Captain Kelly’s involvement in arms importation under Irish government directive

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, General, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2009), Letters, Letters, Volume 17

Sir,—Yoursummary of the events of August ‘69 (HI 17.4, July/Aug. 2009) says that on 13August, ‘The British government announced that troops were being sent to Derry’to stand between the combatants and to restore law on order. In fact, troopswere not to bedeployedin Derry until the evening of the 14th. (British troops were of coursepermanently stationed in this part of the United Kingdom.) The sequence, as youset it out, makes nonsense of Jack Lynch’s solemn televised address of 13August promising that his government would not stand by while nationalist livesand property were at risk. That speech of Jack Lynch’s was authorised by hiscabinet and signified a shift in Irish policy: it was a recognition that theCatholics of Northern Ireland needed defence against the Northern majority.Lynch’s promise reassured the minority, whilst further enragingProtestants. So much so that, even after the Stormont regime accepted theloss of control of security which requesting the deployment of the British Armyentailed, the military was unable to restore order and provide protection forthe minority.  

It was in these circumstances that the Irish Cabinetagreed to measures that enabled the minority to mount its own defence, up toand including the deployment of the Irish Army north of the Border. It alsoinstructed the Army to prepare to arm the Northern minority. This has beenconfirmed by archive research and is incontrovertible. Captain Kelly is namedin your magazine as the ‘agent’ of Ministers Blaney, Boland and Haughey. He wasno such thing. He was one of the intelligence officers deployed by the Irishgovernment in August 1969 to monitor and assist Catholic defence. Later hebecame the officer charged with liaising between the government and theNorthern defence committees. This position was confirmed by his directsuperior, Army director of intelligence, Michael Hefferon, during the ArmsTrials of September/October 1970. The then minister for defence, James Gibbons,was also forced to concede that Captain Kelly’s position was a special one. 

It was in the course of his liaison duties thatCaptain Kelly became involved in the arms importation scheme carried out underthe government’s directive to the army of 6 February—a scheme that became thesubject of later criminal action. But this was no maverick operation. CaptainKelly reported on the progress of the scheme to his superior officer, ColonelHefferon, who in turn kept Minister Gibbons au fait with the progress of the enterprise. AndCaptain Kelly reported directly to Minister Gibbons. All of this emerged at theArms Trials and has been confirmed by the release of secret papers under the30-year rule. I have made many of these documents available in two books, thelatest of which is calledArms Conspiracy Trial.

Professor Dermot Keogh raises some red herrings. Oneis to suggest that Captain Kelly’s arms importation was conducted outsidenormal Army purchasing channels. What else does he expect with a covertoperation? A second is to ask whether Taoiseach Lynch ‘knew’ what was going on. Hecould hardly fail to have known. After all it was Lynch who set out the newgovernment policy of guaranteeing Catholic defence with his speech of 13 August1969 and it was a position he adhered to until his volte face of May 1970.—Yours etc.,


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