Séamas Ó Tuathail was the first journalist to discover details of what was to become known as the Arms Crisis but chose not to report it.
Unbeknownst to him, some of the information he dug up was relayed to a British journalist by a talkative senior member of the IRA. The resulting British newspaper article may have exacerbated British Intelligence paranoia about what was afoot in Ireland nearly seven months before the Arms Crisis erupted.
Within a few weeks of the report in the English paper, a British Intelligence operation swung into action. A British secret agent nearly lost his life in Dublin during the course of it. He was saved by the intervention of Irish Military Intelligence.
By David Burke
PART 1: THE UNITED IRISHMAN
Fifty years ago this month the Irish public awoke to sensational reports on the radio that Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney had been dismissed from cabinet by the then Taoiseach Jack Lynch. Another cabinet minister, Kevin Boland, subsequently resigned in protest along with a junior minister, Paudge Brennan. This became known as the Arms Crisis.
What is not fully appreciated is that an Irish journalist, Séamas Ó Tuathail, now a senior counsel at the Irish Bar, had learnt about the story – and much more besides – some six months previously. He has never been afforded the credit he was due for his investigation. Why? Because he did not publish the full story.
Ó Tuathail not only knew that a blind eye was being turned by the State to cross-border gun-running efforts by people ranging from the ordinary citizen to old IRA hands, but also that Fianna Fáil had engaged in a covert propaganda campaign. Ó Tuathail’s perfectly reasonable interpretation was that the campaign was designed to help Fianna Fáil take over the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. Fianna Fáil never really opened up about the campaign but they would undoubtedly have said that it was designed to bring pressure to bear on the British government to make concessions on Northern Ireland after they had neglected the North for decades and let it turn into a place of institutionalised bigotry.
Ó Tuathail went ahead with the the covert propaganda aspect of his investigation in The United Irishman.
A graphic from The United Irishman: a modern jet bearing the logo ‘UI’ shoots down an old fashioned Fianna Fáil fighter.
The propaganda campaign was run by George Colley with the full support of Jack Lynch but it ran out of steam after a few months and became redundant after Lynch decided to adopt a more conciliatory approach towards London. It was being shut down in November 1969 when Lynch and Colley received an unpleasant surprise from Ó Tuathail in The United Irishman.
Jack Lynch and the head of his ‘truth squad’ George Colley.
Even a cursory glimpse at what Ó Tuathail reported about the propaganda campaign in November 1969 raises serious questions about the intrigues that were swirling around Lynch at the time, and of which he was aware. They add weight to the charge that Lynch knew about the efforts by some of his ministers to import arms.
THE IRA ARMY COUNCIL
Ó Tuathail’s story began one wet dark October night in 1967 when he was driven from Dublin to the ghostly shell of a dilapidated mansion somewhere in County Meath. He was twenty-six at the time and employed at Belvedere College as an Irish teacher. His driver was an IRA volunteer. After a long trip, the driver took a right turn off the highway somewhere between Navan and Kells. They followed a pitch-black narrow lane to the old building where Ó Tuathail was escorted into a former ballroom. An oak tree was sprouting through the roof. Close by the members of the IRA’s Army Council sat around an illuminated table: Cathal Goulding, Seán Garland, Seán MacStíofáin, Seamus Costello, Tomás McGiolla, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Paddy Murphy. They also happened to be the de facto directors of The United Irishman, Sinn Féin’s monthly newspaper.
Ó Tuathail was escorted to a former ballroom. An oak tree was sprouting through the roof. Close by the members of the IRA’s Army Council sat around an illuminated table
Ó Tuathail had come to the publication’s attention as the contributor of a series of Irish language articles to the paper’s former editors Tony Meade and Denis Foley. After a vacancy had arisen for the post of editor, a consensus had emerged that he would be the best fit for the job. Some negotiations had taken place before the meeting in the old ballroom and this was the opportunity to iron out a few details and finalise the appointment. Ó Tuathail told the panel he did not want to join the IRA. This presented no problem to Goulding who was in the process of winding down the military wing of the Republican Movement. While it might have troubled MacStíofáin, he knew Ó Tuathail a little from Irish language circles and did not raise any objection to a fellow Irish language speaker securing the post as editor of the paper. Ó Tuathail justified his stance on the basis that if he became a member of the IRA, he would be subject to possible orders from his superiors and would not be able to enjoy complete freedom as its editor. There were a few exchanges around the table but no disagreement and he was offered the post with independence a term of his contract. Taking the job also meant a 50% reduction in the salary he was receiving from Belvedere. Ó Tuathail left the ballroom while the Army Council resumed its agenda for the night.
Members of the interview panel: Cathal Goulding, Seán Garland and Tomás McGiolla.
INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
Ó Tuathail was a wild success as editor. In 1968 John Mulcahy, editor of Hibernia, awarded him the investigative journalist of the year accolade. He earned it for reporting on issues which the mainstream media was ignoring such as fish-ins (which promoted the demand for the public ownership of Ireland’s rivers and lakes and an end to the automatic entitlement of the owners of the rivers and lakes to places on the statutory boards of conservators), anti-ground rents and the Civil Rights campaign in Northern Ireland. J Bowyer Bell afforded him another accolade, that of “the supreme agitator”. [The Secret Army, by J Bower Bell, p. 18.]
The facts speak for themselves: under Ó Tuathail sales skyrocketed from a baseline of 10,000 to a peak of 100,000 in 1969 after the eruption of intercommunal violence in Northern Ireland. The profits which flowed from the sales were used to pay for the Gardiner Place HQ of Sinn Féin.
A BLIND EYE TO CROSS-BORDER ARMS SMUGGLING EFFORTS
As editor Ó Tuathail became the first journalist to discover the core feature of the Arms Crisis, namely that Fianna Fáil government ministers were assisting Nationalists to acquire arms by diverse means. This was the result of inquiries which he had conducted during September and October 1969.
By the end of October Ó Tuathail was contemplating the content of the forthcoming November edition of the paper. He had a number of stories in mind including a twin set of revelations about Fianna Fáil: first, about a propaganda campaign the government was running; second, its efforts to assist Nationalists in the acquisition of arms.
Ó Tuathail decided to consult Cathal Goulding, chief of staff of the IRA, about the arms supply aspect of the story on account of its potential volatility. Goulding suggested to him that he might hold off on it, at least for the moment. As things stood, certain ‘Fianna Fáil-inclined’ customs officials along the border were letting his men and other arms smugglers pass by unmolested. Goulding did not want to offend the officials and was concerned that if The United Irishman drew attention to the blind eye they were turning to the smuggling, they would become annoyed and cease to co-operate. This revelation should not distract from the fact that Goulding – a committed Marxist – was not an enthusiastic proponent of cross-border gun-smuggling at all but was under enormous pressure to allow it to proceed. At the time, his ambition was to unite the working-class nationalist and loyalist communities against what he saw as their true enemy, the capitalists of the ruling classes.
In any event, Ó Tuathail faced other problems with publishing anything about the cross-border gun smuggling: he was aware that his printer in Bray had links to Fianna Fáil and probably would have refused to print the gun-running aspect of his investigation had he turned up with it in his print shop. Having weighed up all these factors, he proceeded with the propaganda angle alone. Nonetheless, there were clues sprinkled throughout the story that the government was involved with people in the North who were looking for arms, the citizen defence committees (CDCs). Every reference Ó Tuathail made to the CDCs in his article must have made Lynch wince a little.
Every reference Ó Tuathail made to the CDCs in his article must have made Lynch wince a little.
Ó Tuathail outlined a number of links between Fianna Fáil and the CDCs. The members of these committees were desperately seeking arms to protect themselves from the Loyalist goons led by the psychopathic paedophiles John McKeague and Alan Campbell, the leaders of the so-called Shankill Defence Association, and egged on by the ‘Reverend’ Ian Paisley, who had invaded their communities, burnt hundreds of their homes and provoked the greatest exodus of refugees in Europe since the Second World War. Emphatically, the CDCs were not terrorists, merely the manifestation of a terrified community driven to desperation.
The November 1969 edition of The United Irishmen shone a light over Seamus Brady, a well-known journalist, who was part of George Colley’s propaganda campaign team, and his links to the CDCs. One of Brady’s tasks was to gather information in Northern Ireland so it could be developed into useful propaganda for the Colley-Lynch propaganda onslaught.
The November 1969 edition of The United Irishmen shone a light over Seamus Brady, a well-known journalist, who was part of George Colley’s propaganda campaign team, and his links to the CDCs.
During his mission across the border, Brady had forged multiple contacts with the CDCs, some of which were now outlined by Ó Tuathail in The United Irishman. Hence, the 100,000 or so readers learnt that an agent of the Irish government was in close contact with an organisation everyone knew was intent upon procuring arms for the beleaguered Catholics of Northern Ireland.
Ó Tuathail also revealed that Paddy Devlin MP, had been deeply involved in the distribution of an anonymous pamphlet entitled Terror in Northern Ireland about the Belfast burnings by McKeague and his knuckle-dragging SDA thugs and their B Special collaborators. It was one of the few fruits of Colley’s propaganda campaign and had been handed out for free in Belfast and at the British Labour Party Conference in Brighton.
Devlin’s involvement emerged after Ó Tuathail had been approached by a trade union official from a printer on the Grand Canal in Dublin who was annoyed that the printer’s imprint had not appeared on it, something that was illegal. Clearly, the people behind it did not want to provide any clues as to their identity. Ó Tuathail dispatched a number of ‘eager young men’ to watch the printshop to see who would come to collect the next run of the pamphlet and Devlin appeared in a car, filled the boot with copies of the pamphlet and drove away. Further enquiries revealed it had been researched and written while Brady was employed as part of Fianna Fáil’s propaganda drive.
Devlin’s connection to the pamphlet drew further attention to the links between the government and the CDCs since Devlin was Secretary to the Central Citizens Defence Committee of Belfast.
Moreover, the previous August he had addressed a rally at the GPO in Dublin demanding guns for the North. Devlin would claim in his memoirs that his plea was a one-off incident and complained that his outpouring “would haunt me and be used against me for years to come, but I have to say again that they were uttered in the heat of an emotional moment” (page 108). This is simply not true. Devlin had a much deeper involvement in seeking arms than he ever acknowledged. Like his political ally, Gerry Fitt and indeed Jack Lynch, he would take cover under an umbrella of denial after the Arms Crisis erupted.
Devlin had a much deeper involvement in seeking arms than he ever acknowledged. Like his political ally, Gerry Fitt and indeed Jack Lynch, he would take cover under an umbrella of denial after the Arms Crisis erupted.
The United Irishman also linked another pamphlet Eye-Witness in Northern Ireland, written by Aidan Corrigan, the chairman of the Dungannon Civil Rights Association, to Brady’s exertions.
Ó TUATHAIL OUTLINES FURTHER LINKS BETWEEN FIANNA FAIL AND THE CDCS VIA SEAMUS BRADY
The United Irishman article detailed Seamus Brady’s links to Fianna Fáil by pointing out he had “acted for a time as P.R.O. for TACA [the Fianna Fáil fundraising body], carries out public relations work for the Fianna Fáil party, and still finds time to write speeches for the fireball of the North, Neil Blaney’. Moreover, “Brady was one of the truth squad appointed by George Colley, acting on behalf of the Taoiseach, to tell the ‘right facts’ about the North to world opinion … Money is no object with Mr. Brady. Backed by the Boland-Blaney-Haughey consortium, he also draws on his official Government allowance”.
Haughey, pictured above on the right with the ‘Fireball of the North’, Neil Blaney
Ó Tuathail’s research had also uncovered Brady’s involvement with the Voice of the North, a weekly newspaper which had first appeared on 12 October 1969. It declared itself an independent community newspaper and appealed for donations which could be sent to Paddy Devlin and Aidan Corrigan. In 1971 Brady confirmed his involvement to the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) stating that “prominent members of various defence committees [my emphasis] in the North’ had asked for a newspaper to counter ‘the Stormont propaganda machine”. [PAC Report p.90]
Ó Tuathail had not only denounced The Voice as a creature of Dublin but drew attention to its links to the CDCs by pointing out that the first edition had stated that copies of Terror in Northern Ireland could be ‘obtained for 2/6 from the Citizen’s Defence Committee 47a Cyprus St., Belfast’.
Ó Tuathail had not only denounced The Voice as a creature of Dublin but drew attention to its links to the CDCs by pointing out that the first edition had stated that copies of Terror in Northern Ireland could be ‘obtained for 2/6 from the Citizen’s Defence Committee 47a Cyprus St., Belfast’.
He also revealed that the “October 26 edition”, of The Voice had appeared with “a beautiful picture of Paddy Devlin MP on page one and two centre pages devoted entirely to a speech by De Valera to the Dublin Senate on February 9, 1939 … All in all, the Voice of the North sounds suspiciously like the voice of Fianna Fáil”.
From The United Irishman’s perspective, it looked like Brady was the ‘chief agent of the Fianna Fáil attempt to take over and control the Civil Rights movement in the North’.
John Hume, Gerry Fitt, Austin Curry and Paddy Devlin. Fitt and Devlin covered up their involvement in the arms quests for the CDCs of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Armed with all of these revelations Ó Tuathail held a press conference at the Gresham hotel on 30 October at which he accused Blaney, Boland and Haughey of ‘using Fianna Fáil gold to buy their way into the Civil Rights Association and other areas of influence in the North’. Douglas Gageby in The Irish Times followed up the story but the rest of the mainstream media ignored it.
It is inconceivable that George Colley, Jack Lynch and others involved in the propaganda campaign did not pore over the report in great detail.
THE LIBEL WRIT THAT WAS NEVER SERVED
Brady, who denied any involvement in the publication of The Voice in 1969, issued a libel writ against the Ó Tuathail on foot of the various references to him in the article, and indeed, a follow up in the December edition, but never pursued it. He claimed later that he had not been able to find Ó Tuathail to serve the papers on him. Yet, the Supreme Agitator had spent the six months following the issue of the writ either at his home in Santry or at the office of The United Irishmen which was a moment’s walk from Belvedere College in the centre of Dublin or otherwise ‘commuting between the two places on my bike’.
Séamas Ó Tuathail (second from the right) circa 1971
JAMES DOWNEY, A GENTLEMAN OF IRISH JOURNALISM
That gentleman of Irish journalism, the late James Downey, also heard rumours about what was afoot. Indeed, he was approached by “an emissary from Goulding” in circumstances where, “From as early as September 1969, rumours abounded of contacts between the IRA and Fianna Fáil ministers”. Roy Johnson, who sadly passed away last December, told me in 2012 that he believed he was the ‘emissary’. The approach appears to have taken place in September 1969. In his autobiography, In My Own Time, Downey recounts how he had:
“direct personal knowledge of the manoeuvrings of the time, because an emissary from Goulding sought me out. He must have thought that I had some influence in the Labour Party or the Irish Times (where in fact as foreign editor I had no input whatever into domestic coverage or policy). His object was to assure me that the rumours were untrue [author’s emphasis]. I knew him for an honourable man, committed to bringing the IRA onto the political path, and it is possible that he himself may have been misled. I did not believe him. Instead, I wondered then and have wondered since how the Taoiseach [Jack Lynch] could fail to know what I, in my relatively humble and decidedly peripheral position, knew; what the proverbial ‘dogs in the street’ barked. Of course [Lynch] knew. The entire Cabinet knew, partly suspected, though there are degrees of knowledge varied; politicians can be quite skilful at ensuring that they do not know dangerous or embarrassing things. The defence and justice ministers [James Gibbons and Michael O’Morain], in particular, knew a great deal, but they did not know how Lynch wanted them to react”. [In My Own Time by James Downey, Gill and Macmillan, 2009, p118.]
Had it not been for Paisley, McKeague and the violent louts who lurched after them, Roy Johnson (above) might have succeeded in winding up the IRA by the early 1970s
Johnson certainly fits the description of being an ‘honourable man, committed to bringing the IRA onto the political path’. Moreover, Johnson was actually telling the truth to Downey since no wing of the IRA, let alone Goulding’s faction, was the intended beneficiary of the weapons which Fianna Fáil and Irish military intelligence, G2, were helping to import. The plan that eventually evolved was to bring in arms and store them under military lock and key in the Republic. They would only be released if a ‘Doomsday’ scenario erupted in the North. The overarching fear was that the British Army might withdraw or become overstretched and Catholics would be slaughtered by McKeague and his ilk if left unprotected. Somehow this simple truth has transformed into the most ridiculous myth that Fianna Fáil was intent upon arming the militant wing of the IRA. One of the roots of this gibberish is a long forgotten report by a British journalist in a London newspaper.
PART 2: THE BRITISH JOURNALIST
THE MAN FROM THE EVENING STANDARD
In October 1969 Tom Pocock, a British journalist, joined the ranks of those who were snatching glimpses at what was going on inside some of the Republic’s more densely smoke-filled backrooms. Pocock had served with the Royal Navy during WW2 before entering journalism.
On 14 October 1969, after a trip to Dublin, Pocock published an article in the London Evening Standard. The title could not have been more provocative, ‘As guns come back into Irish politics, what part is the IRA playing? Tom Pocock reports from Dublin’. The piece was accompanied by a drawing which could have graced the cover of a spy thriller of the era. It featured a paramilitary type figure with his back turned while the arms of another individual cocked a pistol in the foreground. In the piece, Pocock alleged that the ‘right’ wing of the IRA had begun ‘a crash programme of re-armament and military training, with the active help, so I have been told, of three members of the Irish government and some factions within the Army.’ Pocock’s source for this revelation was Roy Johnson who put a Goulding-esque interpretation on what was afoot to him. Johnson had clearly heard on the Goulding grapevine rumours that Fianna Fáil was allegedly arming MacStíofáin’s increasingly dissident wing of the IRA behind Goulding’s back and much to his chagrin.
It should be emphasised that Fianna Fáil was not arming either wing of the IRA. This, of course, did not stop the Marxists claiming that Fianna Fáil was in bed with the militants while some of the militants were alleging that it was actually the Marxists who were frolicking between the sheets with the dastardly capitalists of Fianna Fáil.
This, of course, did not stop the Marxists claiming that Fianna Fáil was in bed with the militants while some of the militants were alleging that it was actually the Marxists who were frolicking between the sheets with the dastardly capitalists of Fianna Fáil.
I spoke to Sean Garland a number of years ago and found he was still convinced of the existence of a Fianna Fáil plot which had been run in tandem with the MacStíofáin-Ó Brádaigh faction of the Republican Movement. While I take the view there was no such intrigue, I didn’t doubt his sincerity nor that of Roy Johnson or the others that it had happened. Indeed, that very sincerity must have helped the myth take root. If it had been a cynical piece of black propaganda, they would have dropped it decades ago. The British Secret Service, on the other hand, promoted the conspiracy theory in a malevolent fashion for more than a decade as I described (briefly) in a recent Village book review. https://villagemagazine.ie/dishonest-jack-a-new-book-on-the-arms-crisis-of-1970-demolishes-the-reputation-of-a-former-taoiseach/ An indication of the cynicism of British Intelligence is that they have yet to own up to that particular assault on Irish democracy.
Pocock’s article asserted that ‘three members of the Irish government and some factions within the army’ were allegedly helping the IRA. The reference to the army is fascinating. This shows that Pocock’s source – Roy Johnson – was aware of at least something – however garbled – of the involvement of Capt. Kelly and Irish military intelligence, G2, in what was afoot as early as October 1969, some seven months before the Arms Crisis erupted and reported it in a mainstream British newspaper.
The reference to the army is fascinating. This shows that Pocock’s source – Roy Johnson – was aware of at least something – however garbled – of the involvement of Capt. Kelly and G2 in what was afoot as early as October 1969, some seven months beforethe Arms Crisis erupted and reported it in a mainstream British newspaper.
Hence, while Ó Tuathail was the first journalist to learn the key elements of the story behind the Arms Crisis, Pocock was the first to allude to it in print. Ironically, Pocock’s revelation was based on Ó Tuathail’s research which Johnson had picked up on the Republican left grapevine.
When I spoke to Johnson in 2012 he said he had no recollection of discussing what he was likely to say to Pocock with Goulding. To use a modern term, Johnson was not ‘on message’. If he had told Goulding in advance what he was going to say about the three Fianna Fáil ministers, it is likely that Goulding would have asked him to keep quiet about that aspect of the story. While it was not exactly the same issue as the blind eye being turned by customs officials to cross border arms smuggling, it was uncomfortably close.
A TIME CAPSULE
Pocock’s article has matured over the decades into what is now a fascinating time capsule. He described how he visited Dublin and walked into a bar only to ‘hush [the] conversation’. One of those present challenged him as to whether or not he was a policeman. After he assured his interrogator he was not, his ‘denial was confirmed by the arrival of a friend, a member of the Sinn Féin and, he will sometimes say, it’s illegal military arm, the Irish Republican Army and thus, he may add a representative of the soul of Ireland. Conversation was resumed – appropriately beneath a glass-case in which was displayed a revolver that had belonged to Michael Collins – and the bar again filled with the talk of fighting as it so often had half a century ago’. Pocock went on to suggest that the ‘friend’ who just arrived, Roy Johnson, was the ‘Adjunct-General’ of the IRA.
Pocock continued to describe how since “Ulster exploded this summer the gun has resumed its place in Irish politics”. There were ‘young men’ from the Bogside in the pub who were ‘talking of war’. One of them delivered a convoluted exposition on imperialism to those around him and declared, ‘What I want is for the Catholics to fight the British soldiers’. Johnson, irritated by these bellicose bleatings, led Pocock out into the street where he told him, “If those boys have come to ask me to release guns for the North I’ll not do so …Those young men are useless. They have no knowledge of Irish history. They are out of touch.”
BRITAIN GAINS AN INSIGHT INTO THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE MARXIST WING OF THE REPUBLICAN MOVEMENT
Pocock described Johnson as someone who had “been called the most significant personality in the IRA’ adding that if that was so, ‘was the IRA now turning its back upon its totem the gun?’ Pocock next provided an overview of what was happening on the island from Johnson’s perspective for his British readers:
“‘Within the IRA,’ Johnson told me, ‘there is a Left and a Right. The Right sees its function as military. The Left sees its function as non-military.’ Johnson describes himself as a Marxist – he is vice-chairman of the Left-wing Wolfe Tone Association and closely connected with the like-minded Connolly Association – and his aim is the creation of what he describes as ‘a Marxist workers’ Republic in the Irish tradition’.
“This is an ambition he is said to share with friends of influence in the political shadows, namely Cathal Goulding, Anthony Coughlan and Seán Garland.
“Certainly, a few years ago, the looks of the IRA began to change. Instead of raiding police posts on the Ulster border and training for guerrilla war, they concentrated on social and economic issues, even giving some of their weapons away to the Free Wales Army.
“The new targets were bad housing, absentee landlords, foreign capital and what they considered as the annexation of the Irish heritage by the people’s enemies. These campaigns were not without excitement to attract young hotheads and, to this end, were arranged bomb explosions – not to kill – on foreign-owned property and mass poaching – sometimes called ‘shoot-ins’ and ‘fish-ins’ – where foreigners had bought these rights.
“This bloodless crusade was achieving some success when the Ulster crisis broke. To their dismay, the Old Guard of the IRA – the Right-wing – found that in Eire at least it was militarily unprepared”.
Pocock proceeded to describe how the ‘Right’ wing of the IRA was intent upon rearming. Although no names were mentioned, he was, of course, referring to the MacStíofáin-Ó Brádaigh faction which later established the Provisional IRA, and it was they he linked to Fianna Fáil. Pocock reported that:
“Against the advice of the Left, the Right began a crash programme of re-armament and military training, with the active help, so I have been told, of three members of the Irish government and some factions within the Army.
“Guns were smuggled into Ulster, the IRA set up military-type camps within Eire – one of the most powerful being nicknamed ‘The Donegal Mafia’ – and at least one subversive radio station beamed in Ulster was established south of the border. And, while mobilising, the Right set about trying to oust the Left-wing leaders, who included several pacifists and members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
“… Yet, the IRA, however split it may appear does, when seen together with scattered and fragmented political and emotional ambition throughout Ireland and the volatile people for ever brooding on their history and destiny, constitute an explosive element in a crisis of infinite delicacy”.
THE BUFFOONS IN BRITISH INTELLIGENCE
The upshot of all this was that a reputable and widely read journalist reported to his British readership that Lynch’s government was playing dangerous games with the IRA and that the Irish Army was involved.
This undoubtedly shocked the paranoid buffoons who swelled the ranks of British Intelligence and added to their fears about alleged – yet non-existent – links between Fianna Fáil and the IRA. It also helps to explain why MI5, MI6 et al smeared Haughey as an IRA godfather over the next decade when he was nothing of the sort.
The report was published by Pocock on 14 October 1969. Within weeks a British Intelligence operation was in full swing. A British agent who came to Dublin in November 1969 nearly lost his life. He was saved by the intervention of G2. The detail of that event is a story for another day.
That Her Majesty’s spooks could not tell their arms from their elbows i.e. the difference between the CDCs and the IRA – should not come as a surprise to anyone: many of them believed their own prime minister, Harold Wilson was a KGB stooge. Ironically, the real traitors were to be found among their own sorry ranks: Philby, Blake, Maclean, Burgess, Blunt and Cairncross. To confuse matters further, many of them believed that the Director-General of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, 1956-65, was another KGB stooge. At least in so far as Hollis was concerned, there is a substantial body of evidence with which to question his loyalty.
It would be fascinating to see what MI5 and MI6’s archives hold about Pocock’s article. If they were true to form, they would have had a pally word with Pocock after his return from Eire.
While in Dublin Pocock also spent some time in the company of an unnamed Government minister and reported that, “Indeed, my most alarming memory of this visit to Dublin is not of inflammatory talk over Guinness but of a charming member of the Irish Cabinet remarking over coffee in a luxurious restaurant that he has been in favour of ordering the Army to march into Ulster”.
The ‘charming’ yet unnamed minister – perhaps Charles Haughey or maybe Brian Lenihan – was undoubtedly the individual who also gave Pocock the ‘official’ gist of what the cabinet felt about the IRA, and it was not flattering:
“The government of Eire, officially, dismisses the IRA as a few hundred thugs living in a gory romantic past and the Left is hopelessly split among Communists, Trotskyites, Maoists and the passionate young revolutionaries who want what they call The People’s Democracy”.
If we assume that the minister was either Haughey or Lenihan, the reality is that neither had advocated anything as recklessly stupid as sending Irish troops crashing over the border at cabinet. Yet, at this time Haughey occasionally claimed he had done so. Indeed, in those days a whiff of sulphur was not unattractive to many sections of the voting public deeply resentful over what had happened across the border to the minority tradition. Alas, the truth was more mundane. Des O’Malley – who was most certainly no friend of Haughey and never missed an opportunity to sneer at him – states that no one at the cabinet table in August 1969 had favoured an invasion. At the other end of Fianna Fail’s political spectrum, Kevin Boland provided an identical account. Boland, often derided by Lynch supporters, has emerged as an accurate and fearless historian of these murky events. His accounts can be found in a series of books he published in the 1970s.
Again, this silly bit of tomfoolery about an invasion undoubtedly raised the blood pressure at Century House and the other lairs where Her Majesty’s bungling spies scratched their heads and exchanged daft conspiracy theories with each other before feeding them into the political and media food chains as the gospel truth.
this silly bit of tomfoolery about an invasion undoubtedly raised the blood pressure at Century House and the other lairs where Her Majesty’s bungling spies scratched their heads and exchanged daft conspiracy theories with each other before feeding them into the political and media food chains as the gospel truth.
Pocock finished the piece with a compliment to Roy Johnson ‘Odd that the most rational and least bloodthirsty Irishman I met should have been a Marxist [i.e. Johnson].’ Johnson was indeed someone who opposed violence.
When I spoke to him he said he had been determined to wind down the IRA as a military organisation. That he could not click his finger and achieve this in an instant had disappointed some of this fellow Marxists. To them he had excused the continuation of the IRA on the basis that if the revolution came, it would be necessary to have an armed force of men to oppose those who might try to undo it.
After the Republican Movement split, Johnson sided with the Officials. He left in 1972 after the Official IRA went on the rampage murdering five members of the cleaning staff, a gardener and a chaplain at Aldershot in an atrocious revenge bomb attack for Bloody Sunday. Johnson remained active in politics. He became a highly respected figure in the Green movement and contributed articles to many publications including Village.
PART 3: HONEST JACK
IT SEEMS THE DOGS IN THE STREET KNEW ABOUT AN ARMS PLOT BUT NOT ‘HONEST’ JACK
The fact that much of the information in Pocock’s article was provided by Roy Johnson – a senior member of the IRA – and that he also spoke to a cabinet minister, renders it a certainty that the press department in the Irish embassy in London sent a copy of the Evening Standard article to the Department of External Affairs in Dublin where Patrick Hillery, a close ally of Jack Lynch, was the resident minister. It was probably then circulated to the Government Information Bureau and seen by officials in the Taoiseach’s office, probably even Lynch himself.
What is the upshot of all of this?
First, it demonstrates that months before the Arms Crisis erupted, the truth about what was afoot was already being mangled by competing political interests, especially inside the IRA.
Second, it adds weight to the charge that Lynch knew about the efforts of his ministers to procure arms. Michael Heney’s recently published book is recommended for anyone who doubts this or wants the chapter and verse thereof.
Space does not permit a description of what the British Ambassador, Andrew Gilchrist, told Jack Lynch in November 1969 about the rumours he had heard about Haughey and Blaney and guns before the Arms Crisis erupted, nor the details dug up by Conor Cruise O’Brien TD of the Labour Party.
However, what can be said is that if Gilchrist, O’Brien, Goulding, Ó Tuathail, Johnson, not to mention high-profile mainstream journalists like Downey and Pocock, along with the readers of the London Evening Standard, had all heard rumours about an arms quest of one sort or another involving Fianna Fáil ministers, is it credible that Jack Lynch first learned about it on 20 April 1970 as he would claim? That was the day Peter Berry, the Secretary of the Department of Justice, presented him with an account of an attempt to fly arms into Dublin Airport from the Continent by Capt. James Kelly of Irish military intelligence, G2.
if Gilchrist, O’Brien, Goulding, Ó Tuathail, Johnson, not to mention high-profile mainstream journalists like Downey and Pocock, along with the readers of the London Evening Standard, had all heard rumours about an arms quest of one sort or another involving Fianna Fáil ministers, is it credible that Jack Lynch first learned about it on 20 April 1970 as he would claim?
The fresh information in this article is published precisely because it is new. It merely adds to an existing body of evidence that is far more substantial and shows that Lynch and his defence minister, James Gibbons, knew about the arms importation effort, that it was a perfectly legal military intelligence operation and that they lied after the Opposition found out about it. Haughey was then forced to act as a scapegoat albeit that within a decade he would become Taoiseach. The real victim of the Lynch-Gibbons deceit was Capt. Kelly who was viciously abused, lost his job, placed on trial, received a diminished pension and fought to his last day – literally – in an attempt to get the State to undo the wrong it had occasioned to him. For this, history will not be kind to Lynch and Gibbons.
The real victim of the Lynch-Gibbons deceit was Capt. Kelly who was viciously abused, lost his job, placed on trial, received a diminished pension and fought to his last day – literally – in an attempt to get the State to undo the wrong it had occasioned to him. For this, history will not be kind to Lynch and Gibbons.
To me, one of the great mysteries of the Arms Crisis and its sequel the Arms Trials, is how the CDCs came to be so disparaged. The businessmen, priests, lawyers and ordinary law-abiding citizens who made up their ranks wanted nothing more than a restoration of peace. There were a number of old IRA hands amid the ranks but they never sought to exploit the massive support the CDCs enjoyed inside the Catholic communities. Indeed, the later demise of the CDCs helped the Provisional and Official IRA extend their influence within these communities for a tilt against the Crown. More than anyone else, Jack Lynch was responsible for destroying the moderating influence of the CDCs by putting John Kelly, the National CDC organiser of the CDC on trial alongside Capt. Kelly, Neil Blaney, Charles Haughey and Albert Luykx. (The case against Blaney was dismissed at a preliminary stage.)
After his acquittal, John Kelly devoted his energies to the Provisional IRA.
Séamas Ó Tuathail, the Supreme Agitator, retired as editor of the United Irishman in the early 1970s. He went on to become a barrister. He is one of a small group of senior counsel capable of running a case in Irish and has spent much of his career forcing the State to live up to its constitutional obligations towards the first language.
Anthony Coughlan, who is referred to in Pocock’s article, was never a member of the IRA. Indeed, he brought a number of successful libel actions to establish this point with no less a figure than Ó Tuathail representing him.
The State owes a massive apology to Capt. James Kelly and his family. He was a fine officer who followed his orders with loyalty, behaved with honour yet was thrown to the wolves by Jack Lynch.
Ó Tuathail also went on to represent Captain James Kelly who, like the other co-defendants at the Arms Trial, was acquitted, after libellous allegations had been made about his involvement in the Arms Crisis. According to Kelly’s family, Ó Tuathail provided his services for free.
Ó Tuathail has yet to find the old mansion where he attended his ‘job interview’ with the Army Council. One suspects he will one day. A clue may lie in the fact that Seán MacStíofáin, who was the IRA’s Director of Intelligence, lived in the general vicinity at the time and may have scouted it as a safe venue for his comrades.
The information in this article was originally intended for a chapter in a book I will be publishing in September 2020 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Arms Trials. Unfortunately, due to pressure of space, I had to drop it from the book. I am deeply grateful to Michael Smith, editor of Village, for this opportunity to let it have its moment in the sun.
See also https://villagemagazine.ie/dw/
Copies of The United Irishman articles referred to in this article – and much more besides – can be accessed at the marvellous historical treasure trove that is the Cedar Lounge Revolution: https://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/