Podcast: Brian Hanley on the Arms Crisis of 1970

An IRA arms shipment seized in the 1980s. The prospect of Irish government ministers organising such as shipment in 1970 triggered a crisis in southern Irish politics.

Cathal Brennan and John Dorney interview Brian Hanley on the Arms Crisis of 1970. First Broadcast on the Irish History Show.

In 1968, Northern Ireland began to see disturbances arising out the Civil Rights agitation there.

In August 1969 this developed into widespread and bloody rioting between Catholics, the Northern state forces and loyalists. Fears were widespread that a massacre of Catholics nationalists was imminent.

Against this background, the Irish government led by Taoiseach Jack Lynch, moved Irish Army units to the border and made a famous speech stating that they ‘could not stand idly by’.

Afterwards, his government appears to have authorised arms to be funneled into the north to Catholic self-defence committees. However, when this was made public, when the Garda opposed a shipment of arms coming into Dublin airport, and when senior civil servant Peter Berry, advised the leader of the opposition, Liam Cosgrave of what was occurring, Lynch denied knowledge of the affair.

Two ministers, Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney were sacked and they, as well as an Irish Army captain James Kelly were put on trial for illegally importing arms. But their first trial collapsed, charges against Blaney were dropped and all four remaining defendants (who included northern republican John Kelly and Belgian arms dealer Albert Luykx) were acquitted in a second trial in late 1970.

The incident gave rise to claims that the Irish government had surreptitiously armed the nascent Provisional IRA and helped to kick start the Northern Ireland conflict, or  ‘Troubles’.

A good summary of the arms crisis by Stephen Kelly is available here.

See also our review of Brian’s book, The Impact of the Troubles on the Republic of Ireland 1968-1979, A Boiling Volcano?

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