Crisis in the cabinet
THE TUMULTUOUS EVENTS in Northern Ireland caused the most serious crisis in the Government since Jack Lynch became Taoiseach. Indeed on at least two occasions the Government was in danger of breaking up and that it did not do so was due more to the fortuitous turn of events than anYthing else.
On August 1, Dr. Hillery, the Minister for External Affairs, went to London for a "secret" meeting with Mr. Stewart, the British Foreign Secretary. The purpose of the meeting was to warn the British Government of the possible consequences of the August 12 Apprentice Boys march which Dr. Hillery felt would lead inevitably to serious disturbances.
Mr. Stewart expressed some irritation with the Irish Government's meddling in United Kingdom affairs and he said that Stormont and Westminster could handle the situation very well between them. Hillery mentioned that Ireland would take the matter to the United Nations if there was any outbreak of violence. Stewart was not impressed. The sending of Hillery to London to confer with Stewart acknowledged the jurisdiction of the British Government over Northern Ireland affairs-this was in contrast to the statements made later in the month by Mr. Lynch's and Dr. Hillery s own speeches at the United Nations. It also contrasted rather sharply with the expressed attitudes of Kevin Boland and Neil Blaney on partition which precluded, if taken to their logical conclusion, any recognition of the British Government's jurisdiction in the " Six Counties."
"Something must be done. When the trouble broke out on August 12 in Derry the Cabinet, whose members were dispersed throughout the country, hastily assembled on the morning of Wednesday, August 13. It remained in session for the entire day. The reaction to the events on the previous day and night in Derry, in which the R.U.C. used tear-gas on the Bogsiders and there were 112 casualties, was emotive. There was unanimity that" the situation could not be allowed to continue" and that" something must be done," but specifically what was not very clear. Early on it was agreed that the army should be moved up to the border in force-if such a term can be m.ed in the context of the Irish army. And during the day an order was given to the army headquarters to that effect. It was only later in the day that the guise of fieldhospitals was thought of.
While no concrete decision was made to invade Northern Ireland, it was generally assumed that a decision to invade would be made if the Derry crisis worsened. The reasons for the decision to send up troops to the border were firstly to assuage republican sentiment in the country, and especially within the Fianna Fail Party itself and secondly, to let" our people" in the North know that the Government of the Republic was willing to help.
There was overwhelming support in the Cabinet for this decision. Blaney and Boland, of course, were delighted that at last something was being donebut, less predictably, the move had the influential support of Charles Haughey and also of Brian Lenihan and the Taoiseach. It seems Haughey calculated that unless the Government acted strongly" irresponsible groups" in the Republic, i.e. the I.R A., might attract substantial public support and take precipitous independent action. There was also a rather woolly hope that by escalating the situation, the British Government would be forced to intervene directly, as it eventually did.
Others in the Cabinet were less sure. Dr. Hillery was seriously concerned that any action of the Republic's Government might only further exacerbate the situation and lead to loss of life, especially in Belfast, which was smouldering at the time. In this view Dr. Hillery was supported by Gcorge Colley. Howevcr, the Cabinct was in no mood to rationalise the possiblc consequence of its actions-the temper was hot and impetuous.
It was decided that the Taoiseach should make an address to the nation on radio and television that night and the outline of the speech was discussed and agrced on by the Cabinet.
The Government meeting ended some time after six o'clock and immediately an official in the Taoiseach's department began a draft of Mr. Lynch's statemcnt based on the notes of the Cabinet meeting. The draft was completed by 7.30 p.m.a copy was sent to R.T.E. to be typed on to the teleprompter and at 8.0 p.m. the Taoiseach recorded his, by now, historic address to the nation. The speech suffered from the short time available in which to compose it and the rather confused Cabinet directives given to the composer.
However, the Cabinet's tentative decision to invade came through quite unequivocally; ". . . it is clear now that the present situation cannot be allowed to continue" and". . . it is clear also that the Irish Government can no longer stand by and watch innocent people injured and perhaps worse. "
In the first half of the statement the reason for concern and involvement in Northern Ireland affairs would appear to be humanitarian, but later on this becomes confused with the partition issue. The employment of British troops is deemed unacceptable for reasons other that their pacifying capabilities. Despite this refusal to contemplete the usc of British troops to restore law and order, however, the statement then goes on in an extraordinary double-think manner to again recognise the jurisdiction of the British Government over Northern Ireland affairs by requesting it to apply to the U.N. for the urgent dispatch of a peacekeeping force. The logic of the refusal to accept the intervention of British troops would surely have been to apply directly to the U.N. for a peace-keeping force?
This confusion was the product of the Cabinet's division. Those who were concerned with the purely humanitarian question saw that the situation demanded British intervention-while the Republican element couldn't abide with the idea of British troops on Irish soil.
The excuse to send up the army to the Border was pathetic-but it worked. All in all, the immediate reaction to the Taoiseach's address was one of overwhelming approval in the Republic. All ~he newspapers commended it and the opposition parties and more particularly the I.R.A. wcre checkmated by it. For at least twenty-four hours Lynch was a national hero of Dev-size proportions.
On the following day, Thursday, the Cabinet again met in the morning and the afternoon while the troops continued to mass on the border. "Field hospitals" werre set up at Fort Dunnee (on Lough Swilly), Rockwell House (Letterkenny), Cavan military Barracks, Castleblayney, and Dundalk. An army spokesman denied that there was a massive call-up or mobilisation. But the fact was that the Department of Defence and the Army Head Quarters were in a tizzy trying to organise sufficient forces and equipment for invasion.
The Chief of Staff, General Sean Mac Eoin, attended the Cabinet mecting and further discussion was given to the possibility of invading, but again no concrete decision was reached. It was agreed, however, that if there was to be an invasion, which would have certainly occurred in the event of a blood bath in Derry or any of the border towns, troops would be sent in as soon as possible to Derry, Strabane and Newry. One of the inhibiting factors in a decision to invade was the run-down state of the army which was totally unequipped to deal with the only possible military contingency that could arise, i.e. intervention in Northern Ireland.
On that evening British troops were sent into Derry, Dr. Hillery was dispatched to London to see Jim Callaghan and serious violence broke out in Belfast where four people were killed. The Government met again for a full day's session on Friday. Tension ran high in the light of the previous night's violence in Belfast. A decision was taken in the morning to call up the army reservists. The reason for this remains totally obscure even to some Cabinet ministers; the main one would appear to have been to mollify Kevin Boland.
Boland storms out to mobilise
On the intervention of the British troops in Derry-and the imminence of their intervention in Belfast-many of the Cabinet ministers, including Haughey and Lenihan, who previously had considered seriously the possibility of invasion now ruled it out of the question. Blaney and Boland thought otherwise and pressed for immediate intervention throughout the North, including Belfast. Blaney was eventually convinced of the lunacy of this view-but Boland would not be deterred. On realising that he wasn't going to get his way he stormed out of the Cabinet meeting, nearly taking the door off its hinges in his wake. His movements over the next twentyfour hours are difficult to track down. However, he dismissed his ministerial car and driver and was chauffered around by a friend. It appears he decided to mobilise a private army of his own, for he telephoned a number of acquaintances and told them to hold themselves in readiness for an invasion of the North and that he would supply the guns.
At some stage during the day he paid a visit to the Park-presumably for the pontifical blessing before setting out on his crusade-and it is perhaps there that he was dissuaded from his plans.
Meanwhile in London, Dr. Hillery remained unaware of what was happening until lunchtime when he was telephoned by Lynch to be told of the decision to call up the army reservists. Hillery who was to see Chalfont in the afternoon-Callaghan and Stewart being away on holidays-enquired as to the reason for the decision but could get no satisfactory reply from Lynch. The doctor's normally unflappable temperament was flapped-and this was conveyed to Lynch.
By this time Hillery had very nearly had enough. He was perhaps the only one in the Cabinet, with the possible exception of Colley, who saw the danger of exacerbating the situation in the North by any inflammatory statements from the Irish Government. He had constantly referred at Cabinet meetings to the 400,000 hostages in Northern Ireland whose lives could be endangered by any aggressive noises from the South. He was infuriated by the decision to call up the army reservists which he felt would have precisely the exacerbating effect he feared. The thought of resignation crossed his mind, but on reflection he concluded that he could serve the humanitarian cause best by continuing to exert his influence on the Cabinet.
In the afternoon he met Chalfont; the meeting was unproductive and indeed coldly hostile. Afterwards he met the press and T.V. reporters who grilled him on the call up of the army reservists and Lynch's broadcastboth of which he himself disagreed with. However, he " carried the can " manfully. In the course of a T.V. interview he said that Irish troops would not intervene unilaterally-this comment evoked some criticism from a number of his colleagues on his return.
On Saturday, August 16, Dr. Hillery flew to the United Nations in New York to request a special meeting of the Security Council to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland.
Ireland v. the U.N.
Since the late fifties, Ireland has enjoyed a prestige at the United Nations quite underestimated by most people at home. At that time due mainly to the efforts of Conor Cruise O'Brien and the then Irish Ambassador to the United Nations-Freddie Boland -Ireland virtually led the world organisation. It took bold initiatives on peace-keeping, disarmament and, for a brief spell, on recognition of Red China. Because of this diplomatic activity, Ireland was vitally involved in the internal politics of the U.N. and played a significant role in the backroom manoeuvres of both the General Assembly and, for one year, the Security Council.
Since the retirement of both Freddie Boland and Conor Cruise O'Brien, Ireland's position at the U.N. has sagged-fewer and fewer initiatives have been taken and the bold independent policies of the Boland-O'Brien era have largely been abandoned.
However, some of the old reputation still survives-disproportionate to the country's size and current desserts. It was to this environment that Dr. Hillery went for the first time as Minister for External affairs. He was completely unaccustomed to the rather peculiar customs of the U.N. and relied heavily on his resident ambassador, Cornelius Cremin, who had replaced Boland, and the secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Hugh McCann.
The issue which Ireland was presenting to the Security Council posed problems for the Council's members. The majority were sympathetic to Ireland and were concerned that it should not be humiliated. Also as practical politicians they appreciated the political pressures on Hillery to utilise the services of the U.N. for domestic political consumption.
The Finnish Ambassador, Mr. Max Jakobson took the initiative and during the few days prior to the Security Council meeting he canvassed the other members of the Security Council to agree to a formula whereby Ireland could present its case, not have to suffer an adverse vote but, at the same time, avoid the dangerous precedent of permitting the internal affairs of a member state to be the proper subject of a U.N. debate. There was no opposition to this fonnula except from the British delegate, Lord Caradon, who was eventually persuaded to concede by a member of the U.S. delegation. It was only after all these soundings had been taken by the Finnish ambassador that the Irish delegation was informed of the agreement and it was relieved to go along with it.
On the afternoon of August 21, the Security Council met and Dr. Hillery was permitted to address the meeting. His speech, which had been outlined by the Government in Dublin with whom Hillery remained in constant touch (there were hilarious stories circulating among the Irish contingent at the U.N. of him on the phone at the same time to both Lynch and Haughey -each offering contradictory advice-) was drafted by Cremin and two other members of the delegation, Paddy Power and Declan Connolly.
Hillery s Speech
The speech was confused, reflecting the two prevailing strands of opinion within the Cabinet. On the one hand, Dr. Hillery argued for the inscription of the Northern Ireland issue on the Security Council agenda as the six counties were not validly part of the United Kingdom and, on the other, that the issue should be discussed in the same manner as apartheid in South Africa is regularly' discussed at the U.N. as a human rights issue. Indeed throughout the speech the partition issue and the civil rights question are unhappily intermingled.
Dr. Hillery's own view was that the civil rights issue also should be stressed but strong pressure from the republican element in the Cabinet and within his own party demanded the constant stressing of the partition question. Apart from these contradictions the speech was a very clever one-using former statements of the British delegation and of Lord Caradon to support its case.
Lord Caradon replied in a restrained manner to Dr. Hilery's speech but refused to entertain the idea of having tbe item inscribed on the agenda. The Soviet delegate Mr. Aleksei Zokhanof, supported the Irish case and then the discussion was adjourned unanimously on the suggestion of the Zambia representative, Mr. Lishournva Mauka. It all went off as planned. There was never any question of the matter going to a vote and if it had it is difficult to see how anybody would have voted for the inscription of the item. Even the Soviet Union could not have voted for the Irish case-for in doing so it left the way open for U.N. discussion on the internal affairs of its own countrywhich could be very embarrassing. The Soviet delegation spoke in favour of the Irish case in the knowledge that an agreement had been made not to take a vote.
While Hillery was at the U.N. and indeed since the crisis first erupted there had been feverishly diplomatic activity in the Irish missions all over the world. One major problem was that all telephone calls to Europeindeed beyond-had to be routed through London which was embarrassing. Resort was had to the first language but generally unsuccessfully. Many of the telegraphic messages were sent in code and in those embassies where the code-book could be found many ambassadors' wives were pressed into tedious de-coding operations.
Two days after Dr. Hillery's U.N. speech the Government issued a statement on the Wilson/Chichester-Clark " Declaration" of the previous Tuesday. The statement was strongly critical of the inadequacy of the reform plans announced in the "Declaration". Very clearly the statement was motivated by a concern for civil rights and less pre-occupied with the partition issue-though it was mentioned. This reflected a change of attitude by the Government which had been coming about since the British troops entered Belfast. Haughey and Lenihan had abandoned Boland and Blaney on the hawk limb and had to swing around in favour of doing a deal with Britain whereby civil rights in Northern Ireland would be guaranteed. This was the theme of the Taoiseach's speech later in Tralee. By this time the Cabinet crisis was over. Boland was isolated on his own-abandoned in his madness even by Blaney-and the split between Hillery and Lynch had been healed by the change of mind.
Though Lynch's position publically was much enhanced by his famous hard-line speech of August 13-his position within the Cabinet is much weakened. He was confused and baffled in the height of the crisis and virtually abdicated leadership to Haughey. The latter's position in the Government strengthens it seems daily. He is by far the most capable and by now the most respected member of it. The Cabinet's reliance on him in time of crisis is remarkable in view of many of its members' deep hostility to him a few years ago. Even Colley now acknowledges his leadership.
Hillery has also emerged as quite a force-and it is now believed that were the leadership issue to arise again in the near future-he would be in a very strong position despite Haughey's current dominance. Hillery is deceptively quiet and manages to hide a penetrating intellect and deep-rooted determination. We could re-acquire a foreign policy with him in I veagh House.
Lenihan is likely to become the chief " machinator" in the Cabinet. His demotion from education has rankled him and his new job as Minister for Transport moreover, simply doesn't adequately engage his many capabilities. He will therefore have a lot of time to "play politics" which won't be to
Lynch's advantage. The latter would be well advised to promote him to a time-consuming post e.g. agriculturewhen the next cabinet re-shuffie occurs. In a way this crisis represents the last death-throe of the republican element within the Fianna Fail party. The only remaining republicans, Blaney and Boland, wanted to make the ultimate' gesture-perhaps more out of a desperate assertion of their republicanism than a conviction that what they advocated was right. The mohaired suit bourgeois element which Lemass introduced in the early sixties has now total control of the party-but through a brilliant piece of political shadowboxing has deceived the electorate into believing otherwise.
Special 9ranch in league with R.U.C.
One final observation on the North. Members of the Government are now asserting that they were in touch with what was happening in the north through fifty special branch men stationed there. The fact is that whereas there were fifty special branch men in the north they were helping the R.U.C. to identify I.R.A. men.
Who runs this country anyway!