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It’s Official: Irish Government Sought to Foment 1969 Split August 31, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Irish History, Irish Left Online Document Archive (Remembering 1969), The North, Workers' Party.

Co-author of The Lost Revolution Scott Millar has a piece in today’s Irish Examiner which reveals that the Department of Justice sought to foment a split in the Republican Movement in 1969. I think the memo was also published in the recent History Ireland, but don’t have my copy to hand to check this. From the memo:

In different parts of the country units of the IRA (and Sinn Féin) are uneasy about the new left-wing policy of their leadership and about the violent methods that are being adopted in the destruction of private property.
Their uneasiness needs to be brought to the surface in some way with a consequent fragmentation of the organisation. It is suggested by the Department of Justice that the Government should promote an active political campaign in that regard.


1. Dr. X - August 31, 2009

Meanwhile, today’s Irish Times is bigging up a notional plan for the Free State army to invade the Six Counties under a headline about ‘Irish Aggressors’.



WorldbyStorm - August 31, 2009

I’ll have more on that tomorrow morning.


2. „Offizielle Bestätigung“ zur Involvierung der irischen Regierung in die IRA-Spaltung 1969/70 « Entdinglichung - August 31, 2009

[…] Verfasst von entdinglichung am 31. August 2009 Quelle, The Irish Examiner, gefunden dank Cedar Lounge Revolution: […]


3. EWI - August 31, 2009

Meanwhile, today’s Irish Times is bigging up a notional plan for the Free State army to invade the Six Counties under a headline about ‘Irish Aggressors’.

From their viewpoint, perhaps to be expected.

I’ve always suspected that the IT editor’s desk has a folded Union Jack in the drawer, awaiting the day (apart from ‘white nigger’ Douglas Gageby, of course).


4. drithleog - August 31, 2009

so, two myths busted already – one that the “I Ran Away” slogans in Belfast story was a total invention, two the truth is now out – the Fianna Fáil government of Jack Lynch DID seek to split the IRA and gave birth to the Provos.


5. Joe - August 31, 2009

The FF govt did seek to split the IRA but is the truth/reality that it was going to split anyway?
The IT article is based on a Defence Forces document drawn up in 69. The IT man (ex Defence Forces) basically says that the Republic’s Defence Forces did not have the capability to launch even a limited invasion. We all are very lucky that it never got beyond a hastily drafted plan imho. If only the fascists’ plan for a national army of 100,000 men (from another thread) had been implemented…


WorldbyStorm - August 31, 2009

On the first point, I’d say yes, they were. You can see the tensions in the UIs during the period.

Secondly, the IT man is wrong in his interpretation, as EWI notes.


6. EWI - August 31, 2009

Co-author of The Lost Revolution Scott Millar has a piece in today’s Irish Examiner which reveals that the Department of Justice sought to foment a split in the Republican Movement in 1969.

Was this just one of those ‘known’ things that were just officially ‘unknown’ up until now? I remember reading about this years ago (not the specific memo, but that Irlgov had been trying to ring this about. Didn’t it come out in connection with the Arms Trial?).


7. EWI - August 31, 2009

We all are very lucky that it never got beyond a hastily drafted plan imho. If only the fascists’ plan for a national army of 100,000 men (from another thread) had been implemented…

Assuming you’re serious (and I don’t think you are) – a rapid expansion from c.13,000 (the level that the PDF hovered around up until the late Nineties) to 100,000 means 87,000 raw concripts (and ask Napoleon how that kind of expansion overnight goes).

So, ok, maybe 67,000 raw recruits, given the existing reservists with some preparadness for military life. But you still need to train, clothe, house, feed and arm those extra bodies, and exercise them them together enough to weed out unfit leaders, promote the promising ones, and turn the whole lot into cohesive, disciplined units which won’t start falling apart a few days after they leave their barracks and go on operations.

All this against a British Army which had a surplus of troops from their ongoing withdrawal from other colonies, and an armed, militant Unionist population which had strong eliminationist tendencies towards their Catholic neighbours. And an Irish Army which gets there an hour too late may as well not have crossed over the Border in the first place.


8. splinteredsunrise - August 31, 2009

There was one side of the argument that was gone over many years ago in the Official pamphlet Fianna Fail and the IRA, which is worth a look but is deeply partisan and tendentious.

The logic of how the movement was developing all pointed towards a split – events in the North accelerated that but had the North not exploded that would only have postponed things for a couple of years.

On the arms thing, most of the principals are now dead and I doubt we’ll ever get the whole story. The version I heard from Boland was that it was known in government that certain things were being done to relieve the North, but nobody spoke about the details and (in Boland’s view) Lynch specifically didn’t want to know the details, from the point of view of plausible deniability.

Which would mean the people directly involved with the arms would have had a lot of discretion, but it would seem only logical they would try to give a helping hand to what looked like the more traditional and less communist faction. I’ve still never been convinced, though, that the Provos were created by the FF government, as opposed to elements in FF giving them a helping hand.


WorldbyStorm - August 31, 2009

Broadly I’d agree. I doubt Jack Lynch seriously planned the split in SF or wanted PIRA to spring into being, which is not to say some didn’t see an advantage in that sort of development, although I can’t help but feel they’d have expected at best/worst a sort of Border Campaign style IRA redux. Something that could be rolled up relatively easily if push came to shove.

FF and IRA is in the Archive here…


9. Terry Quinn - August 31, 2009

From what I can see the book doesn’t claim that FF created the Provos. The extract in the Examiner says that someone form the Goulding wing got the guns.


10. Garibaldy - August 31, 2009

The split was coming anyway. However, the fact that the Irish government can be shown to have sought to split the IRA – as opposed to (as EWI points out) that we knew this but we couldn’t prove it – does shed light on the emergence of the Provos, and certainly suggests that the accusations of FF involvement from the top right down cannot simply be dismissed as conspiracy theory.


11. Terry Quinn - August 31, 2009

If Haughey wanted to split the IRA then why did he arrange for guns to go to the Goulding faction?


12. WorldbyStorm - August 31, 2009

That’s a thought that raises issues TQ. A further question is, would it have served SF, latterly OSF, to have had within it a large group who simply wouldn’t accept the party line. The idea that they’d have drifted away into impotence doesn’t strike me as likely at all, so how in particular would that have played out? A smaller less difficult split a year or two later? And how, realistically, would SF have managed the expectations for an armed campaign? I can’t see it as being other than a lower level one than the Provo’s but in a higher gear than the Officials, and how would the dynamic of the conflict not have led to a greater engagement with more people within it who were willing to see that greater engagement? All very messy.


13. Garibaldy - August 31, 2009

I think that there is a conflation of Haughey and FF in your question that I am not making. I think more than him was involved. It’s also clear that the faultlines within the republican movement were not clearly drawn, or that the people involved had bad information – otherwise why approach Francie Donnelly? There’s also the fact that they felt a need to get help north. We also know that there were efforts to arm Provisional elements, and that they were provided with money as well as Goulding. Perhaps both horses were being backed to some extent, at least temporarily.

Any or all of these factors could be involved.


splinteredsunrise - September 1, 2009

There was probably also a lot of regional variation. The late Johnny White’s circle in Derry still pop up every so often to give off about Capt Kelly’s role. But what happened up there would have been in Blaney’s bailiwick – Neil’s people had been active in election campaigns in Derry, and he was always extremely well informed about what went on there.

In Belfast, it’s certainly true that the faultlines weren’t clearly drawn. Retrospectively, there’s been a lot of focus on Adams waiting to see which way the wind was blowing, but apart from a few individuals it wouldn’t have been obvious who would go were. And with the republican movement in Belfast consisting of about half a dozen extended families at the time, my impression is that people went with their personal loyalties more than the sort of ideological divisions there were in the south.


14. steve white - September 1, 2009

‘violent’ methods on private ‘property’ ?


15. WorldbyStorm - September 1, 2009

Sit-ins, burnings, expropriations.. that sort of thing…


16. Dr. X - September 1, 2009



17. Terry Quinn - September 1, 2009

I tend to dismiss the ‘Haughey created the Provos’ line as sticky bullshit, at least the way I’ve always heard it trotted out from them. But I’ll withhold judgement until I read this book, which from the Examiner pieces seems to be telling a more complete story. I’m sure the split was a messier affair than people let on later.


18. Mark P - September 1, 2009

The book (at p.123) quotes from a second Department of Justice memorandum recommending to the cabinet that unease within the ranks of the IRA at the leftward turn of the organisation be exploited in order that:

“the result would be (as in the Republican Congress Movement) a split in the IRA organisation and the communist element would be discredited”.

This follow up memo was from June 1969.

It seems very clear from these documents that (a) the government was concerned at the leftward shift of the IRA, (b) it was aware that there were elements in the IRA who were unhappy about the shift and that (c) it wanted to exploit those tensions to achieve a split.

The issue that they don’t clear up is what precisely they did or did not do to bring about a split. I’m only that far into the book, so perhaps there is more to come.


19. Mark P - September 1, 2009

The same chapter of the book goes on to detail how attempts were made by the Irish government and FF people involved in getting arms and money to the IRA to use the promises of cash and arms to alter the political direction of the republican movement. ie Offers were explicitly tied to demands that the IRA would abandon social agitation in the South and restrict its operations to the North. Slightly later they were tied to demands for the removal of Goulding, Costello et al from the leadership.

At the same time, tensions were rising within the IRA, which the book portrays as being centred around a group of members who had dropped out of the IRA in disapproval of its left wing turn but had returned after the events of August (O’Connaill, Cahill etc), a few people who had been pissed off at the turn had stayed (MacStiofain) and a portion of the raw new recruits. The FF and army intelligence people in the South came into contact with these people and seem to have done their best to put as much of the cash and weaponry into their hands as they could, both directly and by sponsoring contacts in America.

This is interesting stuff and seems to support a somewhat toned down version of the Workers Party’s version of events. My impression from the book is that a split of some kind would almost certainly have happened anyway, but without outside encouragement, arms, money and the promise of more, the split may well have been a lot smaller and weaker than it was.


WorldbyStorm - September 1, 2009

My God, are we all reading this now? I’m a little further back than you, just got past the Border Campaign… should set up a book club… 🙂


20. The Lost Revolution: Some Brief Thoughts « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - September 1, 2009

[…] the major events in Irish history, and the history of the Irish left, in recent decades (I’ve already noted one of these issues, namely Fianna Fáil’s desire to split the IRA in 1969). The authors deserve a huge amount of […]


21. splinteredsunrise - September 1, 2009

I’ll be picking up my copy tomorrow if all goes according to plan. I don’t think though that it’s correct to view Joe Cahill as having problems with the left turn – Joe never really had any serious interest in political ideas beyond a basic militant republicanism. RSF people will still recall how Joe, after more than a decade of supporting federalism, suddenly declared that he’d never believed in it. O Conaill had dropped out of activism to go and do his teaching in Donegal IIRC, but he was a more multidimensional character than he’s often given credit for, and not necessarily opposed to socialism as long as it wasn’t Muscovite communism. I’m dubious as to how representative MacStiofain and his ilk were.

But yeah, I’ll look forward to reading the book. It should fill in some gaps.


22. The Lost Revolution Book « Garibaldy Blog - September 2, 2009

[…] the major events in Irish history, and the history of the Irish left, in recent decades (I’ve already noted one of these issues, namely Fianna Fáil’s desire to split the IRA in 1969). The authors deserve a huge amount of […]


23. kevin brannigan - September 3, 2009

Not sure if this link belongs here or in another discussion thread.

It’s BBC (I presume) footage from Derry in 1972 directly after the Official IRA have called a ceasefire. In it the reporter talk to locals who express their views on Sean MacStiofain and he also interviews McGuinness and John Hume.

The most intresting thing I found though was the shots of the graffitti on the walls in Derry at the time – ‘Better dead than Red – COMMIES OUT!’


24. Garibaldy - September 3, 2009

Thanks for that Kevin. The better red than dead thing is quoted in the book, though not the Commies Out part.


25. Terry Quinn - September 3, 2009

To be fair I don’t think the book says Joe Cahill dropped because of socialism. It just says he dropped out and then came back in 1969. I expected it to be a sticky whitewash, given some of the comments here! I have to say it isn’t.


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