Editorial from Irish Political Review, January 2003

Ambassadorial Government: Ireland 1969-70

The Republic returned under British government in 1970. In the Spring of that year the British Ambassador, Andrew Gilchrist, required Jack Lynch’s Government to desist from the Northern policy it had embarked upon with Lynch’s inflammatory speech of August 1969, in which he said he “would not stand idly by” as a spectator of chaos in the North. Under the supervision of the Ambassador, Lynch aborted his Northern policy, broke up the apparatus developed to implement it, and produced scapegoats to explain it away. But, while disengaging in practice from the North, he continued to make inflammatory speeches—speeches which were inflammatory in their actual influence on the Unionist community in the North.

By launching a policy of practical engagement and then dropping it under British pressure six months later, and by continuing to make speeches which were incompatible with disengagement, Lynch contributed to the conditions under which a new Republican movement, forged out of the 1969 Unionist pogrom, flourished.

The “Official Republicans” (whose notable remnants today are Proinsias de Rossa, Pat Rabbitte and Eoghan Harris) have put the idea about through their influential propaganda apparatus that the Fianna Fail Government created the Provos because it feared the revolutionary Marxism of the Official leadership. This is fantasy.

The 1969 pogrom destabilised everything in the North, and brought all major political tendencies in the Republic into active engagement with the North. If the Government had had the nerve to persist with its engagement and to face down the British Ambassador, it is highly improbable that a powerful, freely-acting Republican movement would have developed in the North. In that sense Fianna Fail was responsible for the growth of the Provos. But so was Fine Gael, which, to put it mildly, had not dissented from Lynch’s policy in 1969, but which acted as an agency of the British Ambassador in 1970 when its old Treatyite reflexes were activated by a slight degree of pressure.

The Republic might have contained and moulded the Northern Catholic response to the 1969 events. It could not have suppressed that response. The consequence of disengagement in 1970 was to give free rein to the new Republicanism, which was the most coherent and purposeful element in the Northern flux.

The scapegoating, by means of which Lynch conciliated the British Ambassador, took the form of the Arms Trial—a rigged trial which collapsed because the head of Military Intelligence, Col. Hefferon, told the truth in the witness box. Col. Hefferon said Capt. Kelly had acted with the knowledge of the Minister of Defence, and therefore lawfully.

Captain Kelly himself—doing the work that Irish ‘investigative journalists’ are paid to do—found in 2002 that in his police statement Colonel Hefferon had said what he later said in the witness box. But Hefferon’s statement, as put in the Book of Evidence, had been doctored to make it appear that Capt. Kelly had acted as part of an illegal conspiracy against the State.

Capt. Kelly also established that the Justice Minister had seen Hefferon’s authentic statement before the trial. (It would have been astonishing in the circumstances if he had not seen the statement by the head of Military Intelligence). And the reasonable conclusion is that the statement was doctored by, or with the connivance of, the Justice Minister.

That Justice Minister is still around, Desmond O’Malley. The present Attorney General, Michael McDowell, is a member of the party founded by O’Malley after his rupture with Charles Haughey, the Progressive Democrats. McDowell claimed last month that he had discovered in the files of his Office a document which exonerates O’Malley. That document has not yet been made public. A convoluted argument, based on McDowell’s briefing, was published in the Irish Times on 27th December. It lacks clarity and conviction.

The Irish Times prides itself on its investigative journalism. Yet it did not discover the authentic Hefferon statement in the National Archive. And it refused to publicise Capt. Kelly’s discovery of it until RTE had broadcast a programme about it.

We have ourselves made a little discovery which explains how the Irish Times functions, and demonstrates how closely the British Ambassador was involved in Irish affairs in 1969. It is a secret letter from the Ambassador to Whitehall about a spot of trouble they were having with the Irish Times Editor of the time who, although a Protestant, was turning out to be a “white nigger". The Irish Times naturally did not discover that revealing letter about itself. So we reproduce it in this month’s ‘Archive’.


Ambassadorial Government: Ireland 1969-1970.

Irish Budget, 2002: End Of An Era.
John Martin

Cowen's Foreign Policy—Wilful Ignorance.

Occasions Of Sin.
Sean McGouran (review)

The Archive.
Letter of British Ambassador to Dublin, A.G. Gilchrist 2.10.1969

Fianna Failsafe?
Joe Keenan

An Cor Tuathail: (Compiled: Pat Muldowney)
O Woman Full Of Prudence

Remembrance—Ours Not To Reason Why?
Pat Walsh

All You Wanted To Know About The IMF And The World Bank
John Martin

The Clonbanin Column

An Ulsterish Miscellany (review, Casement, Black Diaries)
Brendan Clifford

Killer And Martyr? (Martin O'Hagan)
Sean McGouran

Foster At UCC
Jack Lane

Pointing Paddy At The Nigger
Joe Keenan

The Roger Casement Diaries
John Martin

LABOUR COMMENT edited by Pat Maloney
Release Me, But Don't Let Me Go!

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