennan was the Director of Elections and Blaney was elected with a massive vote. He got 81,500 first preference votes and this was the highest number of first preference votes that any European Election candidate in the 26 counties had ever got, up to that time. This was a great victory for Neil but also for Paudge. It is believed that this victory for Blaney, together with the loss of two by-elections in Cork, were the main factors which persuaded Jack Lynch to retire in December 1979.
Re-joining FF, becoming a TD again and then a senator.
When Charles Haughey was elected leader of Fianna Fail on 5th December 1979, the political landscape changed for my father. He was persuaded to re-join Fianna Fail. A Cumann meeting was held in the house of a local Fianna Fail activist and my father re-applied for membership of the Soldiers of Destiny.
My father was selected to stand for Fianna Fail in the June 1981 election and succeeded in being elected. Within 9 months the ensuing Fine Gael/Labour Government fell and there was another election in February 1982. My father lost his seat in this election. He was however appointed a senator by the Taoiseach Charlie Haughey. When this government fell there was an election in November 1982 and my father regained his seat.
Advising Haughey not to resign
After the November 1982 general election there was a third heave against Charlie Haughey. It looked like Charlie would eventually resign, as a large majority of the parliamentary party caved into media pressure and were in favour of Haughey resigning. The Irish Press, whose title included “The Truth in the News” and was established by Fianna Fail, had prepared Charlie’s “Obituary” as it was almost certain that he would resign. Charlie requested a meeting with each member of the parliamentary party to assess how many members wanted him to resign. Practically all of the parliamentary party told him that it would be best if he resigned. Charlie had written out his resignation speech.
The last two people to meet Charlie were Paudge Brennan and Neil Blaney, who was no longer a member of Fianna Fail.
Paudge told Charlie that he should not resign as he had far more support among the grassroots than he may have thought he had.
When Neil Blaney met Charlie he also told him not to resign. Blaney also said that if he did resign then he should also put his hat back in the ring as “getting rid of Charlie was one thing but electing a successor was a different thing altogether”.
Both Paudge and Neil were very shrewd political operators and Charlie took their advice and remained leader for the next 10 years. There were no more heaves on Charlie. Charlie went on in 1987 to sow the seeds of the future economic prosperity that this country has enjoyed.
Paudge Brennan was elected a Vice-President of Fianna Fail in the 1980’s.
My father remained a TD until 1987 when he retired.
I don’t think my father enjoyed his time in politics during the 1980’s as much as he enjoyed the 1960s as there would not have been the same excitement and comradery as was the case in the 1960’s. However, he made new friends with the likes of Liam Alyward, Dr. Sean McCarthy, Brian Cowen and Ray McSharry. He would also have continued his friendship with Brian Lenihan. My father always said that Brian was a very bright individual and was often very much under-rated. He was also very friendly with Padraig O’Hanrahan who was Dev’s private secretary in the 1950s and was an advisor to Charlie in the 1980s.
Veronica Guerin was working for Fianna Fail at the time and my father and Veronica became very good friends. Veronica invited my father and mother to her wedding but they could not attend due to prior commitments.
Paudge had a huge regard for Charlie Haughey’s ability and talents and had nothing but contempt for the likes of George Colley and Des O’ Malley who in his opinion, when compared to Charlie, were light weights who were lacking in any real talent or ability. When you look at the record of Colley and O’ Malley’s achievements nothing of any real significance sticks out and I think that says a lot. It was Liam Cosgrave, a decent man, who in a few simple words, said of Charlie when he died “He achieved more than his critics did”.
My father led a quiet and simple life in retirement. He would occasionally visit Leinster House to meet his friend Neil Blaney. He was also the main organiser of the Liam Mellow’s commemoration which was held in Castletown, Co. Wexford each year on the Sunday closest to 8TH December. He had a huge respect for Mellows who was executed by the Free State forces in 1922. This was a reprisal execution. Mellows was a socialist as well as being a republican. He wrote a document setting out his socialist philosophy in a 10- point programme which also advocated a People’s Republic.
During his retirement, my father’s daily routine involved picking out 4 horses for a 50p Yankee bet. He would drive to nearby Gorey to place his bets. He would return home and watch the races on television in the afternoon. For those who are not regular punters, a Yankee bet involved 6 doubles, 4 trebles and a 4-horse accumulator. One day when he arrived home after placing his bet in the bookie office in Gorey, I asked him if he had met anyone interesting in the bookie office, He replied “Yes. I met decent people. The proletariat”. The proletariat that he referred to would not have attended 3rd level education and maybe not even secondary school, but they could calculate the results of a 50p Yankee in a matter of seconds. These were the people that Donogh O’ Malley was thinking about when he introduced Free Education.
My father also enjoyed his trips to Croke Park for the Inter County football championship matches during the summer months. After the match he use to drop in to Morrissey’s pub near Leeson Street bridge where he would regularly meet Sean Purcell , the all time legendary footballer from Galway. My father and Sean would discuss matters covering football and politics.
While my father was retired, people still came to him for advice. There was one particular instance where a young man who was a Fianna Fail member came to my father seeking his advice. The young man told my father that he had been asked by the Fianna Fail organisation to stand for Fianna Fail in the upcoming election but that he didn’t want to stand. My father replied curtly “What’s the problem then”!!! His advice was strictly to the point!
My father was an Irish Republican who was Left of Centre on the political spectrum. When Fianna Fail was established in 1926 it was also an Irish Republican party that was Left of Centre and continued to be a Republican and Left of Centre party in the 1930s’, 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. However, Fianna Fail lost its way in the 1970’s when it discarded its Republicanism and moved gradually towards the Centre ground. Prior to my father’s death in 1998, Fianna Fail had moved to the Centre and possibly even marginally to Right of Centre, while my father remained a Left of Centre Republican. In his own words he did not leave Fianna Fail but rather Fianna Fail left him. He retained the core principles and values for which Fianna Fail was established. It was also his belief that the adherence to these core principles and values were the reasons why the Fianna Fail governments in the 1930’s up until 1970 were so successful and achieved so much economically and socially for the country.
Fine Gael on the other hand were established as a right-wing conservative party in the 1930’s and continued as a right-wing conservative party during the 1940’s and 1950s. However, due mainly to Declan Costello’s “Just Society” document, Fine Gael in the 1960’s began the journey from a right-wing party to Right of Centre. The end result was that by the 1990’s both Fianna Fail and Fianna Gael had essentially converged as centre or right of centre political parties. As far as my father was concerned this convergence was one of the main problems with Irish politics in the 1990’s. The fact that the two major political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were almost identical, occupying the centre or right of centre ground of the political spectrum meant that there was a vacuum on the left side of the spectrum. This in turn meant that the disadvantaged in society were no longer represented in government, as they had been represented by Fianna Fail up to 1970. These disadvantaged members of society had no voice or allies in government. The two major political parties listened to those who shouted the loudest and lobbied the hardest. It was my father’s firm belief that the lack of a dominant left of centre party was bad for politics and bad for democracy and was the main reason why the sizeable gap between the rich and the poor continued. If Fianna Fail had continued as a Left of Centre party, as it had been up to 1970 then it was his belief that we would have had a far better and fairer society.
The other aspect of Irish politics that dismayed him was, as he said himself, “words did not mean anything anymore”. He would watch politicians on TV and listen to them on the radio and it was so obvious to him that these politicians did not mean what they were saying. They had no respect for the meaning of or the integrity of the words which they were using. What mattered to these politicians was how they were perceived by the audience. And if this meant being dishonest and stating something which they knew to be untrue then so be it. He respected politicians who were honest and had sincerely held convictions, no matter what political party they belonged to and he had many good relationships with people across the political divide.
Neil Blaney died in November 1995. My father told me that I should go to that funeral in Donegal as it would be a very special funeral. Unfortunately, I had already committed myself to going to Lisbon as Ireland were playing Portugal in a football international play-off. When I came back from Portugal my father told me a story about Blaney’s funeral. The body was waked in Neil’s family home in Rosnakill, Fanad, Co. Donegal. Shortly before the lid was put on the coffin, an elderly man came into the room and pinned an Easter Lily on Blaney’s lapel. The man had hitched hiked all the way from Mayo to Fanad. The lid was then put on the coffin and the coffin was carried shoulder high, the pallbearers changing every hundred yards or so until it arrived at the small church. There was a huge crowd who walked behind the coffin on that dark November night. It was like the funeral procession of an ancient chieftain. The next day, Blaney with the Easter Lily was laid to rest and so was Irish Constitutional Republicanism.
Kevin Boland gave the oration at the graveside.
Three years later my father died. He died on a Wednesday and spoke to all of the family on the Sunday prior to that. He wanted a simple funeral with no frills. My older sister asked him if he would like someone to say a few words at the grave and he said no. My sister then said that Kevin Boland might want to say something so he relented but was emphatic that nobody else was to say anything except Kevin. Kevin gave the oration. The funeral was huge and people travelled from all over the country to give Paudge the send-off he deserved. The attendance included two ex-Taoisigh, Charlie Haughey and Albert Reynolds, a sitting Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and a future Taoiseach, Brian Cowen.
As the day of the funeral coincided with the “Blue Flu” when the gardai went on strike, the huge traffic attending the funeral had to be directed by the district garda superintendent. My father would have been amused by that.
Just over three years later, Kevin Boland died. There was no Blaney or Brennan to give the oration. However they were more than adequately represented by another decent and honourable Irishman, Captain Jim Kelly. The wheel had turned full circle.
My father was one of a handful of Irish politicians who resigned their ministerial or junior ministerial positions as a matter of principal. The others were, Paddy Smith in 1964, Kevin Boland in 1970 and Frank Cluskey in 1983. While he did suffer financially and also politically by sacrificing a very promising ministerial career my father did retain his reputation and honour and that is what mattered to him.
Many years later, when a well-known radio host and political commentator was asked his opinion of Paudge Brennan, he paused for a moment and then said “ Paudge Brennan . Let me see how can I describe Paudge Brennan. A man that couldn’t be bought”. I think that sums up my father.