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'An Alien Ideology'Cold War Perceptions of the Irish Republican Left$

John Mulqueen

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781789620641

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789620641.001.0001

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A ‘Near-Communist’ Movement

A ‘Near-Communist’ Movement

IRA splits into Official and Provisional wings, British see ‘Soviet meddling’ in Ireland

(p.75) 3 A ‘Near-Communist’ Movement
'An Alien Ideology'

John Mulqueen


Abstract and Keywords

The third chapter examines perceptions of the Irish revolutionary left following the outbreak of what became known as the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Unrest in Northern Ireland raised the question of Irish revolutionaries again seeking Kremlin assistance, as KGB ‘special actions’ through proxy organisations had been a tool of Soviet foreign policy. London, at times, had a Cold War understanding in relation to developments in Ireland. And so did the US embassy in Dublin, because White House fears in relation to any threat posed by communism were fuelled by widespread opposition in the West to America’s war in Vietnam. This chapter looks at the geo-political dimension to the northern crisis as it was raised at the United Nations (UN) and the Soviets began to take a greater interest in developments in Ireland. Sectarian violence in Northern Ireland led to a split in the republican movement and the emergence of the leftist Official IRA.

Keywords:   Kremlin, KGB, proxy organisations, Washington, geo-political, UN, Official IRA, Vietnam war

Communist activity as a whole is definitely on the upswing in Ireland, and feeds on the irritants which have crept into Irish feelings for the US as the old family ties between the two countries weaken with the passage of time.

American ambassador John Moore1

What these assorted revolutionaries fortunately lack is any sort of Leninist ‘transmission belt’ between their tiny nucleus and the vast majority of the Irish people, such as the Peace Organisation in the Communist fronts. They have tried to make such a belt out of poverty, unemployment, bad housing and inadequate social services, but with no great response from the public.

British ambassador John Peck2


British troops were deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland on 14 August 1969, following clashes in Derry. The Irish government’s response to the outbreak of sectarian violence in the north was confused, and included making an appeal for UN intervention at the Security (p.76) Council.3 As Northern Ireland became a geo-political issue and the Soviet Union expressed an interest in developing relations with Ireland, the British and Irish authorities closely co-operated in monitoring and exposing Soviet activities, on both sides of the border.4 Unrest in the north raised the question of Irish revolutionaries again seeking the Kremlin’s assistance for their endeavours, as KGB ‘special actions’ through proxy organisations had been a tool of Soviet foreign policy during the Cold War.5 Fears were expressed at the highest level within Whitehall that the Soviets could cause mischief with the outbreak of the Troubles.6 Elsewhere in the West, following the defeats in 1968 for the New Left, some soixante-huitards resorted to terrorism. ‘By the early 1970s’, Francis Wheen writes, ‘the cities of the non-Communist world were alive with the sound of explosions and police sirens’.7 London, at times, had a Cold War understanding in relation to developments in Ireland. And so would the US embassy in Dublin, because White House fears in relation to any threat posed by communism were fuelled by widespread opposition in the West to America’s war in Vietnam.8 Left-wing republicans claimed that Richard Nixon’s visit to Ireland in 1970 had more to do with setting up NATO bases than wooing ‘the Irish vote’ in the USA. The CIA, however, did not view the Troubles through a Cold War lens, as Eunan O’Halpin points out.9 But Cathal Goulding might have disagreed with this view.

The left-wing republican leadership centred on Goulding antagonised ‘the old faithfuls’. For them, what they perceived as Marxist-influenced radicals had little in common with traditional Irish republicans. J. Bowyer Bell writes that, to many, ‘it appeared that the [leadership] was slicing away the heart of the Movement in the name of an alien revolutionary theory’. They were not opposed to extensive social change and did not (p.77) see themselves as reactionary, Bowyer Bell argues, but were suspicious of ‘dubious political adventures’ and the new revolutionary language.10 Publicly expressed opposition to the leadership’s leftist emphasis was first voiced in July 1969 by a veteran Belfast republican. Jimmy Steele claimed that ‘one is now expected to be more conversant with the thoughts of Chairman Mao than those of our dead Patriots’. The traditionalists did not have an internationalist perspective. For Goulding, however, the republican movement divided over ‘the communist issue’.11 Following the split, Goulding emphasised the international dimension to his revolutionary politics and saw the world in leftist, if not Marxist, terms; the first issue of the Official republicans’ theoretical journal, Teoiric, featured an AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle on the cover. Goulding drew parallels between Irish and Vietnamese ‘anti-imperialist’ struggle – the Americans replaced the French colonialists in Vietnam, and, he argued, they might do the same if the British ‘were driven out’ of Ireland.12 Looking for action, Maria McGuire attended an Official Sinn Féin meeting to be told that ‘the struggle’ in the north had to be seen in the context of ‘the world socialist revolution’. Disappointed, she left.13

Unlike the Provisional IRA, what the British ambassador in Dublin described as the ‘near-Communist’ Official movement had the sympathies of the KGB. The Official IRA was at the centre of the politically disastrous Falls curfew events in Belfast when troops killed four people and did considerable damage in house-to-house searches. The army alienated the northern Catholic working class, thereby boosting the fortunes of the increasingly violent Provisionals.14 Ironically, the Falls curfew confrontation took place in the Lower Falls, an Official republican stronghold where relations with the army had been generally friendly. The Official (p.78) IRA fired on troops in ‘the largest military engagement in Ireland since the Easter Rising of 1916’.15 The army was aggressive, operating, as Sabine Wichert has commented, ‘without political guidance from London’ and acting ‘as in previously encountered colonial situations’.16 In the south, initially, the Provisional movement was the less active subversive organisation, while Jack Lynch’s new minister for justice, Desmond O’Malley, warned the cabinet that two leading members of the Official IRA were being ‘trained’ in Cuba. Both O’Malley and the secretary in the Department of Justice, the ‘single-minded’ Peter Berry, found themselves at the centre of a security crisis, and O’Malley threatened to introduce internment following a kidnapping threat from one of what he saw as the three ‘republican terrorist groups’ (Saor Éire).17 This chapter will look at how American, British and Irish officials perceived the revolutionary left as the Northern Ireland Troubles erupted and the Soviets took a greater interest in developments in Ireland.

USSR Supports Ireland at UN

On 14 August, aiming to outmanoeuvre cabinet hawks such as Neil Blaney, the minister for external affairs, Patrick Hillery, went to London, aiming to secure Britain’s agreement for a UN peacekeeping force in the north. The British rejected this argument, seeing Northern Ireland affairs as an internal matter for the UK. He then travelled to New York to bring Dublin’s proposal before the UN Security Council, encountering effective lobbying by the FCO against it. Britain had Article 2.7 of the UN Charter to utilise, which prohibited UN intervention in an area within the jurisdiction of a sovereign state, and could rely on the effective support of the USA, which maintained its policy of non-interference in Northern Ireland affairs. But Hillery did receive support from the Soviet (p.79) Union for his predictably futile mission. The Soviet daily Pravda then featured Hillery’s UN visit, alongside a photograph of the iconic civil rights spokeswoman, and MP, Bernadette Devlin.18 According to the British, the Soviet Union had taken advantage of events as part of its Cold War agenda, with London’s policies in relation to Ireland condemned for domestic reasons. The British embassy in Moscow reported that the Soviet press emphasised the ‘colonial’ nature of the Northern Ireland issue. The recent conflict had arisen, the Soviets argued, because British ‘imperialists’ had partitioned Ireland and retained the six north-eastern counties, and British troops had not been dispatched to protect vulnerable nationalist communities, but to occupy a ‘colonial’ territory. Unusually, the embassy stated, letters from ‘indignant citizens’ had been published in the USSR, condemning ‘imperialist’ injustice in Europe. However, according to the embassy, there were internal reasons why Moscow had engineered such indignation: ‘Given the co-incidence with the anniversary of their own invasion of Czechoslovakia, one is led to the conclusion that they are seizing upon the disturbances in Ulster as an excuse to divert people’s attention from the present unpleasantness in Prague and the feelings which last year’s actions aroused even among the Russian people.’19

The August violence displaced 1,800 families – 1,500 of them Catholic.20 And Northern Ireland now registered as a regular item of business for the JIC. An Ulster Working Group had been established and, despite MI5 disapproval, the head of RUC Special Branch had been co-opted. The previous month, the JIC had heard of ongoing efforts aimed at ‘improving intelligence assessments’. In the event of a confrontation between the UK and the Soviet Union, there had been speculation that the ‘communist’ element in the IRA might be tempted to encourage the organisation to resume ‘its traditionally violent role for disruptive purposes’.21 In April, MI5 had heard that RUC Special Branch had been overwhelmed, and an MI5 security liaison officer was posted to RUC headquarters.22 A well-placed former British official emphasised the JIC’s lack of knowledge about Ireland at this time. With no understanding of Irish history, what he described as ‘short-termism’ became the order of (p.80) the day for the JIC. It had been easier for some contributors to suggest that the northern situation was stable, he recalled, rather than to point to difficulties in relation to security policy and risk censure. This former official also remembered a ‘hostile attitude’ at the JIC towards the RUC.23 ‘Historical ignorance’, Christopher Andrew points out, ‘goes far to explain British policy and intelligence failures in Northern Ireland in the 1970s’.24

The British ambassador in Dublin, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, made observations on developments within the republican movement in October 1969. He admitted he had underestimated the determination of IRA Marxists to pursue their politicisation strategy, and could now see there had been a socialist–republican element determined to move away from militarist methods. The ambassador had assumed the politicisation process would be abandoned when the republican movement could unite against traditional targets, i.e., the British army. But he saw no evidence of the southern IRA membership turning to a strategy of ‘dynamite and the gun’. Roy Johnston’s influence, Gilchrist reported, had continually been exerted in the direction of non-violence. He also pointed out that Lynch had been on the point of introducing internment but had been deterred by the northern violence in August.25 Proposals for ultimately abolishing the Northern Ireland state had now emerged within the Irish government. A memorandum from External Affairs suggested a federal republic as a long-term objective, with the bans on contraception and divorce removed to appease northern Protestants.26

Concessions to Britain’s Cold War interests as a NATO power were now offered by one of Lynch’s most powerful ministers, who made it clear that a united Ireland could be a NATO ally. Gilchrist had been told by the minister for finance, Charles Haughey, that a new version of the ‘O’Neill–Lemass honeymoon’ amounted to old hat. But, Haughey argued, Britain’s strategic interests could be recognised in a federal Ireland and neutrality abandoned. Gilchrist believed that Haughey’s proposals were representative of a wider Dublin viewpoint and should be seriously considered by Britain: ‘The Irish claim for reunification, by some form of federal approach, lies on the table and will not be withdrawn; it will be critical for our future relationship with the Republic.’27 Gilchrist met (p.81) Haughey in October, when Haughey outlined audacious proposals for a federal republic, telling Gilchrist there was nothing he would not do for Irish unity. A new all-Ireland entity could meet unionist fears in relation to the power of the Catholic Church and have a close relationship with NATO: along with the abolition of the special constitutional position of the Catholic Church, Ireland could rejoin the Commonwealth; Britain could have access to Irish bases; and NATO troops could be stationed in Ireland.28 The August events also led to convulsions within militant republicanism, creating the split between the Official and the Provisional movements.

Republican Movement Splits

However peripheral the republican movement had been to Irish affairs during previous decades, the debate leading to the 1969–70 schism had a Cold War dimension: traditionalists were horrified at the leadership’s relationship with communists. Jimmy Steele’s denunciation of Goulding’s left-wing priorities encouraged those in Belfast who were uncomfortable with the leadership’s new direction.29 The Belfast dissidents, who saw the IRA as primarily a Catholic defence force, had been challenged the previous Easter, when Seán Garland stressed the need for the movement to reach across the sectarian divide, citing the 1932 outdoor relief agitation in the city as an example of working-class unity.30 Steele and other traditionalists went on to challenge Goulding’s Belfast lieutenants after the August 1969 violence. These dissidents then joined forces with Seán Mac Stíofáin, who became the first chief of staff of a new organisation.31

The IRA split at its convention in December, which decided to abandon its traditional opposition to parliamentary abstention. The Provisional IRA emerged. And the divisions in the republican movement became public the next month when about eighty supporters of the (p.82) Provisional IRA walked out of the Sinn Féin ard fheis. A leadership motion had been passed to create a ‘national liberation front’ – whereby republicans would co-operate with other left-wing groups, including communists – but Mac Stíofáin led the walkout after a motion was put expressing confidence in IRA policy.32 According to Tomás Mac Giolla, who wanted to avoid a split, the traditionalists’ departure had been planned in advance.33 The Official republican movement, free of the more conservative traditionalists, could now promote increasingly leftist policies.34 Many younger activists were delighted to see the back of the traditionalists, with one recalling that she left the ard fheis ‘walking on air’. Those who remained loyal to the Goulding leadership became known as Officials, or ‘sticks/stickies’.35 Gilchrist promptly reported on the ard fheis. Goulding’s supporters, he pointed out, had the Dublin government in their sights. Mac Giolla had told the 257 delegates, Gilchrist stated, that the southern establishment could be swept away by the same means that had shaken the Stormont regime, ‘the politics of the street’.36

The Provisionals meanwhile made clear their hostility to orthodox communism. They launched their own publication, An Phoblacht, and listed the issues which provoked the split: recognition of Stormont, Leinster House and Westminster; extreme socialism leading to dictatorship; failure to provide maximum possible defence for ‘our people’ in the north; not seeking the abolition of Stormont; and the ‘internal methods’ employed to exert control over the movement. The paper stopped short of using the description ‘communist’ for those who had attempted what it called a take-over, but it drew attention to Johnston’s role in recent years. An Phoblacht claimed that the republican movement’s policymakers had included some who had joined from the Irish communist party. The traditionalists argued that a ‘liberation front’ would result in amalgamation between the various groups. Co-operating with communists (p.83) could only end in disaster: ‘We know that in other countries that have come under the control of organisations similar to these “radical groups” totalitarian dictatorship has been the outcome. We have no reason to believe that the result would be any different in Ireland.’37 Various strands of thought existed alongside each other within the Provisionals at the outset, including anti-capitalist leftism and conservative Catholicism.38 At its first ard fheis, Provisional Sinn Féin’s president, Ruairi Ó Brádaigh, told delegates that the party did not see a ‘Marxist Socialist Republic’ as the solution for Ireland’s problems and that it had rejected ‘a takeover bid by extreme Marxist elements last January’.39 Mac Stíofáin, a devout Catholic, later spelled out the central difference between the two IRAs: ‘The Officials say unless you have mass involvement of the people you haven’t got a revolution. We say, the armed struggle comes first and then you politicise.’40

The Official republican movement claimed that the Fianna Fáil government attempted to sabotage its political agenda by funding individuals opposed to Goulding’s leadership, arguing that the August 1969 violence in Belfast had created the conditions in which republican militarists, who would confine their activities to the north, could undermine a potential left-wing challenge to Fianna Fáil.41 The evidence available in the public domain, however, suggests a more complex reality than this assertion would allow. Peter Berry, it is true, wanted Fianna Fáil and the bishops to crush a left-wing republican movement. But, in April 1970, he prevented the importation of arms for use by republicans in Northern Ireland. Jack Lynch dismissed Haughey and Neil Blaney from his cabinet over the arms scheme, and accepted the resignation in protest of Kevin Boland.42 Berry later gave evidence during the ‘arms trial’, which, Desmond O’Malley writes, ‘was totally damning of (p.84) Haughey and established his guilt beyond any reasonable doubt’. The acquittals, according to O’Malley, were ‘totally illogical’.43 Contrary to later claims, Lynch’s government did not act in concert after the violence in August the previous year. Therefore, it was not capable of conspiring to undermine what would become the Official movement, whatever might be claimed about the hostility of various individuals. (Blaney later said about the birth of the Provisionals: ‘We didn’t help to create them but we certainly would have accelerated, by whatever assistance we could have given, their emergence as a force’.44 He added that there was ‘no way’ arms would have been donated to the left-wing republicans.)45

One week after Catholics were burned out of their homes in Belfast, in 1969, Berry informed the minister for justice, Mícheál Ó Móráin, that a member of the cabinet (Haughey) had met Cathal Goulding. According to Berry, Haughey and Goulding had agreed that IRA violence would cease in the south in return for ‘a free hand’ in staging a crossborder military campaign.46 In his evidence to the Committee of Public Accounts, which later investigated the disbursement of government funds to aid victims of the northern unrest, chief superintendent John Fleming of Garda Special Branch stated that Goulding had been given money by Haughey and Captain James Kelly to purchase arms for use in the north. According to Fleming, Haughey met Goulding and promised him about £50,000. Some days after 14 August his brother Pádraig Haughey paid over £1,500 to Goulding in London. Fleming also told the committee that Kelly met Goulding ‘on umpteen occasions’, agreed to get him a regular supply of arms and ammunition, and also promised to provide training facilities. Kelly then handed over £7,000 and later paid two sums of £1,000 and £1,500 respectively. Fleming told the committee that he was in ‘complete control’ of the situation in relation to subversives; there was nothing to suggest Kelly had been attempting to split the republican movement in the north. Based on this evidence, left-wing republicans received £11,000 from government sources before the movement split into Officials and Provisionals at the end of 1969.47 Official republicans later admitted that Goulding met Pádraig Haughey in London, who (p.85) had handed over £1,500. They alleged there had been a stipulation that republicans should cease political activity in the south, and stated that another £600 had been later received.48 Despite the differing accounts of how much money the IRA received in 1969, the Public Accounts Committee evidence indicates that elements within Fianna Fáil were prepared to deal with the left-wing IRA leadership. Money had been made available for use by northern nationalists in the aftermath of the August violence. This occurred before the emergence of an organised group of republicans in Belfast who would concentrate their activities in the north. Bizarrely, Irish revolutionaries received funding at this time not from Moscow but from domestic supporters of capitalism.

The FCO now posted David Blatherwick to the embassy in Dublin, along with Peter Evans, to monitor political developments.49 Official and Provisional republicans held separate Easter commemorations in 1970, Blatherwick noted, when Goulding analysed the Irish situation in Marxist terms, arguing that new forms of struggle would arise as new political and economic crises developed. Therefore, republicans should support campaigns on economic issues and view the ending of abstention as a tactical move.50 Issues other than economic, such as the Vietnam war, would also bring demonstrators onto the streets, especially students.

Left-Wing Developments Alarm US Embassy

Protesters in Dublin joined hundreds of thousands in the USA, on 15 October 1969, to demonstrate against Richard Nixon’s Vietnam policy.51 And White House hostility towards the student counterculture was reflected in what embassies reported to Washington in relation to campus developments abroad. Following the May 1968 events in Paris, the possibility of student unrest had occupied minds in the US embassy in Dublin, and several reports on Irish student affairs, going into considerable detail, were sent to the State Department. Since the issues were (p.86) relatively mundane, such as campus facilities, the embassy predicted that any disturbances would not lead to anything like the violence seen in Paris or Berkeley.52 But, it noted, there were links between the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and Soviet-orientated international bodies, and some student leaders had links with Irish communists. Three Soviet observers, the embassy stated, had attended the 1969 USI annual conference. This had followed a visit by an Irish delegation the previous year to the International Union of Students (IUS) in Prague. Following the ambush of the student marchers at Burntollet Bridge in January, the American embassy reported that the northern civil rights issue could radicalise students in the Republic.53 There had been a mushrooming of ultra-left groups in Dublin, mainly among the student population.54 Trinity College’s band of, mainly English, Maoist Internationalists were seen as relatively exotic, in more ways than one: a Trinity contemporary remembers them as ‘disgruntled daughters of British army generals’.55 The embassy speculated on the impact of unrest in the north: ‘There can be no doubt that the Internationalists and other Irish radical groups will seek to capitalize upon widening student restlessness, which is fanned by the civil rights discontent in Northern Ireland.’56

The JIC, too, analysed student radicalism. A December 1969 paper assessed the global student movement. This paper noted that the student (p.87) revolt in the USA had ‘forced itself to the forefront of American politics’ mainly over the Vietnam issue. Furthermore, there were indications of ‘large-scale militancy’ in relation to other campus issues. Therefore, student protest was a matter of concern in American security circles, particularly within the White House. However, the JIC paper found a quite different situation in Western Europe: the majority of students were not interested in revolution, and extremists were only a tiny proportion of the student population. The paper pointed out that the evidence did not support the theory of an organised communist conspiracy behind the student movement.57 However, this JIC paper omitted any mention of the activities of Trotskyist students in Northern Ireland, who had actually made an impact on the wider situation following Burntollet.

The American embassy in Dublin now linked the IRA with the perceived communist threat. Following the republican movement’s split, the embassy reported in 1970 on what it saw as increasingly open communist activity in Ireland, quoting a ‘highly placed’ Garda source as saying that communism had made more progress in the last two or three years than in the previous thirty or forty. The embassy submitted a comprehensive list of Irish communist organisations, or fronts, and their leaders to the State Department. This list had been supplied to the embassy by ‘an authoritative source in the Irish Government’.58 We can only speculate about the identity of this ‘authoritative’ government source. But Peter Berry had been analysing the activities of republican and communist subversives for over thirty years at this point, acquiring what he described as an ‘encyclopaedic knowledge of subversive elements’.59 And his secret material had been printed for use by senior civil servants and various ministers for justice.60 The intelligence the US embassy now relayed to Washington was extremely detailed. A new US ambassador to Ireland, John Moore, had been appointed in April 1969. His brother worked for Nixon in the White House, and his family had a longstanding engagement with Irish nationalism. His father had been secretary of the Friends of Irish Freedom in the USA, set up in 1916 by John Devoy, and his grandfather had actively supported Charles Stewart Parnell (p.88) and Michael Davitt.61 Moore’s father strongly supported Éamon de Valera during the latter’s visit to the USA from 1919 to 1921. The new ambassador had exhibited a ‘deep interest’ in Ireland, according to Irish officials, particularly in economic development.62 We might surmise that Moore had inherited views on who Irish republicans should look up to, and it is unlikely this list included Karl Marx.

Two weeks after the January 1970 Sinn Féin ard fheis, the US embassy in Dublin reported that the republican movement had been the target of a ‘concerted communist take-over effort’. The embassy emphasised Johnston’s leading role. The republican movement had been targeted by communists in the mid-1960s, the embassy believed, because the communist party had been weak and ineffectual, and a lingering affection for the IRA among sections of the public could be exploited. Johnston’s argument that elitist violence and parliamentary abstention were sterile, the embassy contended, was attractive to republicans with political ambitions such as Seamus Costello.63 Johnston played the part of a communist ringmaster, in this perspective, directing each deviation from the traditional republican path. The ambassador had followed instructions in making these observations: the State Department’s interest in following the activities of extremist groups had been stressed. Moore pointed out that the embassy had followed the administration’s policy of monitoring subversive activity: ‘While we are of course in continuing touch with the governing and opposition political parties, we are increasingly concerned with [the] growing activities of the extremist groups. We have all been making an extra effort to speak to, meet with and follow the activities of the extremists.’ The embassy’s political officer had spoken to student groups at every university that academic year, and the ambassador had spoken at Trinity College, where he had been met by ‘communists’ and Maoists. Moore’s response to the under secretary of state, Elliot Richardson, had been accompanied by reports on communist and front organisations (3 February) and what he perceived to be the communist-inspired split in the republican movement (19 January). The State Department was informed that the Maoists, with no formal links with China, had established branches in all Irish universities and were moving into secondary schools. Student agitation remained a (p.89) matter of concern. The ambassador claimed that the embassy had been handicapped by not having the resources to explain the policies of the Nixon administration to reach an increasingly restive student population, whose ‘shocking ignorance’ of the USA and its history and culture had been exploited by communists. Therefore, the embassy found, left-wing activity was on the upswing in Ireland.64

The report on communist and front organisations included the names of various executive members, among other detail. Three main points were made. First, communist activity in Ireland, long of negligible proportions, had been increasing in significance. Secondly, the two communist parties, based in Belfast and Dublin, planned to amalgamate. Thirdly, communists had made ‘determined efforts’ to infiltrate the republican movement and expand their front activities. According to the embassy, the IWP had an estimated 200 members, with another 100 fellow travellers, and front organisations included the Irish Campaign for Peace, Irish Voice on Vietnam and the Ireland–USSR Society. Very small groups did not escape mention. The Internationalists were now believed to have about 100 members, mostly in Trinity.65 The points made here were true in themselves: there had been an increase in extremist activity, the two communist parties would unite, and Marxists had acquired influence within the republican movement. However, an increase in communist efforts from an extremely low base still amounted to very little. The fretting in the US embassy over student protests reflected the concerns of the administration in relation to unrest in the USA itself.

Ireland’s separate communist parties united to become the CPI in March 1970. This new organisation subsumed the IWP and the CPNI. Notwithstanding the fact that Johnston had been working within the republican movement for the past five years, the US embassy in Dublin maintained that he had played a central role in the creation of a single communist party, stating that Johnston had been an instrumental figure in merging two ineffective communist organisations into an all-Ireland body with greater revolutionary potential.66 It is not clear how the embassy arrived at this conclusion, but it had at this time received intelligence material from a very senior Irish source. One Irish communist close (p.90) to Michael O’Riordan recalled that Johnston and O’Riordan were co-operating at this stage, and that Johnston had an influence in the creation of the CPI.67 The proposal to unite the two communist parties had already attracted the attention of the American consul general in Belfast, Neil McManus. The CPI’s inaugural conference, in Belfast, had 100 delegates, he noted, with observers from Britain, France, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria. According to one press report, a fraternal delegate from the Soviet Union attended. McManus’s information had been obtained from overt sources, i.e., various media reports – some sessions had been open to the media. He added that as soon as he received additional information on executive members he would report this separately.68 The CPI manifesto had been introduced by O’Riordan, who stated that British troops in Northern Ireland were not peacekeepers but a ‘protective guardian of British monopoly interests in Ireland’. O’Riordan’s ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric, naturally, was in tune with Soviet media responses to the deployment of the army. The Soviet Union’s hostility to an enlarged EEC, involving Ireland and Britain, had been reflected in platform utterances, with Edwina Stewart, also honorary secretary of NICRA, urging opposition to the EEC.69

Irish communists’ hostility to Britain’s role in the north had not been confined to policy statements: Moscow was asked to supply arms to the IRA. On 6 November 1969, O’Riordan had written a letter requesting 2,000 assault rifles and 150 machine guns. He claimed that good relations had always ‘more or less’ existed between Irish communists and the IRA. Furthermore, he wrote, a secret mechanism for consultations had been in operation for more than a year between the communists, north and south, and the IRA leadership. He exaggerated, to put it mildly, the extent of communist influence over the republican movement in recent years, claiming that the IRA ‘unfailingly’ accepted communist advice in relation to tactics. The previous August, he stated, the IRA had been unable to play its traditional role as the armed defender of Belfast’s nationalists because of its concentration on political activity. Goulding and Costello had appealed to him for help in procuring arms. O’Riordan was mindful of the Soviet insistence on secrecy in relation to ‘special actions’ in the West. On 18 November, Moscow was assured that the (p.91) IRA promised ‘to keep in strictest confidence the fact that the Soviet Union is supplying it with arms and will guarantee the complete secrecy of their shipment to Ireland’.70 In overplaying communist influence over left-wing republicans with his Soviet masters, O’Riordan had massively overstated his own importance in Irish affairs and the potential role of his united party. The following summer the Official IRA found itself at the centre of northern events.

The Falls Curfew

Having sent in troops to Northern Ireland, the British in the first half of 1970 did not see republican paramilitaries as posing any significant danger. But there had been an awareness of the Soviets’ potential as troublemakers in Ireland. The Kremlin’s interest in the CPI’s launch had been noted in Whitehall: apparently five officials from the Soviet embassy in London had attended. For the British, according to the Irish ambassador in London, Dr Donal O’Sullivan, the creation of an all-Ireland communist party had more significance than any potential IRA threat. But Dublin did not share London’s concerns here.71 (Garda Richard Fallon had been shot dead in April during a bank raid by Saor Éire members.)72 The question of interference in Irish affairs by communist bloc states had also arisen. The British foreign secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, told O’Sullivan that loyalist and republican paramilitaries had received arms from a central European source, which tallied with other information obtained by Dublin.73 The August 1969 events had led to changes in Whitehall, with Irish affairs now being taken more seriously. Kelvin White would handle relations with Dublin in the FCO; he later headed up a Republic of Ireland Department (RID). And Oliver Wright had been deployed in Belfast as the ‘eyes and ears’ of (p.92) the home secretary, James Callaghan.74 In March 1970, Wright outlined prospects for Northern Ireland in a ten-page report, without mentioning an IRA threat. Northern Ireland had been on the brink of civil war the previous August, he wrote, but was now much calmer – Catholics could sleep, ‘without intolerable fear’, in their beds. But there were clouds on the horizon. On the unionist side, the civil rights reform programme struck at ‘Orange’ power over the police and local government. And if things went wrong, Wright warned Callaghan, there was no alternative to Stormont except direct rule, ‘and no-one in their right mind wants that if it can be avoided: it would be even more difficult, even more expensive, and involve an even more open-ended military commitment’.75 A special British cabinet meeting discussed the situation in June. The chief of the general staff, General Sir Geoffrey Baker, stated that events the previous year had revealed ‘considerable deficiencies’ in the intelligence system: RUC Special Branch had been ‘ineffectual’ and had tended to focus exclusively on the IRA. However, the intelligence system had since been strengthened and improved with the assistance of the British forces and MI5. Baker told the meeting that ‘the position had already changed for the better’.76 However, on the ground, there had been violent clashes in Belfast.

In an atmosphere of fear and sectarian animosity, following the August 1969 violence, the first major clash between the army and Catholics took place in Ballymurphy in April 1970. Many of the families displaced the previous August had moved into the estate. June 1970 saw the first significant Provisional IRA engagements. Two Protestants were killed as the Provisionals defended the Short Strand enclave, and three more Protestants were killed in separate clashes. Thus, the Provisional IRA established its ‘ghetto credibility’. ‘The Provisionals experienced their first major influx of recruits since the previous August’, Henry Patterson writes, ‘and accelerated their plans for moving from a largely defensive to an aggressive posture. A bombing campaign that had begun in Belfast in March 1970 was intensified in the autumn.’ In the second half of the year a new formation, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), superseded NICRA to become the dominant voice of nationalists in the north. The growth of the Provisionals, Patterson argues, ‘was encouraged by the combination of a Unionist government that was hostage to the right and by a new Conservative administration that republicans could (p.93) portray as crudely pro-Unionist in sympathy.’ The new British prime minister, Edward Heath, and his home secretary, Reginald Maudling, were less cautious than their predecessors with the army, which became more aggressive in its approach.77

The Falls curfew of 3–5 July proved to be a landmark moment in creating widespread nationalist hostility towards the army. Four civilians, with no direct involvement in the disturbances, were killed. At least three were killed by the army, which made 337 arrests, and eighteen soldiers were wounded.78 The army carried out house-to-house arms searches of the area in ‘an exceptionally brutal manner’.79 The imposition of a curfew, by General Sir Ian Freeland, had previously been used by the army in Aden.80 Stormont’s Joint Security Committee – including army, RUC and MI5 representatives – heard that the battle had been sparked off by an arms search: ‘The situation escalated into a military operation to take over the Falls Road. Five battalions of soldiers were involved and considerable armour.’81 According to an army memorandum, ‘This was not an elaborately pre-planned cordon/curfew/search exercise. It was a battle.’ This stated that there had been ‘street to street fighting’ and troops had faced ‘heavy firing’.82 From this point on in the Troubles, the army was no longer seen as the protector of the Catholic minority. On the contrary: IRA recruitment surged. The Provisionals began shooting at British soldiers early in 1971 as army and IRA violence escalated. Richard English describes the implications of this deterioration:

The Army were seen as repressive, as backing the unionists, as saturating republican areas in a partisan and offensive way. Friction, (p.94) harassment and attrition became daily realities and not for the first time in Irish history a British Army deployed to undermine republican subversion in fact helped to solidify the very subversion that it was supposed to stem.83

Alarmed at the curfew events, the Irish government undertook a diplomatic offensive in an attempt to moderate the British approach in the north. Dublin asked the Americans to approach London, with External Affairs telling Moore that the state faced an ‘extreme crisis’. The ambassador heard the Irish government believed its stability to be threatened and that a civil war could erupt north of the border. External Affairs also approached the ambassadors of Canada, France, Italy and West Germany. Acting on Dublin’s request, the US deputy chief of mission in London met the FCO’s permanent under-secretary.84 And Jack Lynch wrote to Heath, expressing concern over the impact on public opinion of the army’s actions in the Lower Falls.85 By the autumn it was realised within Whitehall that Northern Ireland had become a geo-political issue, and officials would have to engage with the Irish government. The FCO had not been prepared for the strains that had arisen in Anglo-Irish relations. A memorandum from White to FCO deputy under-secretary Sir Stewart Crawford is revealing on Whitehall priorities. The FCO had had little knowledge or experience in relation to the Republic and it had been a non-subject until 1969, unlike the traditional issues of Western Europe, the Middle East or the Soviet bloc.86 Crawford chaired the JIC and had overall responsibility for Irish matters within the FCO.87 In addition to the question of the republican paramilitary danger to the Irish state, Whitehall considered the possibility of a communist threat there.

(p.95) Soviet Penetration Assessed

Assessing the implications of the split in the republican movement, the British embassy in Dublin stated that communism did not pose a direct threat. David Blatherwick supplied details on left-wing organisations, communist and non-communist, to the FCO. He pointed out that the Republic had been ‘stony ground’ for communism, being rural, bourgeois and clerical, where the Russians and their agents had been seen as ‘the legions of hell’. Making a telling point about Irish dissent, Blatherwick wrote that republicanism had provided a non-communist outlet for rebellion: partition had been a cause for many who might otherwise have agitated on other issues. The newly launched CPI, he observed, would remain small, isolated, introverted and without influence: ‘It lacks dynamism and capable leaders and it seems most unlikely that its influence will grow in the foreseeable future.’ Similarly, Blatherwick wrote, other extreme left-wing groups, such as the Trotskyists and Maoists, were of little importance. Instead, he suggested, the main communist danger would be indirect, in the shape of Official Sinn Féin and its left-wing ‘allies’ in the northern civil rights movement. Blatherwick concluded that the greatest communist threat – ‘though small in absolute terms’ – had passed: Roy Johnston’s bid to take over the republican movement in toto. This attempt had failed, he contended, because mainstream republican opinion did not approve of Marxist innovators, i.e., Johnston and his cohort. The report included a biographical profile of Johnston, highlighting his view that the republican movement, rather than an orthodox communist party, had revolutionary potential. Blatherwick added that Johnston had probably not been ‘in regular contact’ with communist organisations.88

In October, the FCO responded to the British embassy in Dublin regarding a communist threat to the Irish state. Soviet ‘meddling’ was identified as the most important issue here. Communism did not pose a threat, per se, according to the FCO, but both the Soviets and the Czechs were taking a greater interest in Irish affairs, and this had not been confined to overtly left-wing organisations. There were indications the Soviets were interested in trade unions, it stated, and a Soviet delegation had visited Dublin and Belfast the previous August. A Tass office had then opened in Dublin, under Yuri Ustimenko. The FCO pointed out that this could be the forerunner of a Russian trade mission and provide greater opportunities for Soviet espionage. And the FCO shared the embassy’s (p.96) view that the Czech trade mission in Dublin had taken more than a ‘casual interest’ in Irish affairs.89 It was assumed in Dublin media circles that Ustimenko, and his successors, headed up KGB activity in Ireland.90

Whitehall’s fears in relation to a Soviet embassy opening in Dublin were given impetus after the conclusion of trade talks between the Russians and the Irish. The British ambassador, John Peck, in January 1971 informed the FCO that the possibility of exchanging diplomatic missions between Ireland and the USSR had emerged. However, it appeared the Soviets were insisting on the establishment of a full diplomatic mission, the ambassador reported, and the question for External Affairs, if an embassy opened, would be how to balance trade advantage against political disadvantage. According to Peck, the Irish were aware of the dangers involved. And an External Affairs official had expressed his thanks to the embassy’s counsellor for the material on the Russians which the embassy had been supplying. This intelligence came to the embassy from the FCO’s Information Research Department (IRD). The External Affairs official, the ambassador reported, had mentioned that ‘various elements in Irish society’ would be susceptible to Soviet propaganda. The issue had not gone to the cabinet for decision, Peck explained, but there was a possibility Dublin would be unable to object to establishing diplomatic relations, especially since Ustimenko had given no cause for complaint. The IRD had been asked to monitor Moscow radio and press statements, the ambassador added, for anything attributed to Ustimenko.91 The Tass correspondent would be the first of three Soviet journalists to be described as a ‘spy’ in the Irish media through the supply of IRD intelligence.92 The IRD had provided information for anti-Soviet publicity abroad, following a proposal by the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, in 1948, and one of its earlier successes had been the publication of a Russian edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Peck headed up the department in the 1950s.93

The Soviets were openly hostile to an enlarged EEC, the embassy had reported, but wanted to develop relations with Ireland. A Soviet (p.97) representative had addressed the Ireland–USSR Society to publicise the Kremlin’s priorities in Europe, which were outlined by the British embassy. One Lev Sheidin chided Ireland for applying to join the Common Market – indicating Russian approval for the campaign against Ireland’s membership – and said the recent Soviet–Irish trade talks in Moscow had been fruitful. He took a hard line on Czechoslovakia, claiming the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968 had been necessary to prevent that country becoming ‘the playground of reactionary forces’. The embassy saw Sheidin as another ‘diplomat’ attempting to boost the Soviets’ profile in Dublin. In its report to the FCO, in December 1970, it noted that Sheidin had visited Ireland a number of times and had been prominent among those Russians with an interest in Irish affairs. According to Sheidin, membership of the Ireland–USSR Society in the Soviet Union numbered 70,000. However, according to the report, it would be inconceivable that 70,000 Russians ‘could possibly be interested in the Irish’ and the relatively high membership figure might be explained by the fact that entire factories of workers would be informed that they had volunteered to join the friendship society.94

The opponents of Ireland’s membership of the Common Market effectively sided with the Soviet Union in arguing that a stronger Western European political entity, the EEC, would strengthen NATO. Left-wing republicans exploited domestic concerns about the ability to maintain the state’s military neutrality if Ireland joined. They argued that Dublin appeared to be willing to make a commitment to military obligations within a NATO-dominated EEC. Since the EEC emphasised the development of political partnership alongside economic relationships, Official Sinn Féin argued, military commitments to NATO of some kind inevitably arose: ‘Ireland would soon be forced to join and allow NATO bases to be established at Shannon, Cork and elsewhere.’95 But Blatherwick doubted the campaign’s bonafides: ‘Though the arguments are presented in economic and social terms, it is likely that the opposition of the Marxist element is basically political.’96 For the British, in relation to the Official republican movement, there was more than the Russians to worry about. (p.98)

A ‘Near-Communist’ MovementIRA splits into Official and Provisional wings, British see ‘Soviet meddling’ in Ireland

Figure 3. Leading figures in the ‘demo fringe’: Máirín de Burca (left) and Bernadette Devlin.

Photograph by permission, Irish Times.

The movement’s development of foreign contacts saw the emergence of a British embassy view which placed left-wing republicanism within a global ‘terrorist’ context. A visit by leading Official republican Máirín de Burca to Jordan had been noted, and the movement’s association with Al Fatah and its front organisation, the General Union of Palestinian Students. De Burca later travelled to a Palestinian students’ conference in Kuwait.97 And the role of Al Fatah and the Palestinians’ struggle had been prominently covered in the United Irishman.98 Whitehall in 1970 heard from the embassy that Dublin’s ‘demo fringe’ could go (p.99) beyond tactics such as pickets and occupations and adopt more dramatic methods. Since Palestinian terrorists had made headlines across the world by hijacking aircraft, the embassy pointed out, the possibility of Irish copycat tactics should not be ruled out: terrorism on behalf of Al Fatah ‘and the like’ in Ireland was not impossible. It had earlier asked the IRD for information on Irish contacts with Palestinian solidarity movements.99 One Palestinian group which hijacked aircraft had caused explosions in London.100 The Official movement now had student branches in the universities in Dublin, Cork and Galway. The cover of the October issue of their magazine, Resistance, featured a silhoutte of a guerrilla with an AK-47 rifle.101 While the possibility of pro-Palestinian violence in Ireland would remain in the imagination of at least one British embassy analyst, there had in fact been leftist violence in Dublin, ostensibly over the war in Vietnam.

In July 1970, in Dublin, a US Navy sailor was shot in the arm and leg. An ‘Irish–Indo-Chinese Solidarity Front’ claimed responsibility, warning that ‘American murderers of unarmed Vietnamese peasants’ would not be tolerated. An assortment of groups, including Official Sinn Féin, communists and the Labour Party, demonstrated against the presence of the US Navy.102 And protests during Richard Nixon’s visit to Dublin, in October, provided further evidence of the change in Irish attitudes earlier identified by Moore. This visit was nothing like John F. Kennedy’s. The FCO saw an opportunity to advise the administration on Britain’s priorities in relation to Irish issues: the president’s Irish party could be offered a brief on Ireland.103 However, the White House regarded the Irish state in a positive light. Nixon visited Ireland to draw the attention of Irish Americans to his Irish roots, and his own brief for the visit, supplied by Henry Kissinger, described Ireland as ‘a constructive and reliable neutral’.104 Lynch continued his strong support for Washington (p.100) during Nixon’s tenure, and ‘played down’ Vietnam during the president’s visit. Irish Voice on Vietnam criticised the taoiseach’s stance when more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside the embassy in Dublin.105

The Official movement had forged new international, and pro-Soviet, links: the ANC’s Ruth First spoke at a seminar in November, along with Kader Asmal of the IAAM, John de Courcy Ireland and others. But, for Johnston, a ‘military’ presence overshadowed this ‘political’ event: the Official IRA had decided who the fifty attendees should be. The August 1969 events in Belfast, he writes, served to reinforce the ‘gunman’ element in the movement. And this illustrated a wider problem: ‘Those of us who were concerned with trying to fuel the political process at the top in fact had little control over what went on in the undergrowth.’106

The Official movement later published de Courcy Ireland’s lecture on Ireland’s revolutionary tradition, and is therefore revealing on the leadership’s attitude to the Soviet Union at this time: it might be considered a potential ally. Asked at the seminar if Ireland could become another Cuba, de Courcy Ireland replied that ‘we could do a Cuba’ if external support were forthcoming. He argued that (communist) Cuba would not have lasted without the support of the Soviets, and, to some extent, China.107 According to the Americans, the Chinese had interfered in Ireland. The Chinese embassy in London had funded PD and other left-wing groups in Northern Ireland, the US consulate in Belfast believed. Neil McManus, the consul general, reported that he had received this information from an unofficial friendly source, ‘believed to be reliable’. The informant had indicated that this funding supply would be known to the authorities in London, Belfast and Dublin. McManus believed the validity of his report could be confirmed with ‘the appropiate agencies’ in the US embassy in London.108 As with its British counterparts, the American embassy in Dublin focused on a Cold War issue – actual, or potential, KGB activity – and returned to the Official republican movement.

Developments within the organisation provided evidence of increased Soviet influence in Ireland, the embassy maintained. It continued to see a link between republican politicisation and communist infiltration. When Official Sinn Féin decided to abandon parliamentary abstentionism, the (p.101) embassy saw this as evidence that communists had taken control of ‘their faction’ of the republican movement; they could now take seats in Dáil Éireann ‘and take advantage of Ireland’s democratic institutions in order to achieve their aims’ – if they won enough votes, of course. The Americans in 1971 again received detailed information on subversives based on Garda Special Branch intelligence. The CPI had fewer than 150 members in the south, mostly concentrated in Dublin, and its influence on Irish politics had been negligible, the embassy reported in January. It also noted that Ustimenko had attended the Official Sinn Féin ard fheis. According to the embassy, the total active membershp of both IRAs in the Republic had been estimated by a ‘responsible’ Irish government official to be about 1,300. The figure represented a small increase on the estimate provided by Peter Berry to the Irish cabinet in March 1969. According to this report, the Official IRA accounted for under half the IRA total in the south, with 250 ‘very active’. The total (Official and Provisional) IRA membership in the north had been estimated to be about 650. The Official IRA was believed to be better organised and trained, posing a greater long-term threat than the Provisionals. Berry’s criticism of the Dublin media was echoed here: there had been little public awareness of communist efforts to capture ‘working control’ of a republican organisation, with journalists reluctant to identify de Burca and Johnston as communists.109 In May, the US embassy submitted another assessment of Irish republicanism to the State Department, stressing that ‘communism’ constituted the main issue dividing the rival IRAs. According to this assessment, Johnston’s ultimate aim was a socialist republic ‘friendly to Russia’.110 The Official movement’s more pressing concerns, however, did attract media attention, such as the urgency of acquiring arms in response to the northern situation and the consequent jailing of republicans.

‘The Language of the Bomb and the Bullet’

Following the August 1969 events the IRA attempted to obtain arms in England, leading to jailings and protests throughout the following year. War of Independence hero Tom Barry, who in 1920 had led the (p.102) IRA flying column in the Kilmichael ambush, participated in a protest over the imprisonment of these republicans, with the United Irishman quoting him as saying that these ‘political prisoners’ deserved the support given to those jailed ‘for fighting the Black and Tans’.111 In March 1970, Official republicans occupied British airline offices in Dublin, aiming to draw attention to the imprisonment in England of six men. These included Eamonn Smullen, who had been convicted of conspiracy to obtain firearms illegally.112 Official Sinn Féin picketed Berry’s home in July, claiming he had given information to the British authorities which had helped to convict republicans. The protesters were later convicted of threatening behaviour. The Garda believed Berry’s life was in danger and extended armed police protection to him and his family; it also persuaded him to carry a firearm.113 Towards the end of the year, the Irish government announced that internment would be introduced unless it could be satisfied that a threat to kidnap ‘one or more prominent persons’ was removed. Berry was reported to be one of the intended targets. Garda information indicated that the kidnapping conspirators (allegedly Saor Éire) also planned armed bank robberies, which might involve murders or attempted murders. This announcement to bring into operation Part II of the Offences against the State Act 1940 pointed out that places of detention were being prepared.114 Following the announcement, a ‘noisy debate’ took place in the Dáil, and more than 1,000 people demonstrated outside Leinster House.115

In May 1971, Seán Garland, the Official movement’s national organiser, identified the key issue dividing militant republicanism. Republicans, he stated, needed to work for a socialist revolution; political agitation and armed struggle went together. As the Provisionals relied only on a military strategy they could not succeed as revolutionaries, Garland contended. ‘Armed struggle on its own’ would fail, he argued, just as ‘political action or demonstrations on their own’ were doomed. For the Official republicans, armed struggle and political agitation (p.103) were the two strands of an integrated strategy.116 Blatherwick had earlier reported Cathal Goulding’s definition of the Official IRA’s role. Notwithstanding the Falls curfew events, according to this argument, a military campaign in the north was counter-productive: engagement with British troops would endanger the implementation of reforms won by the civil rights movement. (This included the disarming of the RUC and the disbandment of the B Specials.)117 However, the Official IRA’s activities in the Irish state raised hopes in the British embassy that Lynch might introduce emergency legislation to combat subversives.

The organisation had caused explosions at the Mogul mine in County Tipperary and a British pensions office in Cork. German-owned chalets were destroyed in Arklow, while Fianna Fáil’s head office in Dublin was damaged by unknown assailants. The Mogul mine explosion had been an intervention by the Official IRA in an industrial dispute, along the lines of the EI bus burning in 1968. Following the funeral of Martin O’Leary in May 1971, who died as a result of injuries received in the Mogul explosion, Blatherwick speculated about Dublin being provoked into introducing internment. A marginal note in his letter to the FCO illustrates how paramilitary actions might be seen as being advantageous to Britain: ‘IRA activity in the Republic, against Irish targets, would in certain circumstances be very welcome.’118 The funeral of O’Leary saw a showdown between the Irish state and left-wing republicanism. Up to 500 gardaí were present to prevent a volley being fired. O’Leary, Goulding said in his oration, was the first martyr in a new phase of revolutionary struggle. Goulding employed violent rhetoric. Since it would not be possible to achieve the revolution by peaceful means, he claimed, class enemies would face ‘the language that brings these vultures to their senses most effectively, the language of the bomb and the bullet’.119 O’Leary had been one of those arrested following an attempt to destroy Royal Navy launches in Baltimore, County Cork, in April.120

Official republicans were openly hostile to the Irish state and its institutions, and argued that Stormont and Dublin were equally (p.104) repressive. They now claimed Lynch had internment in mind.121 However, when internment did materialise, on 9 August, it would be in Northern Ireland; prime minister Brian Faulkner introduced the measure after consulting Heath. Intended to suppress the IRA, internment proved disastrous: violence escalated. The army arrested more than 340 IRA suspects, and released almost one-third of this number within two days. This led to complaining within Whitehall about the accuracy of the intelligence supplied by RUC Special Branch to the army.122 Whitehall’s fears about the inadequacy of RUC intelligence had been confirmed. Heath later conceded that this had been ‘hopelessly out of date’. He also admitted that the authorities underestimated the scale of the condemnation of the measure, and the effectiveness of what he termed ‘the IRA propaganda machine’.123 (The Irish state later successfully took a case against the UK under the European Convention on Human Rights over the ‘in-depth’ interrogation of eleven internees.)124 There was widespread destruction of property – at least 2,000 and possibly more than 2,500 families were displaced, and most of those made homeless by house-burning were Catholic. Nationalists perceived internment as a political device to preserve Stormont as much as a security measure. The minority community rejected the Northern Ireland government, and, as Richard English points out, internment undermined Stormont rather than strengthening it.125 An international propaganda coup came the way of the Official IRA when the Daily Mirror, and subsequently Life, published a photograph of Joe McCann in action during a gun battle with troops in Belfast. The photograph appeared on the cover of the United Irishman with the headline ‘Army of the People’.126

(p.105) Conclusion

In perceiving the emergence of the Official republican movement as the result of a failed ‘communist’ takeover attempt, the American embassy in Dublin used a Cold War lens and saw a ‘pro-Soviet’ organisation. The embassy, anxious to follow the Nixon administration’s instructions, monitored the Irish left, including minor, if noisy, student groups such as the Maoist Internationalists. The British embassy in Dublin, fearing greater espionage possibilities for the Soviets, also had a Cold War perspective, albeit nuanced. David Blatherwick did not take the newly formed CPI seriously and thought the biggest communist threat in Ireland had passed with the launch of the Provisionals: IRA Marxists such as Roy Johnston had failed to take over the republican movement as a whole. Intelligence material on Soviet espionage tactics was given to the Department of External Affairs as Dublin and Moscow discussed how relations between the two might be improved. The Russians, too, had a Cold War perception of events in Ireland and did not hesitate to exploit the outbreak of violence in the north for propaganda purposes, portraying the problem as ‘colonial’. They also expressed displeasure at the prospect of Ireland joining the EEC, seeing this as an expansion of NATO’s political influence. If the hostility displayed by Peter Berry and Des O’Malley towards republican paramilitaries might be seen as Dublin’s traditional perception of subversives, military neutrality did not prevent leading Irish officials from playing a Cold War role in supplying high-quality intelligence to Washington.

Was Charles Haughey the only minister prepared to grant NATO bases in exchange for a united Ireland? Jack Lynch did not challenge Richard Nixon’s policy on Vietnam, which left-wing republicans and communists condemned as ‘imperialist’. Both the CPI and the Official movement denounced the army’s ‘colonial’ role in the north, as did the Soviet media. Official Sinn Féin made much of Ireland’s military neutrality and claimed that EEC membership involved a commitment to NATO. The CPI concurred – both standpoints reflected Moscow’s Cold War position on the EEC. Some of the Official movement’s guest speakers – Kader Asmal and Ruth First – had a high profile in the ANC’s Soviet-sponsored liberation struggle. Were the Provisionals correct then in accusing the Official republicans of being, in effect, agents of the Kremlin? Not necessarily, because traditionalist republicans, who might have been hostile to both political activity and communism, also opposed ‘British imperialism’ and the EEC. The Official republican movement, however, tacked closely to the CPI on more than one issue. While the (p.106) CPI continued to plough ‘stony ground’, it provided the Official IRA with direct access to the KGB, as the Official republican movement expanded its contacts with liberation movements within the Soviets’ ‘international family’. But the Official movement’s strategy, as outlined by Garland, involving ‘armed struggle’ and political agitation, would be a tricky balancing act to maintain with the escalation of the northern crisis.


(1) Moore to Richardson, 26 Feb. 1970, in NARA, RG 59, box 2383, Pol 12 Ire.

(2) Peck, ‘Annual Review of Republic of Ireland for 1970’, 8 Jan. 1971, in TNA, FCO 33/1595.

(4) On Anglo-Irish co-operation in relation to the Soviets, see Anthony Craig, Crisis of Confidence, pp. 137–9.

(7) Francis Wheen, Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia (Fourth Estate, London, 2009), pp. 68–78.

(8) Richard Nixon believed the communist powers backed the US anti-war movement, despite CIA evidence to the contrary. Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power (Penguin, London, 2008), pp. 133–4; Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush (HarperCollins, London, 1996), pp. 354–5.

(9) Irish Times, 23 Sept. 1970, p. 13; O’Halpin, ‘Early Years’, in Maddrell, Image of the Enemy, pp. 180–5.

(11) Patterson, Politics of Illusion, p. 124; Research Section, The Workers’ Party, The 1970 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis: An Analysis (Citizen Press, Dublin, 2010), pp. 8–9; Cronin, Irish Nationalism, pp. 201–2.

(12) Gerry Foley, Ireland in Revolution (Pathfinder, New York, 1971), p. 20. Foley, an American Trotskyist, supported the Official movement at this time. Patterson, Politics of Illusion, pp. 192–3; Teoiric, no. 1, Summer 1971; Bardon, Ulster, pp. 675–6.

(13) Maria McGuire, To Take Arms: A Year in the Provisional IRA (Macmillan, London, 1973), pp. 18–19.

(15) The Research Section, The Workers’ Party, The Story of the Falls Curfew (Citizen Press, Dublin, 2010), pp. i–ii, 8–12, 35–6. This pamphlet draws on eyewitness and participant accounts. It addresses ‘some of the attempts made [by the Provisionals] to re-write the history of the Curfew’.

(16) Sabine Wichert, Northern Ireland since 1945 (Longman, Harlow, 1991; 2nd edn, 1999), pp. 132–7.

(17) Berry retired on health grounds in 1971. O’Malley was threatened by the Provisionals; he followed Garda advice and slept with a revolver under his pillow. Desmond O’Malley, Conduct Unbecoming: A Memoir (Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 2015), pp. 62–4, 78–87.

(18) John Walsh, Patrick Hillery: The Official Biography (New Island, Dublin, 2008), pp. 176–89. See also Noel Dorr, Ireland at the United Nations: Memories of the Early Years (Institute of Public Administration, Dublin, 2010), pp. 190–207.

(19) British embassy (Moscow) to FCO, 27 Aug. 1969, TNA, FCO 33/773.

(23) Comments offered at witness seminar in Trinity College Dublin, 2010.

(25) Gilchrist to FCO, 30 Oct. 1969, CAC, GILC/14A.

(26) David Andrews, Kingstown Republican: A Memoir (New Island, in assoc. with First Law, Dublin, 2007), p. 46.

(27) Gilchrist to FCO, 30 Oct. 1969, CAC, GILC/14A.

(28) Gilchrist draft, CAC, GILC/14B; Anthony Craig, Crisis of Confidence, pp. 68–9.

(29) On republican tensions in Belfast in the summer of 1969, see Patterson, Politics of Illusion, pp. 123–9.

(31) On the creation of the Provisional IRA, see English, Armed Struggle, pp. 103–8. See also M.L.R. Smith, Fighting for Ireland? The Military Strategy of the Irish Republican Movement (Routledge, London, 1995; paperback edn, 1997), p. 91.

(33) Interview with Tomás Mac Giolla, 28 May 2008.

(35) At Easter 1970, the Officials issued commemorative badges with an adhesive, or sticky, back. The Provisionals issued the traditional paper badge with a pin to attach it. The Officials were called ‘stickybacks’ and the Provisionals, briefly, were called ‘pinheads’. The Officials’ nickname henceforth would be ‘sticks’ or ‘stickies’. The Provisionals would be known as ‘provies’ or ‘provos’. Hanley and Millar, Lost Revolution, pp. 147–51.

(36) Gilchrist to FCO, and Gilchrist report on Sinn Féin ard fheis, 12 Jan. 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1197.

(37) An Phoblacht, Feb. 1970, pp. 4–5.

(39) Irish Times, 26 Oct. 1970, p. 9.

(42) O’Halpin, Defending Ireland, pp. 304–11; Michael Mills, Hurler on the Ditch: Memoir of a Journalist Who Became Ireland’s First Ombudsman (Currach, Blackrock, 2005), pp. 48–89; Andrews, Kingstown Republican, pp. 44–50. See also Donnacha Ó Beacháin, Destiny of the Soldiers: Fianna Fáil, Irish Republicanism and the IRA, 1926–73 (Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 2010), pp. 283–302.

(46) Vincent Browne, Magill, June 1980, ‘Berry Papers’, pp. 51–2; Pádraig Faulkner, As I Saw It: Reviewing over 30 Years of Fianna Fáil & Irish Politics (Wolfhound, Dublin, 2005), p. 94; O’Halpin, Defending Ireland, pp. 306–11; Anthony Craig, Crisis of Confidence, pp. 70–2.

(47) Committee of Public Accounts: Interim and Final Report (Order of Dáil of 1st December 1970) (Dublin, 1972), pp. 417–28, 745–53; Faulkner, As I Saw It, pp. 92–4.

(50) Blatherwick to FCO, 20 Mar. 1970, and 3 Apr. 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1197.

(51) US embassy (Dublin) to State Dept., 19 July 1969, 15 Oct. 1969, and 15 Nov. 1969, NARA, RG59, box 2223, Pol 23 Ire; Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger, p. 161; Richard Nixon, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (Arrow, London, 1979), p. 402.

(52) US embassy (Dublin) to State Dept., 13 Sept. 1968, NARA, RG59, box 2222, Pol 12-3 Ire. For an overview of student protest in Western Europe in the late 1960s, including the claims of Trotskyism and Maoism, see Judt, Europe since 1945, pp. 401–21.

(53) US embassy (Dublin) to State Dept., 29 Nov. 1968, and 27 Jan. 1969, NARA, RG59, box 2222, Pol 12-3 Ire.

(54) Puirséil, Labour Party, pp. 257–60. The heady days of 1968–9 in Dublin are recalled, from the perspective of a Trinity College Trotskyist, in Carol Coulter, ‘A View from the South’, in Michael Farrell (ed.), Twenty Years On (Brandon, Tralee, 1988), pp. 106–16.

(55) Comment offered by Prof. Patrick Keatinge at Research Seminar in Contemporary Irish History, Trinity College Dublin, 7 Apr. 2010. The Internationalists, or, more formally, the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist– Leninist), CPI (ML), had been founded by a Trinity College biologist, Hardial Bains, in the mid-1960s. John Stephenson, ‘The Students Are Revolting’, in Sebastian Balfour, Laurie Howes, Michael de Larrabeiti and Anthony Weale (eds), Trinity Tales: Trinity College Dublin in the Sixties (Lilliput Press, Dublin, 2009), pp. 264–6.

(56) US embassy (Dublin) to State Dept., 27 Jan. 1969, NARA, RG59, box 2222, Pol 12-3 Ire.

(57) ‘Revolutionary student protest’, JIC (A) paper, 16 Dec. 1969, TNA, CAB 186/3.

(58) US embassy (Dublin), to State Dept., 3 Feb. 1970, NARA, RG 59, box 2383, Pol 12 Ire.

(59) Browne, ‘Berry Papers’, Magill, June 1980, p. 44.

(60) Browne, ‘The Arms Crisis 1970’, Magill, May 1980, p. 33.

(61) Seán Cronin, Washington’s Irish Policy 1916–1986: Independence, Partition, Neutrality (Anvil, Dublin, 1987), pp. 305, 311.

(62) Moore background note, 23 June 1969, NAI, TAOIS 2014/32/406.

(63) US embassy (Dublin) to State Dept., 19 Jan. 1970, NARA, RG 59, box 2383, Pol 12 Ire.

(64) Moore to Richardson, 26 Feb. 1970, NARA, RG 59, box 2383, Pol 12 Ire.

(65) US embassy (Dublin) to State Dept., 3 Feb. 1970, NARA, RG 59, box 2383, Pol 12 Ire.

(66) US embassy (Dublin) to State Dept., 27 Jan. 1971, NARA, RG 59, box 2383, Pol 14 Ire.

(67) Interview with Harris.

(68) McManus to State Dept., 12 Mar. 1970 and 24 Mar. 1970, NARA, RG 59, box 2650, Pol 12 UK.

(69) McManus to State Dept., 24 Mar. 1970, NARA, RG 59, box 2650, Pol 12 UK; Swan, Official Irish Republicanism, pp. 329–31.

(70) O’Riordan’s appeals to Moscow are included in an appendix in Boris Yeltsin’s memoir. See Boris Yeltsin, The View from the Kremlin (HarperCollins, London, 1994), pp. 311–16. Andrew and Mitrokhin, Mitrokhin Archive, pp. 492–3.

(71) O’Sullivan to McCann, 26 Mar. 1970, NAI, DFA 2001/43/1407.

(72) On the Fallon killing, see Liz Walsh, The Final Beat: Gardaí Killed in the Line of Duty (Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 2001), pp. 1–7. See also Hanley and Millar, Lost Revolution, pp. 154–5.

(73) O’Sullivan to External Affairs, 1 May 1970, and ‘Comments on meetings in London’, 5 May 1970, NAI, DFA 2001/43/1407.

(75) Wright to Callaghan, 6 Mar. 1970, TNA, DEFE 13/1397.

(76) Cabinet meeting minutes, 22 June 1970, TNA, PREM 15/100.

(77) Patterson, Ireland since 1939, pp. 216–19; McKittrick and McVea, Troubles, pp. 61–4. For a detailed account of these early Provisional IRA engagements, see Simon Prince and Geoffrey Warner, Belfast and Derry in Revolt: A New History of the Start of the Troubles (Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 2012), pp. 227–9, 233–50. On the emergence of the Provisional republican movement, see Cronin, Irish Nationalism, pp. 201–6.

(78) Geoffrey Warner, ‘The Falls Road Curfew Revisited’, Irish Studies Review, vol. 14, no. 3, 2006, pp. 325–7. The curfew was illegal. Smith, Fighting for Ireland? p. 92.

(80) Peter Taylor, Brits: The War against the IRA (Bloomsbury, London, 2001), pp. 49–51.

(81) Conclusions of Joint Security Committee meeting, 4 July 1970, PRONI, HA/32/3/3.

(84) Moore to State Dept., 6 July 1970, and US embassy (London) to State Dept., 7 July 1970, NARA, box 2654, Pol 23-9 UK.

(85) Lynch to Heath, 7 July 1970, TNA, PREM 15/100. See James Callaghan, A House Divided: The Dilemma of Northern Ireland (Collins, London, 1973), pp. 144–5.

(86) White to Crawford, 23 Sept. 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1200.

(88) Blatherwick to FCO, 6 July 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1204.

(89) Thorpe to Blatherwick, 1 Oct. 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1204.

(90) Comment offered by John Horgan at Research Seminar in Contemporary Irish History, Trinity College Dublin, 3 Mar. 2010.

(91) Peck to FCO, 29 Jan. 1971, TNA, FCO 33/1621.

(93) Stephen Twigge, Edward Hampshire and Graham Macklin, British Intelligence: Secrets, Spies and Sources (National Archives, Kew, 2008; paperback edn, 2009), pp. 95–6; Anthony Craig, Crisis of Confidence, p. 96.

(94) Evans to FCO, 1 Dec. 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1204.

(95) Sinn Féin (Official), Why Sinn Féin Says No to the Common Market (Republican Educational Department, Dublin, 1971), pp. 12–13; Anthony Coughlan, The Common Market: Why Ireland Should Not Join (Common Market Study Group, Dublin, 1970).

(96) Blatherwick to FCO, 22 Sept. 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1197.

(97) Army headquarters, Northern Ireland, to British embassy (Dublin), 29 Sept. 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1197; IRD to NIO, De Burca ‘biography’, 26 Apr. 1977, TNA, CJ 4/2838.

(98) United Irishman, June 1969, p. 3; July 1969, p. 4.

(99) Evans to FCO, 22 Sept. 1970, TNA, FCO 95/961; Michael Burleigh, Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism (HarperPress, London, 2008; updated edn, Harper Perennial, 2009), pp. 153–5. On the role of the IRD in the Cold War, see Aldrich, Hidden Hand, pp. 130–41.

(101) Resistance, no. 1, Oct. 1970, p. 1.

(102) Blatherwick to FCO, 31 July 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1197; Irish Times, 30 July 1970, pp. 1, 13.

(103) White to Crawford, 23 Sept. 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1200.

(104) Henry Kissinger, The White House Years (Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Michael Joseph, London, 1979), p. 935.

(105) Dermot Keogh, Jack Lynch: A Biography (Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 2008), p. 135; Irish Times, 5 Oct. 1970, pp. 1, 9.

(106) United Irishman, Dec. 1970, pp. 6–7; Johnston, Century of Endeavour, p. 298.

(107) John de Courcy Ireland, Revolutionary Movements of the Past (Republican Education Department, Dublin, 1971), pp. 23–5.

(108) McManus to State Dept., 18 Jan. 1971, NARA, RG 59, box 2653, Pol 18 UK.

(109) US embassy (Dublin) to State Dept., 27 Jan. 1971, NARA, RG 59, box 2383, Pol 14 Ire.

(110) US embassy (Dublin) to State Dept., 18 May 1971, NARA, RG 59, box 2383, Pol 12 Ire.

(111) United Irishman, Jan. 1971, p. 8.

(112) Irish Times, 5 Mar. 1970, p. 1; TNA, J 297/57; statement by Det. Insp. Desmond Winslow, 9 Oct. 1969, TNA, DPP 2/4755.

(113) Maume, ‘Berry’, DIB, vol. 1, p. 501.

(114) Government Information Bureau statement, 4 Dec. 1970, NAI, TAOIS/2001/6/539; O’Halpin, Defending Ireland, pp. 311, 325–6; Irish Times, 5 Dec. 1970, pp. 1, 16.

(116) United Irishman, May 1971, p. 6.

(117) Blatherwick to FCO, 6 Aug. 1970, TNA, FCO 33/1197.

(118) Blatherwick to FCO, 9 July 1971, TNA, FCO 33/1600.

(119) Irish Times, 9 July 1971, pp. 1, 16; Hanley and Millar, Lost Revolution, pp. 243–4.

(120) United Irishman, Aug. 1971, p. 12; May 1971, p. 2; TNA, FCO 33/1600.

(121) United Irishman, Aug. 1971, p. 1.

(123) Edward Heath, The Course of My Life: My Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1998), pp. 428–30.

(124) O’Halpin, Defending Ireland, pp. 329–31. See Samantha Newbery, Bob Brecher, Philippe Sands and Brian Stewart, ‘Interrogation, Intelligence and the Issue of Human Rights’, Intelligence and National Security, vol. 24, no. 5, 2009, pp. 631–43.

(126) On the international impact of the McCann photograph, see John Mulqueen and Jim Smyth, “‘The Che Guevara of the IRA”: The legend of “Big Joe” McCann’, History Ireland, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 46–7. One Sunday newspaper reproduced the photograph following his death. Sunday Independent, 16 Apr. 1972, p. 1.