The print edition of Village magazine posed a number of questions to Des O’Malley about the Arms Crisis but he ignored them. They arose out of an article he had published in the Sunday Independent in September. He also used that article as a platform to attack recent research on the crisis without addressing any of the evidence which has appeared in two new books. His Sunday Independent article vilified the organisers of the Citizen Defence Committees (CDC) alleging they were supporters of the Provisionals. He has yet to withdraw the smears about the CDC organisers. The original article with a small amount of new material is reproduced below.
By David Burke.
Des O’Malley served as Chief Whip and Junior Minister for Defence to Jack Lynch’s government in 1969 and 1970. In May 1970 he was appointed as Minister for Justice by Lynch, though he was only 31 years of age – just as the Arms Crisis was erupting. Despite his youth and inexperience, Lynch chose to place him in this crucial position.
On top of this, the appointment was made as the Provisional IRA was learning to crawl. The Provos maintained a low profile throughout 1970 and some of 1971 while its leaders focused on recruiting volunteers in competition with the Marxist Official IRA. So low was its profile that Martin McGuinness joined the Officials unaware that the Provisionals even existed. Cleary, O’Malley did not appreciate what was afoot either.
O’Malley has recently descended from retirement claiming to be “duty bound” to set the record straight on new revelations about the controversial arms importation attempt that sparked the Arms Crisis. The new – and not so new – evidence about the crisis O’Malley contests portrays his hero Jack Lynch in a very poor light. It indicates that Lynch knew about the arms importation that sparked the Arms Crisis; moreover, that it was a secret but legal manoeuvre of the State. In making his case O’Malley pointedly vilified the memory of Captain James Kelly and a multitude of others in the Citizen Defence Committees (CDCs) whom he has recklessly and inaccurately portrayed as midwives to the Provisional IRA.
Unfortunately, Des O’Malley has not engaged with any of the evidence which has emerged in recent times, not to mention that which has been in existence for decades.
His account is a conceited fantasy in which he and Lynch saved the State from civil war despite daunting odds and the treachery of disloyal Fianna Fáil colleagues who were aided and abetted by menacing allies in military intelligence. All he seems prepared to offer is an assertion that Lynch was a man of great integrity incapable of deceit and that – for some bizarre reason – the authors of two new books on the Arms Crisis – Michael Heney and myself – have claimed that Jack Lynch was a party to a plot to arm the Provisionals. This is an astonishing misrepresentation for neither of us made any claim that even remotely chimes with this.
I would like to test O’Malley’s account of his struggle to save Ireland from doom by reference to a number of documents which contradict his mythmaking.
The Smoking Gun Document That Refers to the Taoiseach.
How, if the arms importation operation which was at the centre of the Arms Crisis was conducted behind Lynch’s back, does O’Malley explain the content of a document which came into existence on 10 February 1970?
It was prepared by the Department of Defence. It was withheld from the jury at the Arms Trials but eventually released by the National Archives.
It was reproduced in a book by Angela Clifford entitled ‘Military Aspects of Ireland’s Arms Crisis of 1969-70’ in 2006. In other words, O’Malley has had at least 14 years to provide his account of it. He ignored its existence in his memoirs which appeared in 2014. He did not mention it in his recent Sunday Independent article. O’Malley was the Junior Minister for Defence when the document – from his Department, remember – came into existence.
The document specifically referred to the Taoiseach Jack Lynch and was entitled Addendum to the Memo of 10/2/70, Ministerial Directive to CF: It stated that: “The Taoiseach and other Ministers have met delegations from the North. At these meetings urgent demands were made for respirators, weapons and ammunition the provision of which the Government agreed. Accordingly truckloads of these items will be put at readiness so that they may be available in a matter of hours”.
There is no sign this document, despite it’s unimpeachable pedigree, has yet registered with O’Malley.
Question 1: How do you reconcile this document with your assertion that Jack Lynch did not know about attempts to supply weapons to the citizens of the North?
The ‘Secret’ Military Document That Refers to the 150 Rifles Which Were Stored in Dundalk. It was Withheld From the Arms Trial jury.
In early April 1970 panic swept across Ballymurphy, a Catholic estate in Belfast, that the British Army was about to abandon the Catholics who lived there to an onslaught by Loyalist murder and arson gangs: in other words, a repeat of the violent killings and forced evictions of August 1969. The fear proved ill-founded and was short lived.
While the panic was abroad, (senior) Minister for Defence James Gibbons ordered the transport of some of the Irish Army rifles that had been set aside under the orders given in February 1970. He did so without input from Jack Lynch who could not be contacted.
A transport of army trucks with 500 rifles, 80,000 rounds of ammunition and respirators was sent to the North but did not cross the border. Instead, the trucks parked at Dundalk Barracks in the Republic. According to a Military Intelligence file, there was insufficient room to store all 500 of the rifles so 350 were returned to Dublin. The remaining 150 were kept in Dundalk. This contradicts the Gibbons-O’Malley-Lynch version of events which would have us believe that there was never any intention of storing them in Dundalk.
Evidence about the storage of the 150 rifles was withheld from the Arms Trials.
The arms were returned to Dublin on 1 May. The ostensible reason for their return was a fear that Dundalk barracks might be raided. It is far more likely, however, that they were returned because the Arms Crisis which had been simmering behind closed State doors was about to boil over.
The rifles could only have been stored in Dundalk on the orders of Gibbons. The testimony provided by Gibbons at the Arms Trial about the transport of the arms was illogical, unbelievable and bordered on farce. I outline it in my book.
Des O’Malley was junior minister for defence and a member of the Council of Defence at this time.
My belief is that they were left in Dundalk as a stop-gap measure pending the imminent arrival of arms from Europe which – unlike those in Dundalk – were not going to have serial numbers which could have been traced back to the Irish Army. Hence, if military intelligence decided to distribute arms in a doomsday situation, there was less of a chance that the British government would discover their true origin.
Part of a handwritten ‘secret’ military report, again from the Department of Defence, on the storage of the rifles is reproduced below. The last paragraph is the relevant one. It states as follows:
Following intelligence reports of the possibility of a raid by a subversive organisation in Dundalk military barracks, the balance of 150 rifles and 80,000 rounds of ammunition stored in Dundalk, were returned to stores in Dublin on Fri 1 May 1970.
Question 2: Do you deny that 150 rifles were stored in Dundalk while you were junior minister for defence?
Question 3: What was the purpose of the storage operation?
Question 4: Why was this information withheld from the jury at the Arms Trial?
The Letter From the Garda Officer who had Served in C3.
There is another document – a letter – which refers to Des O’Malley by name. It is reproduced in the picture beneath this paragraph. It was written by an officer who once served with the overarching Garda intelligence directorate known as C3. The officer was involved in the Sean MacStíofáin case. MacStíofáin was the former Chief of staff of the Provisional IRA. He somehow managed to mislead the Garda into believing that he was a reliable informer during the 1960s and early 1970s. I have written about MacStíofáin’s machinations in my book, ‘Deception and Lies: the Hidden History of the Arms Crisis’. It reads as follows.
Mac STIOPHAIN had until July 1972 conducted a brilliant masquerade as a Garda informant and been well paid to boot. His status would in all probability have continued but for documents found in the home of a retired Irish/American and a former Clann na Gael Treasurer, James CONATY, Drumshirk, Stradone. These documents were such that they were brought to the Minister for Justice for his personal perusal. That MacStíofáin should have been in receipt of State funds and regarded as an Informant must, to any sane objective person, appear the height of improbability but it is a fact. MacStíofáin was recruited in good faith in approximately 1961 but the justification of his later role must surely bewilder men of goodwill. You know how the PROVOS were formed, how SAOR EIRE acted as their Financial agents in the Republic so as not to incur the disapproval of the State against the Provos and until disenchantment about MacStíofáin occurred in July 1972 his immunity was at a reasonable level.
In the article O’Malley felt “duty-bound” to produce for the Sunday Independent on 27 September 2020 he cast doubt on the revelation that MacStiofáin was an ‘informer’. He stated that he is “99.9% sure” that MacStiofáin was not an informer. I find this curious. O’Malley either knows or does not know that MacStiofáin was an informer. So, why leave the element of 0.1% uncertainty floating?
(Readers interested in Sean MacStiofáin’s role as a ‘misinformer’ and more about this letter shouldconsult: [Expanded] British Intelligence must have known that Seán MacStíofáin was a Garda ‘informer’.)
Question 5: Who do you believe was the informer if you are so certain that it was not Sean MacStíofáin?
The Cache of Documents in James Conaty’s House Which Were Shown to Des O’Malley.
The information in the letter written by the C3 officer described a cache of documents relating to the Provisional IRA which was found on a premises owned by James Conaty, an Irish American who was a supporter of the IRA, indeed one who had taken part in the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. The discovery of the documents in Conaty’s house alerted the Garda to the fact that MacStíofáin had been misleading them for years as he had concealed the names of the IRA volunteers recorded in the files from them.
Significantly, the letter reveals an additional fact: that the Conaty files were shown to Des O’Malley while he was serving as minister for justice.
Question 6: Are we to believe that such highly sensitive files were brought to your attention but you were not told the news that had shaken the Special Branch to its core: that the Provisional IRA network was more extensive than had been believed because the Garda was relying on its top informer who had hidden this fact from his handlers?
We know that O’Malley knew that there was an informer because he mentions this fact in his memoirs – where he reveals that the Garda received a “tip-off” from an informer about the arms importation attempt that sparked the Arms Crisis of 1970.
The Records Which Contain Further Evidence of an Informer.
O’Malley would also have known of the existence of an informer, from the evidence presented by the Head of the Special Branch, John Fleming, at the Public Accounts Committee in 1971.
In addition, Peter Berry who was Secretary General at the Department of Justice at the time of the Arms Crisis also confirmed the existence of an informer in his diaries which were published by Magill magazine.
Andrew Ward took over from Peter Berry in January 1971. It was his job to monitor the activities of the Provisional IRA and report on them to his minister. Ward relied on C3 and the Special Branch for his information. C3 was led by Patrick Malone at the time while Fleming was in charge of the Special Branch.
Question 7: Are we to believe that Ward, Malone and Fleming concealed the fact that MacStiofáin was an informer, from you, Mr O’Malley, when the Conaty papers were presented to you?
In his memoirs O’Malley did let something significant about the informer out of the bag. He stated that the Gardai had received a ‘tip-off’ about the pending arms flight from the Continent to Dublin Airport. This was a bad slip on O’Malley’s part because this contradicted the account which Lynch gave to the Dail about how the arms flight was discovered. Lynch’s account made it seem there was no informer, no ‘tip-off’ rather that the officials at the airport unravelled what was going on independently. While they may very well have discovered what was afoot, their activities served to conceal the role of the informer.
Asleep at the wheel while the Provisional IRA bombed itself into existence.
It is now clear that the most senior men in the State’s security apparatus were asleep at the wheel. They did not realise that their prized asset – the Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA – was playing deceitful and dangerous games with them. They somehow managed to remain in a deep slumber during 1971-72 despite the cacophony of bomb explosions and gunfire that had announced to the rest of the world that the Provisional IRA was on the warpath.
Had competent individuals served instead of them, MacStíofáin might have been arrested at one of his many assignations with his Garda handlers.
Vilifying CDC activists as Provos is not honourable, Mr O’Malley.
The arms which Gibbons and his colleagues attempted to import in 1970 were going to be transported to a monastery in Co Cavan where they were to have been held under lock and key by the Irish Army and only released after a vote of the Government. Such a vote would only have taken place in the most dire of circumstances, i.e. the threat of a pogrom. After such a vote, they would have been distributed to the Citizen Defence Committees (CDCs) in Northern Ireland, not the IRA.
The CDCs were made up of people, many of whose leaders cannot be described as supporters of the IRA, let alone MacStíofáin’s faction which transformed into the Provisional IRA after the IRA split in December 1969.
Yet, O’Malley would have us believe that the CDC as an organisation was the incubator of the leadership cadre of the Provisional IRA.
TOM CONATY was the Chairman of the Central Citizen Defence Committee (CCDC). He was opposed to physical force violence. In 1972 he was chosen as part of a commission of 11 to advise William Whitelaw, the Secretary of State to Northern Ireland. He denounced the Provisional IRA during interviews he gave during his tenure as Chairman of the CCDC. Conaty was a businessman who had come to public attention through his chairmanship of the CCDCs. It was this activity which had brought him to Whitelaw’s attention. O’Malley was minister for justice 1970-73 and must have known all of these facts. So why link him long after he has died to the Provisional IRA?
PADDY DEVLIN served as Secretary to the CCDC. He was opposed to physical force violence and later became an SDLP minister in the 1974 Power-Sharing Executive. He was a vocal opponent of the Provisionals.
CANON PADRAIG MURPHY was another man who was opposed to violence and exercised great influence over the CDCs. James Callaghan, the then Home Secretary and later prime minister of Britain, described him in glowing terms in his NI memoirs.
PADDY DOHERTY was one of the most important leaders of the CDC in Derry. He was also opposed to physical force violence. He was a friend of John Hume. In his autobiography he explained how he used his influence to ensure that the IRA did not use the Derry CDC to advance its interest.
JIM SULLIVAN was another senior figure in the Central CDC. The suggestion that he was a militant hawk, the type of person who later became a Provisional IRA volunteer is yet another of O’Malley’s fantasies. O’Sullivan was a Marxist who was loyal to Goulding and later sided with the Official IRA and became active in politics on behalf of the Workers Party.
PADDY KENNEDY was a Nationalist Stormont MP. He was one of the signatories to the CDC bank accounts along with Paddy Devlin.
None of these men were supporters of the Provisional IRA.
Question 8: On what basis do you say these men were supporters of the Provisional IRA?
Question 9: If you are not in fact saying these men were Provisional IRA members or supporters, are you prepared to offer an apology to their families?
Ducking all the hard questions.
O’Malley has ducked all the hard questions. He exploited his Sunday Independent article to smear Captain James Kelly, Charles Haughey and others as conspirators who helped to create the Provisionals. O’Malley did not deal with a single one of the 30 instances described by Michael Heney in his masterful analysis of the Arms Crisis, particularly where he described how Lynch misled the public about these events. Instead O’Malley professes his belief in the honesty and integrity of Lynch. – as if research doesn’t matter or as if history did not depend on research.
At one point he states “I am certain that I and other colleagues were never misled by Jack Lynch. I knew Lynch intimately, working more closely with him at this time than anyone, and know what sort of man Lynch was”.
But, Mr O’Malley, the evidence must prevail over feelings.
A man bound by duty or one who lives in a make-believe world where he slayed the dragon.
The truth is that no one in Fianna Fáil or Irish military intelligence set out to establish the Provisional IRA. The reality is less shameful but egregiously embarrassing nonetheless: the Provisional IRA came into existence and flourished while Jack Lynch was Taoiseach and Des O’Malley was Minister for Justice because they and their officials gave MacStíofáin a free pass to recruit, train and deploy Provisional IRA volunteers. This happened due to incompetence and ineptitude. Worse still, MacStiofain was almost certainly financed in his endeavours – in part – by State funds.
Charles Haughey once said of Bertie Ahern that, “He’s the man. He’s the best, the most skilful, the most devious, and the most cunning of them all”. That description is probably more apt for Jack Lynch who did it unostentatiously. Honest hurling, pipe-smoking Jack.
Sadly for Des O’Malley, it is beginning to look like Jack Lynch chose him for the crucial role of Minister for Justice precisely because he was young and inexperienced and he believed he would be able to move him about like a pawn on a chessboard. Despite having grown to maturity and achieved much politically, the scales have never fallen from O’Malley’s eyes.
Worse still, had Lynch not wrapped himself up in lies and deceit, he might have appointed a more experienced minister who might have seen through MacStíofáin and crushed the Provisionals before they had a chance to flourish.
O’Malley’s predecessor, Micheál Ó’ Móráin paid little or no heed to the information which Peter Berry and the gardaí were feeding him from MacStíofáin.
I somehow doubt that O’Malley’s successor as minister, Patrick Cooney (of Fine Gael), would have fallen for MacStíofáin’s deceits.
As O’Malley put it in his recent article about the Arms Crisis: “As the last man alive who was centrally involved, I feel duty bound to set the matter straight”. If this is a sincere sentiment, surely O’Malley will now address the actual circumstances in which the Provisional IRA was allowed to construct its foundations in the South during the period 1970-72?
Thousands of people died during the Troubles because of the Provisionals and the other organisations with whom they engaged in a brutal and protracted campaign. Thousands were maimed, wounded and traumatised. There are countless people alive today who lost loved ones; and many who are living with physical and psychological scars.
O’Malley owes it to them to deliver more than bluster and hot air about Lynch’s alleged integrity. He should deal with the factual evidence that exists.
The issues raised in this article are far from exhaustive. There are plenty more which contradict the Lynch-Gibbons-O’Malley account of the Arms Crisis and the birth of the Provisional IRA. Nonetheless, O’Malley’s response to them would provide valuable materials for historians to adjudicate upon where the blame for the success of the IRA in the period 1970-1972 truly lies.
It is now time for O’Malley to address the evidence, especially since, as things stand, it is beginning to look like history will record an inexperienced young man who was appointed as a minister at a tender age by a wily and deceitful Taoiseach who reckoned he could exploit his inexperience to further his cover-up of what had happened in the months leading up to the Arms Crisis. Furthermore that Lynch was not sufficiently astute to realise that the State faced a deadly threat from an emerging paramilitary organisation in the shape of the Provisional IRA and that Des O’Malley was not the man to thwart this.
The end result was that O’Malley and his advisers let MacStiofáin run rings around them. By the time they realised their deep-rooted mistake, it was too late and the Provisional IRA was up and running.
David Burke is author of Deception and Lies: the Hidden History of the Arms Crisis of 1970.