Irish Politicians Are Tried for Conspiring to Import Weapons Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Charles James Haughey and Neil Blaney were charged with attempting to import weapons to Northern Ireland for the use of the Irish Republican Army. Both ministers were acquitted and, although they were dismissed from their government posts, they later returned to politics.

Summary of Event

On April 28, 1969, the moderate reformist prime minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill, resigned under intense pressure, and the conflict in the Six Counties rapidly dissolved into open sectarian warfare between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Provocative commemorative marches by militant Protestants on July 12 through 16 and again from August 12 through 14 ignited a violent reaction in the Catholic Bogside neighborhood in Derry. The authorities were unable to contain the situation, and Irish Republic prime minister Jack Lynch, impassioned by militant elements within his ruling Fianna Fáil party, delivered a stern, inflammatory speech during which he threatened to send the Irish army across the border to protect the North’s Catholic minority. Shortly thereafter, however, the British army moved to attempt to restore order and soon faced a guerrilla war of their own against the newly revived IRA (Irish Republican Army). [kw]Weapons, Irish Politicians Are Tried for Conspiring to Import (May 28, 1970) Haughey, Charles James Blaney, Neil Roman Catholic Church;and Ireland[Ireland] Lynch, Jack Boland, Kevin Northern Ireland Ireland;weapon imports Haughey, Charles James Blaney, Neil Roman Catholic Church;and Ireland[Ireland] Lynch, Jack Boland, Kevin Northern Ireland Ireland;weapon imports [g]Europe;May 28, 1970: Irish Politicians Are Tried for Conspiring to Import Weapons[01360] [g]Northern Ireland;May 28, 1970: Irish Politicians Are Tried for Conspiring to Import Weapons[01360] [c]Law and the courts;May 28, 1970: Irish Politicians Are Tried for Conspiring to Import Weapons[01360] [c]Corruption;May 28, 1970: Irish Politicians Are Tried for Conspiring to Import Weapons[01360] [c]Government;May 28, 1970: Irish Politicians Are Tried for Conspiring to Import Weapons[01360] [c]Politics;May 28, 1970: Irish Politicians Are Tried for Conspiring to Import Weapons[01360] [c]Atrocities and war crimes;May 28, 1970: Irish Politicians Are Tried for Conspiring to Import Weapons[01360] O’Morain, Michael Kelly, John Kelly, James Cosgrave, Liam

Lynch, a moderate at heart, then backed down from his tough stance, particularly angering two influential politicians within his own cabinet: Finance Minister Charles James Haughey and Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Neil Blaney. Haughey and Blaney had each contended against Lynch in 1966 over the party leadership and considered him to be weak and vacillating, especially on the issue of Irish nationalism. Lynch, for his part, did nothing more dramatic than establish a cabinet subcommittee to organize and disburse relief funds for Catholic families who had been forced from their homes because of the Troubles (as the nearly thirty-year guerrilla struggle in Northern Ireland was later to be called). However, Lynch’s supervision over the subcommittee was lax and he thus allowed effective control to pass to its two domineering members, his archrivals Blaney and Haughey.

On October 4, Irish intelligence officer James Kelly, a captain, attended a meeting in Baileboro, County Cavan, Ireland, at which he conferred with ranking members of the IRA. From talking to these IRA leaders, who may have included John Kelly, James Kelly then established contact between the IRA on one hand and with Blaney and Haughey on the other to formulate a plan to smuggle arms from Belgium into Dublin Airport. The sale was to be paid for by subcommittee funds, and the arms were to go to the North to provide the IRA with weapons for the defense of Catholic neighborhoods.

In its hazy and often tortuous outlines, a plot emerged through the winter and into the spring of 1969-1970. James Kelly, working with contacts in Germany and Belgium (one of whom may have been a Belgian-born businessman, Luykx, Albert Albert Luykx, who had taken residence in Ireland), was to procure the guns and have them shipped aboard the cargo vessel City of Dublin to Dublin in March of 1970. Haughey had issued orders to Irish customs (which fell under his finance ministry portfolio) to let the shipment through. However, a glitch in the paperwork (a required end-user’s certificate could not be as readily procured as expected) brought about a change in plans. Instead, James Kelly was to see that the arms were conveyed via Trieste, Italy, and Vienna, Austria, and thence by plane to Dublin. At the last minute, Haughey aborted the flight because he discovered that the justice ministry had ordered police to seize the cargo as soon as the plane landed.

The scheme rapidly unraveled. Justice Minister Michael O’Morain, acting primarily through his chief secretary and special branch head Peter Berry, was informed of most of the details of the shipment, details that were funneled up to Lynch. Likewise, Defense Minister Jim Gibbons gleaned information that he passed on to the prime minister. Apprehensive, perhaps, of the potential political fallout, Lynch was slow to act.

Two events, occurring in quick succession, forced Lynch’s hand. First, with O’Morain becoming increasingly ill over the stress of events and increasingly escaping into alcohol abuse, Berry took the initiative of informing President Eamon de Valera and then letting Lynch know that he had done so. Second, Fine Gael opposition leader Liam Cosgrave found out about the scandal. After unsuccessfully trying to interest the Irish media in the story, he had a private interview with Lynch, wherein he threatened to make a public revelation unless the prime minister acted decisively.

Lynch asked Haughey and Blaney to resign their ministerial offices. When they refused, Lynch turned to De Valera, who on May 6, 1970, ordered their dismissals. Almost immediately, local government minister Kevin Boland and others resigned in protest. Two days earlier, O’Morain had tendered his resignation from his hospital sickbed. The Irish government brought charges against Haughey, Blaney, Luykx, James Kelly, and John Kelly, and the arms trial began on May 28 in Dublin.

Blaney was acquitted on July 2, when it became obvious that prosecutors did not have evidence indicating he had a direct link to and actual knowledge of the arms importation plan. For the other defendants, proceedings went on until July 7. Then, after a pointed exchange between defense counsel and the judge, the cases were terminated in a mistrial. After a lengthy hiatus, the trial resumed on October 6 and ran until October 23, when the jury acquitted all of the accused. The crux of the defense’s argument lay in doubts as to how much Defense Minister Gibbons knew of the affair, and whether or not he had given it his blessing. Because Haughey’s testimony ran counter to that of Gibbons, and the evidence indicated ambiguity as to whether or not the ministry for defense had originally approved the arms importation, jury members concluded that the prosecution had not established the defendants’ guilt.

Impact

In the fallout surrounding the arms crisis, the main beneficiary was Cosgrave. The trial had further weakened Lynch’s leadership, splitting the Fianna Fáil party between those who adhered to the prime minister and supporters of Blaney, Haughey, and Boland. Cosgrave’s Fine Gael party was able to draw political capital from this scandal and, in 1973, formed a coalition with the Irish Labour Party to oust Fianna Fáil from power; Cosgrave became prime minister and served until 1977.

Both Blaney and Haughey recovered from the scandal to serve in politics for the remainder of their lives. Haughey was prime minister three times. Luykx faded back into obscurity. John Kelly carved out a short-lived political career for himself in Northern Ireland as a member of the Sinn Féin party, but James Kelly had to retire from the army and devoted much of the remainder of his days trying to clear his reputation.

The arms crisis and its revelations did much to heighten suspicion among the Ulster Unionists and in British intelligence circles of the involvement of Lynch’s government in the Nationalist movement, acting to sharpen attitudes on both sides in what was even then degenerating into a bloody, drawn-out conflict in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Ireland;weapon imports Haughey, Charles James Blaney, Neil Roman Catholic Church;and Ireland[Ireland] Lynch, Jack Boland, Kevin

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coogan, Tim Pat. Ireland in the Twentieth Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. The author, one of Ireland’s leading journalists, is critical of Lynch’s initial indecisiveness and asserts that the Irish leader knew more at an earlier stage in the affair than he later admitted.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Desmond, Barry. Finally and in Conclusion: A Political Memoir. Dublin: New Island, 2000. A veteran Irish Labour Party politician cites Blaney’s contempt for and underestimation of Lynch’s abilities as the key to his own downfall.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dwyer, T. Ryle. Charlie: The Political Biography of Charles J. Haughey. Dublin: Gill & McMillan, 1987. Presents Haughey as the quintessential political survivor and blames the uncontrollable crisis on Lynch’s equivocation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lee, J. J. Ireland: 1912-1985. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Argues that the thwarted ambitions of Haughey, Blaney, and Boland were behind much of the backstairs machinations involved in the arms scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Halpin, Eunan. Defending Ireland: The Irish State and Its Enemies Since 1922. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. In this work the crisis is decried as a monumental and senseless blunder by all concerned.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rafter, Kevin. Neil Blaney: A Soldier of Destiny. Dublin: Blackwater Press, 1993. A rare biography of this controversial political figure, who nonetheless forged a powerful regional “dynasty” of sorts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tannam, Etain. Cross-Border Cooperation in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. The author sees the crisis as a critical derailment of Fianna Fáil’s policies for cooperation by raising the alarm with Unionists and the British government.

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