Back in the summer of '69, the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland had provoked a violent loyalist reaction. The RUC, that is the police force of Northern Ireland, were seen as partisan as its membership largely comprised Protestants. The B Specials were loyalist paramilitaries engaged in the suppression of any Republican activity. Catholics were being burned out of their homes and the apparatus of the Unionist controlled mini-state was ranged against them. The citizens of the Republic of Ireland, largely Catholic, were enraged by each new atrocity. The 'slightly constitutional' republican party Fianna Fáil were in power under the Taoiseach Jack Lynch. Serving as ministers in his cabinet were the Machiavellian Charles Haughey and the overty Republican Neil Blaney.
In response to the siege of the Bogside, a Catholic area of Derry, Jack Lynch stated that his Government would "not stand idly by". It is widely held that Lynch believed that the only way to achieve peace in Northern Ireland was through peaceful negotiation. However, he set up a cabinet committee controlled by Blaney and Haughey, with a hundred grand in Irish punts in funding, whose remit was to find ways to alleviate the distress of Catholics in the North. Haughey and Blaney were therafter effectively in control of Northern Ireland policy.
The Government didn't really have a firm plan of action. One option was invasion. Another was to arm the IRA in the North, ostensibly so that the Catholics could
protect themselves. They decided on the later course. However, the ultimate goal for Blaney would have been the end of British and Unionist rule in Ulster and the attainment of the republican dream of a United Ireland.
Evidence for the hardline nature of Blaney's beliefs can be seen in his statement that 'No one has the right to assert that force is irrevocably out' and that 'the Fianna
Fáil party has never taken a decision to rule out the use of force'. Haughey, for his part, was after the cachet that comes with being associated with extreme republicanism; the 'whiff of cordite' would do no harm to his future political career.
An army intelligence officer Captain James Kelly, met with the Belfast republican John Kelly and arms dealers in Europe to arrange the transfer. An attempt was made to channel the arms through Irish ports and through Dublin airport. Some attempts succeeded but many were foiled at various stages (more research required to find out how much was supplied). On May 6, 1970, Jack Lynch unexpectedly (to the public) sacked Haughey and Blaney. It is unclear when the Taoiseach became aware of their alleged subsersive activities (this is an important question). In effect, Jack Lynch had dragged the country back from the abyss of a full scale civil war (a rerun of the earlier one). He had also nipped the ambitions of Charles J Haughey in the bud and so ensured his own political survival. Another Fianna Fáil minister, Kevin Boland famously resigned in sympathy.
There were two arms trials (the first was aborted). The charge was treason and the defendants were Charles Haughey, John Kelly, James Kelly and Belgian businessman
Albert Luykx. The problem for the goverment was the evidence of one of their key witnesses Colonel Michael Hefferon. He was called by the judge even though the prosecution had already dropped him as a witness. He testified that the defence minister, Jim Gibbons knew about the conspiracy. The prosecution failed to convince the judge that Haughey and Blaney had acted secretly against the wishes of the Government. Haughey claiming
"We were given instructions that we should develop the maximum possible
contacts with persons inside the Six Counties and try and inform ourselves
as much as possible on events, political and other developments, within
the Six County area"
All four defendants were acquitted.
The full extent of Irish Government collusion with the IRA is not yet clear. Documents released under the 30 year rule were censored to cover up the role of various Ministers. It is alleged that Fianna Fáil encouraged the split in the IRA. The more militant Provisionals that emerged could be more readiliy armed. As an Irish citizen, the thought that the elected representatives of this country could have played a significant role in the birth of the Provisional IRA is disturbing. With Charles J Haughey in the thick of things you never can be sure....
The arms trial was a show trial designed to cover up what really went on. We still await an official inquiry.