The artful ambiguities of Jack Lynch

JAMES CALLAGHAN will have to learn a whole new political vocabulary if he is to come to terms with Jack Lynch. For "Lynch-speak" has become a most subtle and baffling political language and nowhere more so than in the area of Anglo-Irish relations. By Vincent Browne


On October 29, 1975 Fianna Fail issued a controversial policy statement on the North (see panel) on which much "Lynch-speak' has been employed since then. Quite clearly the statement called on the British Government to declare Britain's commitment to implement an ordered withdrawal from her involveement in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, as a means of encouraging the unity of Ireland by agreement.

At a press conference in Leinster House on July 6 last, the day after the new Government came into office, Mr. Lynch said: "Fianna Fail made it clear in the policy statement of October 1975 that we were urging that the British Government might declare their interest in the ultimate unification of Ireland and that they might take some specific steps in that direction. "

He was asked if these "specific steps" would include a declaration to a commmitment to withdraw and he replied:

"No, I never said that." Another quesstioner asked: "In pressing the Fianna Fail policy on the possibility of a declarration of intent to withdraw from Northern Ireland on representatives of the British Government ... " Mr. Lynch interrupted to say: "I want to say at the outset we never made such a policy statement".

Obviously Mr. Lynch perceives some clear distinction between calling on the British Government to declare Britain's commitment to implement an ordered withdrawal from her involvement in the Six Counties and the British Government making a declaration to a commitment to withdraw. But such fine distinctions are lost on ordinary mortals and James Callaghan is certainly in this category.

The truth of the matter of course is that while it is Fianna Fail's policy to press the British to declare Britain's commitment to implement an ordered withdrawal, it is not Mr. Lynch's policy.

He was pushed into accepting the policy at one of the lowest points in his leadership of Fianna Fail and in the process was humiliated by the very man he has brought with him to Downing Street, Michael o 'Kennedy. It was a purely opportunist ploy by Kennedy at the time, as evidenced by his own attempts to scramble off the "declaration to withdraw" hook since then. o 'Kennedy was miffed at the time at being deprived ofthe Fianna Fail spokessmanship on Northern Ireland and he allied himself with the Haughey faction within the party to embarrass Lynch.

It is an incident well remembered by Lynch and will soon prove costly to O'Kennedy. For it is the Taoiseach's intention to absorb all responsibilities for Northern Ireland into his own Department, transferring from the Department of Foreign Affairs, most of the Anglo-Irish section.

The re-organisation is not prompted primarily of course by personal considerrations, more so by Lynch's previous experience in office. One of the bitterest clashes inside the last Fianna Fail cabinet occurred between Lynch and Dr. Hillery, then Minister for Foreign Affairs. It related to Lynch's handling of the arms crisis and to vague differences between the two on Northern policy - Hillery being marginally more hard-line. After the introduction of internment in the North in August 1971, Lynch assumed more and more responsibility for Northern policy and attended the Chequers meeting in the autumn of '71 without Hillery.

The civil servant responsible for Northern Affairs. Eamonn Gallagher, now a Director General at the EEC, though a member of the Department of Foreign Affairs, reported more and more directly to Lynch. Hillery resented one of his civil servants going "over his head" and a clash inevitably ensued.

Lynch is keen to avoid any adminisstrative confusions this time around, hence his preference for the transfer of most of the Anglo-Irish division to his own Department.

While Fianna Fail is embarrassingly committed to its policy statement of October '75, it is in other areas that Lynch seeks to move Anglo-Irish relations and Northern policy generally.

Not since the Lemass/O'Neill meetings of the mid 'sixties has there been any. development in North/South economic co-operation. At official meetings of late between Irish and British civil servants it has not been the arcane intricacies of Fianna Fail's policy document that has been discussed but means whereby North/South economic co-operation can be revived.

It is expected that joint studies on all-Ireland economic planning will commmence shortly, which will involve the identification of specific areas of coooperation on tourism, energy and indusstrial promotion. There is a real stimulus for joint economic planning because the EEC commission has designated the entire island as a single region in the planning of regional policy. Martin o 'Donoghue's involvement here is critical, for he is unquestionably the driving force of the new Government and the Minister on whom the Taoiseach most relies. A clue to the extent of this reliance is that Lynch had originally planned the development of a policy division within his own Department, but has since abandoned the idea because, as he has privately explained: "What do I need one for when I've got Martin?"

O'Donoghue is currently preparing national and regional plans to conform with EEC requirements and the specifics of Fianna Fail's election manifesto. With Lynch's active connivance, 0 'Donoghue has managed to accrete to his Departtment enormous po~ers and the latest development has been his involvement in Northern policy -- he attended the meeting between Government Ministers and the SDLP recently. 0 Donoghue sees considerable scope for North/South co-operation in the whole economic sphere and he has the political muscle and determination to be as successful as Lemass, though the circumstances are less propitious.

The other area where Lynch sees scope for progress on Northern policy relates to reform in the South. Three years ago in a speech in Tralee he supported the concept of integrated education but later backed off the idea following an admonition from Cardinal Conway. However since his return to Government he has gone out of his way to promote the integrated education idea and largely through his influence the Dalkey and Marley Grange multiidenominational school projects have been given the go-ahead, in spite of internal opposition within the Departtment of Education and very luke-warm support for the projects from the Minister for Education, John Wilson.

He has also privately indicated that the laws on the sale of contraceptives will be amended within a year and that the .responsihility for this issue be taken from the criminal files of the Departtment of Justice to the Department of Health where they properly belong.

Because of his huge electoral mandate and his enormous popular appeal, Lynch is one of the few politicians in the country who can confidently "grasp nettles" (to employ a "Lynch-speak") such as these and not get stung by ecclesiastical wrath.

Irish officials have learnt to treat British Labour leaders with reserve and this certainly extends to Jim Callaghan. Many believe that he bears a large personal responsibility for the Northern Ireland situation because of what is regarded as his cynical and uncourageous exploitation of the issue when he was Home Secretary in 1969. Nor does it go unremembered that his book on the' North, "A House Divided" reveals a disquieting shallowness in his apprecciation of the problem.

Contrary to all historical precedents, the Tories have proved Ireland's best friends on the Northern issue, not Labour. The current courtship of the unionists at Westminster, fits well into this pattern. There is surprisingly little apprehension in the Irish Government at the prospect of Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister, for in meetings with Irish officials she has seemed resolute on the power-sharing issue and sceptical of unionists in general. Her main adviser on the North is surprisingly not Aire Neave, the official spokesman, but a young MP, Michael Mates, who has made several visits to Belfast.

The visit to Rome to see Pope Paul could well be the trickiest of the tour, that is if the Pontiff is well briefed on the Taoiseach's legislative intentions.

It is illusory to expect any radical shift in British policy or any new initiative, on the North. In so far as the British Government can be said to have any policy on Northern Ireland it is to slog it' out with the Provos and hope that in time both communities will be so sickened by violence and inconvennienced by the security arrangements they will force their respective paraamilitaries to desist.

The policy is showing some signs of success in that the statistics of violence have shown a marked decline and the rate of arrests and captures of arms and explosives has been impressive.

How long this "progress" will be maintained however is another matter as indications build up that the Proovisionals are preparing for another onslaught in England.

Parliamentary considerations also prohibit any shift in policy, for the Callaghan Government appears deterrmined 'to do nothing to unsettle the Westminster unionists and endanger its Parliamentary majority. There is now talk of Labour' hanging on until March 1979 .and in that event the soonest one could reasonably expect any real breakkthrough in British policy would be the end of that year or possibly into 1980.

But Jack Lynch has a long time to wait.