On the 16th of August, while parts of Belfast burned, Paddy Kennedy, then a protégé of Gerry Fitt, travelled to Dublin accompanied by fellow Stormont MP’s Paddy Devlin and Paddy O’Hanlon. They crossed the border looking for guns: making an impassioned appeal at a public meeting outside the GPO on O’Connell Street, and in private to officials in the Department of External Affairs. The crowd outside the GPO was sympathetic but largely unable to help. Later, the three were roundly rebuffed at Iveagh House. If these official channels proved uncooperative, however, other ‘official channels’ were more forthcoming.
It was through conversations with Paddy Kennedy that a certain John Devine first became aware of the importation and distribution of arms and ammunition to Irish nationalists and the role being played by certain Irish government minsters in facilitating this. Using information gleaned from Kennedy and others, including Paddy Devlin, Gerry Fitt and sources in the press, Devine began to piece together a remarkably detailed picture of covert operations that were ongoing across Ulster. Clearly a great deal of work went into compiling the document and checking the veracity of its claims. Devine stated:
“Much of the information which follows has been checked out by me, and found to be fairly accurate. What is contained, unchecked, is passed on because it comes from what are described as “usually reliable” sources.”
The information that emerged subsequently- through the so-called “arms trials”, the investigation by the public accounts committee, Peter Berry’s diaries (published in ‘Magill’ magazine in 1980) and the numerous other exposés on the subject- have clearly demonstrated that the information contained in the memorandum were indeed remarkably accurate in every respect.
An early PIRA recruitment poster; Note how well armed the Provo gang in the above image is, just months after the formation of that organisation. How many of the Provo’s guns were gifted to them by the Irish state?
John Devine’s Investigation
Devine began by noting that since the publication of the Cameron report on the 12th of September, 1969, a great deal of media attention had been given to- “The influence of Left-Wing elements in the Civil Rights agitation in the North. While our attention has been diverted in that direction, certain other forces have been at work, and are working“
He continued- “Since the recent major outbreaks of trouble an “agent” of Messrs. Haughey, Blaney and Boland, has been conducting military intelligence gathering on trips behind the barricades. Contacts are being built up and ammunition, arms and money have already been distributed…..the contacts are among the republican element in the North, who have more or less broken with the Dublin HQ of the IRA [those who would soon become known as the Provisional IRA], principally because this “agent” can deliver what the IRA cannot. The IRA is highly worried and indignant at the influence which these Fianna Fáil people are having among Northern republicans, the possibility of retaliation is likely from the Dublin end. Fianna Fáil have now established a chain of links from Belfast to Derry, including places like Dungannon, Newry, Armagh, Coalisland, Omagh and in other places where their sphere of contacts up to now has been negligible. Their aid is being accepted“
The ‘Civil Rights’ Connection
Devine’s report went on to note that an office had been set up in Monaghan town, with the approval of the named ministers, from which the ‘Monaghan Civil Rights office‘ of NICRA (the so-called ‘Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association’) operated. Among those activities was the production of Irish republican propaganda, including the pamphlet ‘Terror in Northern Ireland‘ (written by the journalist and arch-republican Séamus Brady, who was close to Blaney), which Paddy Devlin had distributed in London. The ‘Monaghan Office‘ also organised public demonstrations such as the meeting outside the GPO in Dublin on the 27th of September, 1969.
Paddy Kennedy MP, Republican-Labour
At that meeting, speakers called for donations to be made to the ‘Monaghan Civil Rights Group‘, and Paddy Kennedy (‘Republican Labour’ MP for Belfast Central) had told the crowd that “I think you will know what I mean if I say that never again do we want an August 14th in my city“. Other speakers were much more explicit- one called for guns and explosives, with all donations to go to the ‘Civil Rights Group‘ in Monaghan, while another appealed for actual recruits, unequivocally stating that the “machine-guns and revolvers” bought with public donations would require able bodied men to fire them. John Devine’s report continued-
“The activities directly attributable to the ‘Monaghan Office’ continue to expand. It is now clear that a large number of meetings have been organised, especially in the western counties [of Northern Ireland)], and are aimed purely at rising the spirit of republicanism”. On Friday next the first of a series of weekly propaganda newspapers [‘Voice of the North’] will be circulated and distributed in the North. The paper will be bitterly anti-Unionist. The committee of management involves some of those named on the ‘Monaghan Committee’; Blaney, Boland and Haughey’s agent, and others, also known to me. The paper will be printed in the ‘Anglo-Celt’, Cavan. Five or six vans, necessary for transporting the newspaper, have already been acquired. As well, plans are in hand for the setting up of a powerful mobile pirate radio . . . This also has cabinet backing“.
A Strange Conclusion
Having gathered and verified his information, which clearly implicated government ministers and agents of the state in the illegal importation of arms and the founding, organising and funding of a vicious terrorist grouping (the Provisional IRA) Devine was left in a terrible predicament. The Gardaí were aware of what was happening but there was no visible evidence that anything was being done to interfere, nor was it likely that anything would be done.
Knowing that the information was good but not legally publishable, Devine decided to pass the information to the one person he believed had the sophistication to deal with it in the appropriate manner: The Irish Labour Party’s Northern Ireland spokesman- Conor Cruise O’Brien. O’Brien held the appropriate portfolio, he was also sharp enough to appreciate what exactly was in the document and how to deal with it, introducing it into Dáil Éireann through supplementary questions or by other means. It would appear however that somebody had ‘gotten at’ O’Brien. A couple of weeks before he had been given the Devine’s report O’Brien’s play ‘King Herod‘ had opened at the Dublin Theatre Festival.
Later that month, O’Brien travelled to New York to meet a Broadway producer for discussions on the possibility of staging his latest theatrical effort. Before boarding his flight, he rang John Devine from a payphone in Dublin airport to tell him he was “going away“, and promptly boarded his flight and left. Devine believed that O’Brien would take action arising from his dossier when he returned, but strangely nothing ever happened.
Conor Cruise O’Brien
It is very difficult to comprehend how or why he failed to act on the intelligence provided to him, especially when it concerned his nemesis, Charles Haughey. We cannot know what, or who, stopped O’Brien from using the information given to him, neither can we be certain what would have happened had he used Devine’s information appropriately. What seems likely, however, is that, in the face of the accusations becoming public, Lynch would have been compelled to act sooner rather than later, and at the very least the “Arms Crisis” of the following year would have been averted. Perhaps some of the substantial aid given to the Provo murder gangs by the Irish government in 1970-71 would not have been given. How many deaths are directly attributable to the Irish government of that period who, in the final analysis, were responsible for organising, financing, arming and training the nascent Provisional IRA? Would the Ulster conflict have escalated to the nightmarish internecine war it became in 1972, ’73, ’74 and later?
Collusion is not an Illusion
Devine’s dossier is further evidence of the extent of collusion between the nascent Provisional IRA and the Irish government during the formative early years of the Provo’s existence. Without the money, banking facilities, arms, ammunition, safe houses and organisation provided to the PIRA murder gangs (and their immediate predecessors) by the Irish state in the years 1969-1972 (and almost certainly later), it is highly unlikely that the Provos could have sustained an effective campaign for more than 7 or 8 years. Of course, the unjustifiable slaughter of ‘Bloody Sunday’ gave the Provos not only an influx of new recruits but also an increase in support, both passive and active, within the community from which they first emerged. However, had the government of Éire not sponsored republican terrorism in Northern Ireland, ‘Bloody Sunday’ might never have happened. The outbreak of inter-ethnic violence which had erupted in the Summer of 1969 might well have petered out by the following Spring. Especially since most, if not all, of NICRA’s demands had been met by the NI government by early 1970.
Belfast, September 1969
At the time, and for many years since, a section of Loyalism and Unionism has maintained that, at least from 1968 onwards, the ‘Civil Rights’ movement had become a front for violent Irish nationalism. At one time I would have dismissed such claims, as most people did. Now however I am reasonably convinced that NICRA did indeed become a vehicle for Irish republican terrorists, acting in collusion with the Irish state. From early 1969, at the latest, NICRA, or a significant element thereof, had been thoroughly infiltrated by people who would go on to involve themselves in some of the most heinous, reprehensible, inhuman acts of violence ever committed.
Whilst researching this article I was put in touch with two gentlemen, now elderly, from the South L’derry area. Both are from a Unionist background and both had been involved in the ‘Civil Rights’movement, albeit briefly, in 1969. Their take on the events of that era was quite illuminating, as was the fact that both had turned their backs on Leftist protest politics by the beginning of 1970, so much so in fact that when I asked how they would describe themselves now, one man said- “I suppose I’d maybe call myself a TUV man now“. The other man declared unequivocally that since 1998 he would describe himself as a “Dissident Loyalist”. That is quite a turn around, even in 49 years, but it is perhaps unsurprising given the events, and the horrors, witnessed by the two men since 1969.
I will end this piece now with the words of one of those men (both of whom wish to remain anonymous) when I asked about his involvement in the ‘Civil Rights’ movement-
I saw injustice, not only among the Roman Catholic people but among Protestants too. Catholics in Derry lived in slum housing and there was gerrymandering as they called it as well. Protestants in Derry didn’t have it much better but there were things the government could have done and should have done. ‘One man one vote’ should have been brought in here [NI] when it was in England after the [Second World] War. Stormont did not listen, never did, and didn’t seem to care. Many more Protestants and Unionists would have come to support the Civil Rights Association but they [Irish republicans] couldn’t keep the gun out of it. They didn’t really want decent houses and a fair vote, they wanted to overthrow the very state and a lot of them just wanted to kill Protestants. They couldn’t keep the gun out of it. I soon saw what was happening, even though they [republicans] were wary of talking freely in ‘mixed company’, so to speak, it was blatantly obvious what was going to happen. I walked away from it. Four or five months was more than enough to see what way the wind was blowing.