During 1970, the political system of the Republic of Ireland was shaken to its foundations by the effects of the crisis in Northern Ireland, which had reached a climax in the revolt of August, 1969, in Bogside, Derry, the second city of Northern Ireland.

The dramatic events in Northern Ireland were the subject of widespread international report and commentary. The political repercussions in the Republic are much less widely noticed. Yet many people in the Republic regard these events as making a significant erosion of our democracy. The last major event of the year 1970 was an announcement by Mr. Jack Lynch, the Taoiseach, as our Prime Minister is called, that his Government had discovered a plot to kidnap members of the Government, and that he had notified the Council of Europe, at Strasbourg, that his Government might have to derogate from the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights, invoking Article XV of that Convention. Article XV allows derogation in the event of war or an emergency threatening the life of the nation.

Mr. Lynch said that he might have to bring into operation Part Two of a never rescinded wartime measure, the Offenses Against the State Act, of 1940. Under Part Two—which can now be introduced by simple proclamation—any minister has power to order the detention without trial of any citizen whose activities he says he considers dangerous to the safety of the state. Camps suitable for the detention of such citizens have been under construction. The Government has refused to give details of the alleged plot. The Minister for Justice, Mr. Desmond O’Malley, says that the Government knows of the plot “beyond a shadow of a doubt,” but “the rules of evidence” could be a barrier to successful prosecution.

Opposition demands for time for a special debate on the Taoiseach’s announcement were refused. The ruling of the Ceann Comhairle (or Speaker) implied that in his view this announcement was not an urgent matter of public importance; if it had been, debate would be mandatory under the Standing Order of the Dáil (Parliament).

The leader of the Labor Party, Mr. Brendan Corish, and some other members of that party, including the present writer, refused to obey what they considered an unjustifiable ruling and we insisted on speaking; as a result, we were suspended for a time. The issue was eventually discussed at the adjournment of the Dáil, by tradition the occasion for an open debate. The Government’s attitude continued to be that the country would have to take its word for the existence of the plot, and to rely on its judgment on whether citizens might or might not be retained without trial.


It had been a year of real or alleged plots. The first of these began to come to public attention on Budget Day, April 22, 1970. The Minister for Finance, who was to introduce the budget, was Mr. Charles Haughey. At the opening of business, following prayers at 3 P.M., the Taoiseach made the following statement:

Before answering the first question I should like to inform you, Sir, and the House, that before leaving his home this morning the Minister for Finance met with an accident which has resulted in concussion. He is now in hospital and has been ordered to remain under medical observation for some days. Therefore, I will introduce the Financial Statement myself.

The newspapers initially carried conflicting reports about Mr. Haughey’s accident. According to one report his wife said that he had been struck by a piece of drainpipe falling from the roof of his house while he was walking around it on the morning of Budget Day. Another version, which subsequently became the officially received one, was to the effect that he had had a fall from his horse.

On May 5, the Taoiseach announced the resignation of the Minister for Justice, Mr. Michael Moran. The following exchange then took place between the Taoiseach and the leader of the main opposition party, Fine Gael, Mr. Liam Cosgrave:

Mr. Cosgrave: Can the Taoiseach say if this is the only Ministerial resignation we can expect?

The Taoiseach: I do not know what the Deputy is referring to.

Mr. Cosgrave: Is it only the tip of the iceberg?

The Taoiseach: Would the Deputy like to enlarge on what he has in mind?…

Mr. Cosgrave: The Taoiseach can deal with the situation?

The Taoiseach: I can assure the Deputy I am in complete control of whatever situation might arise.

Mr. Cosgrave: But smiles are very noticeable by their absence.

The Budget Debate was still going on in the continued absence of the Minister for Finance. On the following day, May 6, the Taoiseach announced that he had called for the resignation of the Minister for Finance and of the Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Neil Blaney, and that the Minister for Local Government, Mr. Kevin Boland, had resigned. Later the same day, the Taoiseach announced that as the two ministers whose resignations he had requested had refused to resign, the President had terminated their appointments, as well as accepting the resignation of the Minister for Local Government.


The Taoiseach acknowledged that part of these proceedings was connected with security, and more precisely with the bringing of weapons into the Republic:

On Monday 20th April and Tuesday 21st April, the security forces of the country at my disposal brought me information about an alleged attempt to unlawfully import arms from the continent. Prima facie, these reports involved two members of the Government. I decided to interview the two members of the Government—Deputy Blaney, then Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, and Deputy Haughey, then Minister for Finance.

I decided to do this on the following day, Wednesday 22nd April, which was the day of the Budget. In the meantime I ensured that adequate steps were taken to prevent any unauthorised inportation of arms. On 22nd April, the day I decided to interview the former Ministers, I received news of the accident to Deputy Haughey and, as a result, I was unable to interview him.

The Taoiseach claimed that he had requested the resignations of Messrs. Haughey and Blaney as early as April 29. He took no public or definitive action however until after it had been made known to him that an opposition leader had information about the ministers. Mr. Cosgrave, speaking immediately after the Taoiseach in the Debate, said:

Last night at approximately 8 P.M. I considered it my duty in the national interest to inform the Taoiseach of information I had received and which indicates a situation of such gravity for the nation that it is without parallel in this country since the foundation of the State. By approximately 10 P.M. two Ministers had been dismissed and a third had resigned.

I received information that an attempt had been made involving a number of members of the Government illegally to import a large consignment of arms from the continent for use by an illegal organisation. Arrangements were made under the pretext that this consignment was coming as an official supply of arms to the Army, and that involved making arrangements with the Department of Finance for allowing this consignment through the customs without check at Dublin Airport.

The confidence debate that followed—lasting for thirty-seven and a half hours continuously on Friday and Saturday, the eighth and ninth of May—was won by the Government. The dismissed and resigned ministers voted with the Government.

Subsequently, the two dismissed ministers were charged, with a number of other persons, with offenses under the Firearms Act, which prohibits the importation of firearms except under certain conditions.

The trial of Mr. Haughey and two lesser known defendants—Captain James Kelly of the Irish Army and Mr. John Kelly of the Belfast (Catholic) Citizen’s Defence Council—opened last autumn in the High Court, Dublin, before the President of the High Court, Mr. Justice O’Cuir. (A lower court had decided earlier that the state had shown no prima facie case against Mr. Blaney, who was accordingly discharged.) The President of the High Court, before the opening of the proceedings in court, had surprised the legal profession by referring publicly to the “reluctance” of Irish judges to try Mr. Haughey.

The defendants were charged with conspiring together, and with persons unknown, to import arms into the Republic illegally. The defendants pleaded not guilty.

The first trial, which lasted from September 22 to 29, proved abortive. The “reluctant” President took offense at a suggestion by one of the defense counsels that he was biased against the defense. Refusing to be mollified by the offer of the lawyer concerned to withdraw from the case, the President dismissed the jury, and a new trial became necessary; with another judge and jury.

The new trial opened in the High Court before Mr. Justice Henchy, and it lasted from October 6 to 22, at the end of which all the defendants were acquitted.

All the Irish newspapers carried copious accounts of “the trial”; one Dublin paper carried a verbatim transcript. Throughout the autumn, “the trial” was the main topic of conversation in Dublin, and the main non-local one in the rest of the country. In Belfast, and in Northern Ireland generally, it was followed with an interest not normally accorded to the affairs of the Republic.

The acquittals were widely expected and generally approved in the Republic. If the prosecution had been able to prove that the defendants had conspired to import arms illegally to the Republic, to be then smuggled into Northern Ireland, many Irish people—and almost certainly some of the jury—would have thought the better of them.


The arms trial, and subsequent investigations, still leave much in doubt. It is clear, however, that the events that led to that trial had their origin in a divergence within the Dublin cabinet in relation to the crisis in Northern Ireland. To understand what has happened, one must turn back to mid-August of 1969 when fighting erupted in Derry, in Northern Ireland, between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Catholic people of the Bogside.

The Government in Dublin was then under pressure to intervene militarily. Derry is only twelve miles from the border and the Irish Army, small as it is, would probably have gained possession of it and ousted the Royal Ulster Constabulary without much difficulty. But the Irish Army could not have held the city militarily against the British Army (which of course at this stage had not been deployed in the city itself). Partisans of intervention argued however that politically it would be difficult for the British Army to force the Irish Army out of a city in which the majority would welcome their presence; the population of Derry is two-thirds Catholic and of Irish Nationalist tradition. It was argued that international opinion, and especially in America, would be favorable to the Irish intervention, and its consequences might well—if properly followed through politically and diplomatically—result in the unification of the island.

On the other side it was pointed out that these hoped for results were highly speculative and that the most probable immediate outcome of the venture would be a speedy defeat for the Irish Army, with the British Army probably pursuing them for some distance across the border, and all this accompanied by Protestant violence against the Catholic minorities in Belfast and other centers on a larger scale than ever before in history. To which the reply was that, whatever the probable outcome might be, it remained the duty of the Irish Government to come to the rescue.

This division of opinion was reflected in the cabinet itself. The Taoiseach did not want to intervene if he could help it. The Deputy Prime Minister, Erskine Childers—the only Protestant in the cabinet—was opposed to intervention. But the cabinet had also its Republican wing.


The term Republican as used in Ireland needs explanation. A Republican is one whose loyalty to the Irish nation is asserted as uncompromising. The term has its origin in the Jacobin vocabulary of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen in the 1790s and became of importance again in the late nineteenth century when it served to mark off the extreme physical-force nationalists from the constitutional home rulers and others who were willing to settle for some form of autonomy short of absolute separation from England. The rising of 1916, made in the name of the Republic, gave the word a new sanctity. The Sinn Féin movement, which had not originally been Republican, became captured by Republicans. When in the General Election of 1918 the great majority of the electorate—that is to say virtually all the Catholics—voted for Sinn Féin they were deemed to have committed themselves to the Republic.

The guerrilla struggle of 1919-21—“the war against the Black and Tans”—was fought in the name of the Republic. Then the British government offered a settlement which was much less than recognition of the Republic: it was in fact very much what the old constitutional nationalists had been reviled for accepting: a twenty-six county autonomous state—the Irish Free State—within the Empire. A majority of the Republican cabinet, and then of the Dáil, and then of the electorate itself accepted this settlement, the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. A significant minority however rejected the settlement and fought against it, in the name of the Republic, in the brief Irish Civil War of 1922.

Eamon de Valera, first President of the Republic, was with the minority and became identified in the popular mind with the Republic. Five years afterward however de Valera and his followers broke with the Republicans of strict observance by entering the Dáil, for which at that time compliance with a ceremony involving an oath of allegiance to the British Crown was required.1

Mr. de Valera’s party, Fianna Fáil, declares itself, in the English version of its name, to be “The Republican Party.” Fianna Fáil’s Republican credentials are however challenged by “the real Republicans” in the modern Sinn Féin, or the illegal Irish Republican Army, and various splinter organizations. Fianna Fáil has now held office since 1932 (with only two interruptions of three years each by anti-Fianna Fáil coalitions). During that time many—probably most—of its members have ceased to worry about whether they are Republicans or not and have become pragmatists. The most eminent of these is the Prime Minister himself. It was as a hurleyplayer2 that Mr. Jack Lynch originally rose to prominence. One who knew him in those days cautioned the present writer to “watch out for the back of the hurley,” implying that it was dangerous to be misled by Mr. Lynch’s bland and innocent manner into a belief that he was necessarily keeping the rules.

There is however a significant and still influential minority of Fianna Fáil families—family connections are very important in this matter—which prides itself on what it considers to be its untarnished Republican honor. For these people it is an important article of faith that they never “accepted partition.” The party that accepted the treaty did that, and by the time Fianna Fáil came into office it was presented with a fait accompli. Whatever historical validity this concept may have, it is one which Fianna Fáil Republicans must try to live up to, so that any crisis in relation to Northern Ireland (always for them “the Six Counties”) presents them with a personal challenge and involves their party in difficulty.

In Mr. Lynch’s cabinet in August, 1969, the Republicans who called for intervention were Neil Blaney and Kevin Boland. Mr. Blaney’s Republicanism has a sectarian edge; his power base is in County Donegal in Western Ulster, a border county and closely affected by what happens in Derry. Mr. Boland is a hereditary Fianna Fáil prince; his father was Minister for Justice and had the son made a minister as soon as he entered Parliament. As Minister for Justice the elder Boland was a target for the abuse of “real” (or non-Fianna Fáil) Republicans and Kevin Boland is correspondingly sensitive to anything that might bring into question Fianna Fáil’s Republican orthodoxy. That these gentlemen should demand intervention in the North in August, 1969, was predictable. What no one would have predicted was that they would be supported by Mr. Charles J. Haughey.

Mr. Haughey was generally regarded as the archetype of “modern” as distinct from “Republican” Fianna Fáil. Free enterprise, land deals, horses, and the society columns were believed to mean more to him than Cathleen Ni Houlihan’s Fourth Green Field in the North. Yet Mr. Haughey now threw in his weight on the side of Messrs. Blaney and Boland and the Republic. This posed a threat to Mr. Lynch’s leadership, and it must have seemed to put Mr. Haughey in line for the succession.

intervene militarily but it did engage, publicly and privately, in various forms of “redirected activity”: words, gestures, and actions which were a substitute for intervention, or a compensation for nonintervention.

Publicly, the Taoiseach went on television in mid-August, 1969, and said he could not stand idly by. He called up reservists and gave the impression that he might be on the brink of intervention. He set up first aid stations near the border, and refugee camps. When the British Army was deployed to protect the Catholic population, as happened at that time, the Taoiseach declared the Army’s presence to be “unacceptable.”

Privately, the Government began to engage in various forms of cross-border activity, the exact scale and character of which is still a matter of inquiry. It is certain that at least one Irish Army officer, in civilian clothes, was sent across the border and entered into contact with the Irish Republican Army.


The Irish Republican Army is the name under which various small armed groups, operating both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, have intermittently conducted a guerrilla war against what they take to be the forces of British imperialism in Ireland. These forces, in their eyes, have included the elected parliaments and governments of Belfast and Dublin, as well as of London. The modern I.R.A. (now extant in two variants; see below) claims to be the direct continuance of the Irish Republican Army of the period 1918-21 which, with the general authority of the majority of the elected representatives of the Irish people, waged guerrilla war against the British forces then in occupation of all Ireland. The legitimacy of any modern I.R.A.’s claim to descent from the older body, which is venerated in the Republic (and by the minority in Northern Ireland), is denied by all the parties represented in the Irish parliament in Dublin. The majority in Northern Ireland regards both the older I.R.A. and the modern ones as criminal organizations.

The modern I.R.A. has been ideologically unstable, drawn at different times to the extreme right and left, and constant only in aiming to break all connections between Ireland and England. During the Second World War the I.R.A. sought military help from Hitler’s Germany; at least one of those concerned in this enterprise had previously been regarded as on the “left” of the I.R.A.

In the late Sixties, the I.R.A. came under left-wing leadership, influenced to some extent by the international student left, but influenced also by the thinking of an “old left” Marxist school. This leadership placed a reduced emphasis on military action and military preparedness, and an increased emphasis on political action through the political movement known as Sinn Féin, which has long been the political, mainly propagandistic, arm of the modern I.R.A. It stands in the same relation to the old Sinn Féin of pre-independence or pre-Anglo-Irish Treaty times as the modern I.R.A. does to the old I.R.A.

Under its left-wing leadership the I.R.A.-Sinn Féin movement—which of course tried to ignore the border—supported the left wing of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland which sprang up in 1967-68. This began as a nonviolent struggle to win for the Catholic community the equality of rights which had long been denied to them. But the I.R.A. continued to look forward to an eventual violent struggle for liberation of the area, to come about after a process of political education. leading to a unified movement of the Protestant and Catholic workers against their exploiters.

Northern Ireland being what it is, this process of political education would have had to last a mighty long time, so that the commitment of the I.R.A.-Sinn Féin movement to violence in this period of left-wing leadership remained rather abstract and theoretical. But the revolutionary rhetoric used by members of this movement and its fellow-travelers—including Miss Bernadette Devlin—has probably helped, with other forces, to precipitate actual violence at a period much earlier than was desired or intended by the orators.

During this period Sinn Féin-I.R.A. operated rather quietly in Northern Ireland, working in cooperation with, or under cover of, the civil rights movement. In the Republic, Sinn Féin-I.R.A. engaged in more publicized activities, concentrating on economic grievances, supporting unofficial strikes, squatting by tenants, “fish-ins,” and so on. Here again the ultimate aim was the overthrow of the “puppet” Dublin government, but again only after a process of “political education” on the nature of neocolonialism, which again seemed likely to take rather a long time.

The left-oriented Sinn Féin-I.R.A. was shattered by the events of August, 1969, in Derry and Belfast. It was in no way prepared for the uprising of the Catholics of Derry or the reprisals of Protestants in Belfast. Catholics looked to the I.R.A. for arms and trained personnel, and the response was ludicrous, both in quantity and quality. The I.R.A. lost face, and a bitter dispute began within its ranks.


It was in these conditions that the strange events that I have already described as agitating the Government and courts in Dublin took place. An Army officer, Captain James Kelly, and civilians close to the then Minister for Finance, Mr. Haughey, and the then Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Blaney, made contact with the Irish Republican Army in August and September, 1969. The I.R.A. was illegal in the eyes of the Government to which Messrs. Haughey and Blaney belonged, and the Government itself was illegal in the eyes of the I.R.A. All parties were, however, in their own eyes, Republicans.

The Taoiseach, Mr. Lynch, had permitted two of his leading ministers, Messrs. Blaney and Haughey, to take on chief responsibility for Northern policy after August, 1969. They were the two most powerful figures on a committee of four set up by Mr. Lynch to deal with Northern questions. Mr. Lynch, significantly, did not choose to serve on this committee. In the informal but implicitly hierarchical atmosphere of Ireland’s governing party, however, what was important about these men was not their belonging to a committee, but who they were. “Charlie” (Haughey) and “Neil” (Blaney) were big shots. There was only one bigger shot, “Jack” (Lynch), and if Jack was silent or apparently distrait, what Charlie and Neil said went.

It went, as far as Dublin’s “Northern policy” was concerned, from August, 1969, to about April, 1970. It was brought out at the arms trial that when the Minister for Agriculture told the Minister for Defence, Mr. James Gibbons, to move more rifles to Dundald (near the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland) the rifles were moved immediately. Formally, the Minister for Defence could have told the Minister for Agriculture to mind his own business. But there was no question of “Jim” talking like that to “Neil.” Neil is a square-jawed, blue-chinned figure with the placid assurance and habit of command of a capomafioso. So when Neil spoke, Jim and others jumped to it.

It seemed, and still seems, strange to many that Jack should have let Neil and Charlie assume responsibility in this delicate area.

Jack, from September, 1970, was speaking in public as a man who ruled out force. Neil, on the other hand, in September, 1970, publicly declined to rule out the use of force. Yet Neil stayed on in Jack’s cabinet in spite of opposition demands for his departure voiced by, among others, the present writer. And within the cabinet, as was later learned, Neil—and Charlie, who was known to agree with him—had special responsibilities for the North.

Why? It cannot be that Jack did not know what Neil and Charlie thought: they had told him what they thought, and Neil had told the public at large what he thought, as early as September. Did he assume that, whatever they thought, they would in practice loyally pursue his peaceful policy? Or did he find it politically convenient to let them have their head?

Certainly such a course had its political attractions. Had not Jack said in August on television that he “could not stand idly by” (meaning while Catholics were being attacked, though the word “Catholics” was avoided)? Many people (Catholics) in the Republic felt—even after the British Army had been deployed for the protection of life and property in the storm centers of Northern Ireland—that “our people” were still in danger.

It was also known that some of their representatives were looking for guns, believing—in this writer’s view, quite wrongly—that the possession of these would lessen their danger. So what, Republicans wanted to know, was Mr. Lynch’s government doing? Was it by any chance standing idly by?

To these people, it was reassuring to know that Neil and Charlie were handling things: Neil was a good Republican and Charlie was Minister for Finance, with a reputation for cutting “red tape,” and corners, and getting things done. All kinds of things. The word went around that our people would not be let down. Meaning that the Catholics would get the guns. Republicans were reassured.

Simultaneously, British public opinion was reassured by the tone and trend of Mr. Lynch’s statements on peace. Mr. Lynch’s greatest gift as a politician is a capacity to reassure simultaneously two sets of people who could not possibly both be reassured if they were both in possession of the same set of facts.

All concerned failed to watch the back of the hurley.


What are the facts? Here much remains obscure. Mr. Haughey and Mr. Blaney, with Captain James Kelly and Mr. John Kelly (a Belfast Republican) have been acquitted in the Dublin High Court of charges of conspiring to import arms illegally into the Republic. This verdict does not dispose of the more significant question of whether they may have facilitated the export of arms from the Republic into Northern Ireland.

The trial disclosed a number of anomalies, including the fact that sums of money voted by the Dáil for the relief of distress in the North were diverted to other uses, presumably the purchase of arms. This question is now the subject of an inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee of the Dáil. In the course of that inquiry, Chief Superintendent John Fleming, the head of the Special Branch (the Republic’s miniature FBI), has stated that Messrs. Haughey and Blaney were in touch with the I.R.A. in connection with gun running, and that Mr. Haughey, while Minister for Finance, promised the I.R.A. £50,000.

Messrs. Haughey and Blaney have denied these allegations. The inquiry and the debate about it continue. Mr. Haughey’s brother (and henchman), Mr. “Jock” Haughey, has now been convicted in the High Court with contempt for refusing testimony to the Public Accounts Committee. (He has appealed against this verdict.) Wherever exactly the truth may stand between the Fleming allegations and the Haughey-Blaney denials, it is generally accepted, at least, that people close to the two ministers, and regarded as being their emissaries, were in touch with I.R.A. leaders from August, 1969, and provided them with money and advice.

The money was for guns. The advice was to concentrate on the North and drop the activities in the Republic. If this advice was taken, it was understood, more money and other support would be forthcoming. In this way, the I.R.A. would become the undercover arm of the Dublin Government in the North.

This advice was originally offered to what was then—in appearance at least—still a united movement. But by January, 1970, the I.R.A. had split. The left-wing leadership—which had rejected the advice given to drop its activities in the Republic—lost the support of most of the rank and file in the North. These transferred their allegiance to a new leadership, originally called “Provisional” but now claiming to be official. The designation “Provisionals” for the breakaway I.R.A. is still in use, and I shall use it here.

The precipitating causes for the split, from the point of view of the Provisionals, were two: a decision by the “official” Sinn Féin (I.R.A.) to run candidates and take what seats they could in the parliaments of Dublin, Belfast, and London; and a decision to form a Common Front of National Liberation with various left-wing groups, including the Communist Party. The parliamentary decision was a breach of the Sinn Féin constitution, as Provisionals argued (and as the text appeared to show). The link with the Communists was repugnant to Irish Catholics, and the Provisionals from the beginning were more distinctly Catholic than those who remained with the “officials.”

The “officials” claimed, initially at least, that the split had been deliberately engendered by the Haughey-Blaney wing of the Fianna Fail Government, in a bid to get control of the I.R.A., and in order to turn it into a right-wing, sectarian, and potentially fascist movement.

In fact, it is probable that the split had less to do with the Sinn Féin constitution, Communists, and Haughey-Blaney engineering than with the mood of the Catholics in the North and the loss of face by the I.R.A. in August, 1969, that I have mentioned. But it is probable that men close to Haughey and Blaney did all they could to develop the split, and that contact between such people and sections of the Provisionals in the North has become a significant—and highly dangerous—factor in the politics of the whole island.

The Taoiseach dropped from his cabinet—and his Attorney General later prosecuted—Messrs. Haughey and Blaney when the activities attributed to them had surfaced before the eyes of the Special Branch—professionally a bitterly anti-I.R.A. and un-Republican body—and probably also of British Intelligence, and after the leader of the opposition had threatened to make these matters public. In these circumstances only one set of people could continue to be reassured, and the Taoiseach decided in May that the important ones were not the Fianna Fáil Republicans. He moved against them swiftly and effectively. He dismissed (or forced the resignation of) four ministers, and then extorted a vote of confidence from his party in parliament. Three of the injured ministers (including Haughey and Blaney) voted confidence in him, and the one who refused to do so (Mr. Kevin Boland, the Cato of the Fianna Fáil Republic) resigned his seat in parliament.

At the Ard-Fheis (annual conference) of the Fianna Fáil Party, Kevin Boland led an angry and vituperative revolt of a minority of the party last month. Charles Haughey was silent; Neil Blaney equivocal in a moderate-sounding way. The Ard-Fheis, by a large majority, supported Mr. Lynch and his peaceful approach to reunification; as this peaceful approach includes the doctrine that a minority has no right to secede from the Irish nation—implying that the entity known as Northern Ireland has no right to exist—the “peaceful approach” has its ambiguities also.

For the moment, the Haughey-Blaney and Boland groups seem thoroughly discredited. Nothing, it seems, could now revive their fortunes except events in the North so dramatic and so moving in relation to latent Republican sentiment as to change the whole emotional context of politics among Irish Catholics as that context was changed once before—in Easter 1916.


The Provisional I.R.A. is trying to bring about such events, and such a result. The Provisionals have established themselves in most of the main Catholic ghetto areas of the North as a more formidable force than the old I.R.A. was. Their leaders disclaim sectarian motives, but they are not disposed, as the officials were, to postpone violence until a considerable measure of Protestant-Catholic unity is achieved. This unfortunately makes the Provisional I.R.A. more relevant to the sectarian-tribal realities of Northern Ireland life than the officials were. (And the officials today, in those areas of Northern Ireland where they survive, do so by imitating Provisional aggressiveness.) Although incidents attributed to the Provisionals—including attacks on British troops and loss of civilian lives through such attacks—have caused hardship in Catholic areas by provoking British Army searches for arms, and some brutalities in the course of these—it seems that Catholic resentment at all this turns almost entirely against the British Army and the Provisionals are regarded as the protectors of the Catholic population: in effect the militia of a Catholic population which is in an increasingly militant and semi-revolutionary mood.

Revolutionary or not, the Catholics inside Northern Ireland, though not of course in the whole island, are out-numbered two to one by the local Protestants (even leaving the British Army out of account). The Provisionals’ only hope of “success” is by internationalizing the conflict. They hope by “keeping the pot boiling” (a pharse reliably attributed to Mr. Jock Haughey) to precipitate eventually the intervention of the Republic and the United Nations, leading to the disengagement of Great Britain, the collapse of Protestant resistance, the emigration of the Protestant irreconcilables, and the reintegration of the remaining Protestants into the Irish nation.

This scenario seems fanciful and I doubt whether many even of the Provisionals fully believe in it. Some of them hardly think politically at all: a martyr’s funeral rather than UN intervention is what haunts their minds. But the political hopes are grounded in reality to this extent: that anything like a general Catholic rising in the North could shatter and transform Mr. Lynch’s “peaceful policy,” much as Derry shattered and transformed the old official I.R.A.

Thus the Provisionals can hope to help to power their friends in Dublin—thereby winning a secure base—and the friends in Dublin, by helping the Provisionals in the North, can hope to help themselves to power.

It seems, therefore, that the conditions exist for a bitter “time of troubles” for all Ireland, north and south. This cannot lead to unity. Ireland is not Algeria, and a million Ulster Protestants are not going to be forced out of their relatively compact territory even by the island’s three and a half million Catholics (most of whom do not want to force them out). Nor are Ulster Protestants going to be converted to the Irish Republic, either by conciliatory Ard-Fheis rhetoric or Provisional bullets, or a combination of the two (or by ghetto appeals to revolutionary solidarity).

What a “time of troubles” could lead to, however, is right-wing sectarian government for the whole island, green in the south, orange in the north, and a corresponding form of fascism in each region. The great majority of Irishmen, both Catholic and Protestant, do not want this, and they may well manage to avoid it. But events of the past year and a half have brought us all near to the brink. Some are comforted by the thought that Mr. Lynch stands between us and the brink. It is true that it is a positive element in the situation that Mr. Lynch has, even if belatedly, set his face against force.

But if, despite Mr. Lynch’s present efforts, the temper of the Catholic people should become heated, the record seems to show that Mr. Lynch’s own tone is likely to change appropriately. In any case, he will have the camps ready. Who will be in them is anyone’s guess.


Since the above was written I have received a letter from a teen-age supporter of Miss Bernadette Devlin in County Tyrone. The writer is glad that I was beaten up by some Protestants in Derry last August and promises me a Catholic beating up if ever I come to Tyrone. He signs himself simply “Long Live the Pope.”

I have been trying to bridge the sectarian gap in Ireland. It seems I have succeeded after a fashion.

This Issue

April 8, 1971