Simple Sile Helps Honest Jack
How for the first time in four years, Sile de Valera has given Jack Lynch carte blanche on Northern policy.
Leaving the Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party talk-in last July, a Minister closely identified with Jack Lynch said, "Well, if this is the calibre of the dissident opposition on the backbenches, we have nothing to fear"
Throughout that day-long soul searching of party policy, tactics and leadership, not a single concrete proposal was made by even one deputy or senator - the only suggestion was made finally by Jack Lynch when he proposed a series of devices, to improve liaison between the Government and the back-benchers. Certainly there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction present, but no one was outspoken at that meeting as many are in private. It is this spinelessness that keeps Jack Lynch in office for as long as he wishes and allows him to run the government and change policy, in as many ways as he wishes.
As so it was at the Parliamentary Party meeting on Friday, September 28, which was dominated by the Sile de Valera Fermoy speech, of September 9. Four deputies, John Callinan, Mark Killalea, Joe Walsh and Charlie McGreevy, Sean Keegan and Vincent Brady had been quoted as supporting her interpretation of Fianna Fail policy on the North. Not one of them supported her at the Parliamentary Party meeting.
Sile de Valera has been known not to be enthusiastic about Mr. Lynch's leadership of Fianna Fail. This dates partly to the recent European elections during which Lynch made it known within the party, that he would prefer Ruairi Brugha to be elected, in preference to Ms de Valera. Actually, Ms de Valera had been agitated by the direction which Fianna Fail had been taking for some months prior to then. Like other Fianna Fail deputies she had begun to hear rumours of "position papers", emanating from the study group on Northern policy, which Jack Lynch set up after the 1978 Ard Fheis. One of these was on an independent Northern Ireland and was merely speculative, or so its authors claim.
In any event, Ms de Valera asked to be nominated to this group earlier this year and fairly soon after her co-option, she let it be known that she wanted a reversion to her grandfather's orthodox line on the North. The group chairman, Jim Leonard, invited her and other deputies who had expressed alarm about the rumours to submit their proposals. Neither Ms de Valera, nor any of the others, accepted this invitation.
At the July Parliamentary Party meeting Ms de Valera remained mute, at least on Northern policy, as she has done since entering the Dail. Thus her statement to the press following her Fermoy speech, that she had let the Parliamentary Party know her views on Northern policy, was simply untrue. The September 28 Parliamentary Party meeting was an unpleasant experience for the young deputy. It began at 11.45 a.m. and, by agreement, she opened the debate and spoke for half an hour, stating how she was merely reiterating the 1975 Fianna Fail policy statement. She was followed immediately by Martin 0 Donoghue who pointed out that the insistence on the ultimate aim, now would jeopardise the establishment of a partnership government in the North, which couldn't possibly come into being, if there was a precondition on agreementt to unity.
Des O'Malley spoke next and there was then a luncheon adjournment, after which Ms de Valera spoke again, saying that she accepted the need for interim settlements, provided they were stated to be in the context of ultimate unity. Several more speakers got in to ask her a series of questions and point out again that there could be no interim settlement with this pre-condition. Nobody in the entire Parliamentary Party got up to support her publicly. John Callinan, Tom Meaney, Padraigh Flynn and Senators Joe Dowling and Flor Crowley made waffling noises of sympathy for her difficulty and asked that there be no witch-hunt etc. Others, notably Paddy Power, Albert Reynolds, Joe Fox and Nial Andrews, along with Michael O'Kennedy, John Wilson, George Colley and Brian Lenihan, spoke strongly against her.
Finally towards the end of the evening, prior to 6 p.m., she agreed she had mistaken the party policy. She said she thought many more believed what she had said and she very reluctantly agreed to the terms of the final statement, which came from the meeting. This said that she retracted expressed or implied criticisms of Jack Lynch's enunciation, of the party's Northern policy.Her dismissal of the statement by insisting afterwards to reporters that she was very happy indeed with the outcome of the meeting, in that the terms of the 1975 policy statement, had been re-endorsed was again not quite the full picture.
The irony is that, of course there are basic contradictions in Fianna Fail policy on Northern Ireland which must surely surface again in the near future when the party's policy committee on the issue, gets around to producing a report at least one year later than they were expected to come up with something. The contradiction was exposed in 1975 when a debate went on within the party, on whether the terms of Mr. Lynch's statement in the Garden of Remembrance, should prevail as party policy, or whether it should go further and demand a British declaration of intent to withdraw.
The Garden of Remembrance speech delivered on July 11, 1971 said, "It would take nothing away from the honour of Britain, or the rights of the majority in the North, if the British government were to declare their interest in encouraging the unity of Ireland, by agreement, in independence and in a harmonious relationship between the two islands".
The rift within the party on the issue became public when Michael O'Kennedy, in an unscripted part of a speech to a Cork Fianna Fail function said that, a British declaration of intention to withdraw was, "an essential element of an overall package, to solve the Northern Ireland problem".
He followed this up in an RTE radio interview on Monday, October 13, when he said: "a vacuum exists in public opinion and it makes it all the more imperative for positive proposals to be put forward, to solve the problems (of the North). A declaration of intent to withdraw is an essential element of an overall package". It was clear at the time that O'Kennedy was merely responding to growing opinion within the party, to move towards a more republican position on the North, than had been adopted in Government. A number of Fianna Fail TDs and Senators had signed a letter in May 1974, calling on the British Government to declare its intent to withdraw. However this move was being strongly resisted by the Lynch faction within the party, most notably by Ruairi Brugha, who was Fianna Fail spokesman on the North at the time. Brugha was appointed to this position early on in 1975, much to O'Kennedy's chagrin. O 'Kennedy had been spokesman on the North up to then, along with his spokesmanship on Foreign Affairs generally.
In a radio interview on September 9, 1975, Brugha, speaking as frontbench spokesman, was asked if he favoured a British declaration of intent to withdraw. He said, "It is up to the British, but I would see a declaration like that, as even further overheating the atmosphere". O'Kennedy and Brugha drew up rival papers as draft policy statements. These were discussed by a policy committee and eventually O'Kennedy's line was adopted by the Parliamentary Party, on October 29, 1975. It was an attempted compromise between the two positions but the fact that a declaration of intent (actually, implementation), was inserted at all, was clear that O'Kennedy and the republican cohorts within the Parliamentary Party had won the day.
It was Lynch's lowest ebb as leader of Fianna Fail. There was a lot of speculation before that meeting that if the decision went against him, he would resign. But at a press conference to launch the new statement, he said that the inclusion of a demand on a declaration of intent was simply an "evolution". He called it "a natural sequitor", and explained its publication then by reference to the changed circumstances, with the conclusion of the convention's discussions in Belfast. The terms of the statement were: 'Fianna Fail calls on the British Government to encourage the unity of Ireland by agreement, in independence and in a harmonious relationship between the two islands and to this end, to declare Britain's commitment to implement an ordered withdrawal from her involvement, in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland".
Predictably, Brian Faulkner and William Craig leapt in to condemn the statement but, surprisingly (?), so too did Gerry Fitt.
Lynch recovered quickly. Just four lays later he had adopted a modification of the policy, which he has pursued ever since. Basically, this involves accepting the Garden of Remembrance part of the statement, but not the part incorporating the declaration of intent. He has now gone so far as to acknowledge openly, that this is in fact what the situation is - the 1975 policy statement is inoperative, the Garden of Remembrance speech is the relevant statement. The fact that Mr. Lynch may so brazenly defy party policy may be a tribute to his political skills, but it does leave him vulnerable to dissent from within his party and that vulnerability could be exposed when the party gets around to considering the conclusions, of the Northern policy committee's deliberations.
As it happens, it seems that Ms de Valera's outburst has strengthened his position. It was an ill-conceived and unsophisticated attack, which Jack Lynch finds no difficulty in dismissing. Meanwhile he has, temporarily at least, manoeuvred the party into giving him virtual carte blanche on Northern policy, something he has wanted since his current Foreign Minister and now most loyal mouthpiece, successfully orchestrated the coup against him four years ago.