Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dublin's role in IRA split now causing embarassment

A group of IRA victims organized by  unionist south Armagh activist Willie Frazer has been attempting, rather unsuccessfully, to get the Irish government to apologize for the the Kingsmills massacre in January 1976, when an IRA gang stopped a van full of workers and lined them up and shot them killing ten. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that terrible as it was, it was the work of the IRA and not Dublin. Kenny is the leader of the Fine Gael party, which never had any time for the IRA or violent republicanism. But the dominant Fianna Fail party was full of "sneaking regarders" (secret admirers) of the IRA such as former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, former Agriculture Minister (1966-70) Neil Blaney, and former Local Government Minister (1966-70) Kevin Boland who helped create the Provisional IRA in 1969-70.

For anyone who has followed Irish politics and history, as this blogger has, this is not a new revelation. Several biographies of Charles Haughey written by journalists like Stephen Collins, Bruce Arnold, T.R. Dwyer and others prominently feature Haughey's role in the "arms crisis" of 1969-70 when he used Irish government funds provided for the relief of Catholic refugees in Northern Ireland in 1970 to purchase arms in Europe for the IRA. Haughey, a conservative anti-socialist was concerned that the leadership of the existing IRA was becoming too political and turning away from militarism in favor of electoral politics. Haughey, Blaney, and Boland wanted to cause a split in the IRA by offering to provide the traditionalists in the organization with the arms necessary to carry out an armed struggle in Northern Ireland. All three were sacked by Taoiseach Jack Lynch when the plot was revealed and then went on trial. In October 1970 they were acquitted on the grounds that they had government sanction for it. Blaney was forced out of the party but formed a new Independent Fianna Fail party in his local constituency in Donegal (in what was part of Ulster before the 1920-21 partition) and went on to have a very successful political career as an independent TD (MP). Boland, the son of an influential IRA man from the Irish War of Independence, formed his own political party that flopped. Haughey stayed in Fianna Fail and after a decade of hard work on the hustings emerged as taoiseach in December 1979. He went on to become the most crooked politician in modern Irish history.  It is for this role that the Northern Ireland Assembly narrowly voted 47-46 on clear sectarian lines for Dublin to officially apologize for the Fianna Fail role in the creation of the Provos. Here Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin rejects the need for an apology and casts blame on the unionists for the creation of the Provos.

I personally don't support the politics of apology. I believe that an apology is only meaningful if there is a direct connection between the person making the apology and the act or acts being apologized for. This is rarely the case as politicians don't like to admit their own mistakes yet alone apologize for them. Usually apologies are delivered decades after the act was committed and are pro forma as in President Reagan's apology to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II. Blaney and Boland both admitted their roles in the creation of the Provisional IRA in a 1993 BBC documentary. They, however, did not apologize for their role but, on the contrary, were proud of it. Haughey was rather more coy about his role. He relied on the support of "sneaking regarders" who knew about his role but did not discuss it openly.

In the next few years expect major investigations and revelations about Dublin's turning a blind eye to IRA activities in the Republic. Dundalk, a border town in the Republic on the east coast, was known as El Paso as many IRA gunmen used to flee to there and rest up between operations. Haughey was opposed to extradition of IRA suspects from the Republic to the North for trial on the grounds that their offenses were politically motivated. His predecessor, Jack Lynch, had the same official position. Haughey changed his policy in the late 1980s as a result of Anglo-Irish Agreement negotiated by Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald (whom Haughey used to denigrate as Garret the Good--only in Ireland was being considered an honest politician a career handicap).

Ironically the arms that were purchased in Europe were never delivered to the IRA, but their promise helped to lead to the split that created the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Fein in December 1969 and January 1970. The innovators who supported the new political line became known as the Official IRA and were involved in their own armed struggle from the late winter of 1971 to May 1972 when they went on unilateral ceasefire. The Official IRA then went into politics and crime. Official Sinn Fein became the Workers' Party--Sinn Fein and then just plain the Workers' Party in the 1980s. The WP had its electoral breakthrough in the Republic in 1989. In Northern Ireland it never had an electoral breakout but managed to elect a few councilors to local government councils over the years. In 1992 all but one of its TDs split to form the Democratic Party, which lasted for a mere six years until it merged with the Labour Party in 1999. The most dynamic personality in the Official IRA was Seamus Costello, who split off to found the INLA in November 1974. He was later assassinated in a feud by his formed colleagues a few years later before the INLA really became active, but he may have served as a role model for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. The split occurred because the party saw its Marxist connection as a political embarrassment and wanted to end the funding from the Official IRA's occasional bank robberies and other criminal activities. This arc of revolutionary activity from the late 1960s to the early 1990s is related in the book The Lost Revolution by historian Brian Hanley and journalist Scott Millar.

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