The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

How Urgent the Need?

John Kelly speaking, transcription from an interview with Liam Clarke

From an interview with Liam Clarke • 17 August 2005

JOHN KELLY, 17 Aug 2005

(Given on the basis that it would only be published after Charlie Haughey's death.)

I was captured in the mountains of Pomeroy where I was in a flying column in 56. The snow was on the ground.

We had traveled all night and we arrived at this barn in the middle of a mountain. We fell down exhausted and we woke up surrounded by RUC Special Branch and army. I was charged with possession of weapons. We had just parted from JB O'Hagan. The campaign had just started and I spent the rest of it in jail. I got out when there was an amnesty at the end. Most of the convicted prisoners were from the Free State not the six counties. We were on hunger strike and all that.

People talk about the split but on reflection. I got out of jail in 1964 and I was involved in the civil rights movement in a protest way and I wasn't involved in the politics of the IRA. I was getting married and trying to get a job but still involved [in the IRA]. I knew there were differences of theological approach in terms of whether they should go in the old socialist republic line or stick to the O Bradaigh pioneer pin line.

Charlie Haughey was very careful through the whole thing. The man who was at the centre of the arms importations was Neil Blaney. He was the reference point at all times. We deferred to him at all times.

I only met Charlie Haughey twice at that time, at the beginning when we met other members of the cabinet in delegations that went down with PJ McGrory [the solicitor], Paddy Devlin, Tom Conaty [a Catholic businessman and community activist] and people like that. We met Charlie Haughey on that occasion. We were meeting him as Citizen's Defense.

Initially our contacts were with the Irish government as we understood it. We met Brian Lenihan and Paddy Hillary, Jack Lynch and Jim Gibbons  [Defence Minister] -   there were others.

The meetings were in Dail Eireann. The burden of the whole thing was what could they do to help the northern situation? What were we asking them to do? What were the requirements, how urgent was the need?

Central to the whole thing was the Defence of the nationalist community, the Catholic community. I said, "there is no need for blankets or feeding bottles. We need arms to defend the people." They accepted all that. It was open, transparent and above board, there was no subterfuge, no winking and nodding and no cute hoorism. It was straight forward, they understood the need and to us they were willing to co-operate and supply those needs.

I don't think there was any member of the cabinet we did not meet at that early stage. We were strangers to politics but we looked to the south as our guarantor and we thought our salvation lay in Leinster House at the end of the day.

We had a very innocent approach to things, very open, a very naive approach. It was only subsequently that we knew a cabinet sub-committee had been appointed to deal with us [as opposed to the whole cabinet].

Money was never a factor. The main factor was the defense of nationalist communities and how was that going to be fulfilled? How were they going to full fill it and what role would they play in fulfilling it? We thought that they thought it best to provide the finance to procure weapons through [Captain] Jim Kelly [of Irish military intelligence who was subsequently charged in the arms trial], Neil Blaney and those who came on board later, Albert Lukyx and people like that.

The main thrust was whether they provided the soldiers to defend nationalist areas or they provided the weapons that IRA trained people could use.

It was a very chaotic time. In the IRA there were tensions going on between Goulding, MacStiofain, O Bradaigh and O Conaill. At this stage I wasn't involved in any of that. In fact I would have been reporting to Goulding and keeping Billy McMillan involved. [Cahal Goulding was the Chief of Staff of the IRA; Billy McMillan was the OC Belfast. The latter led the Officials when O Bradaigh, MacStiofain and Kelly broke away to form the Provos]. This was from 69 into 70.

The debate within the IRA was "where were the weapons, did they have the weapons" but nobody stopped long enough to argue that out because you were hurrying along all the time to try and provide weapons quickly and urgently.

This was throughout the nationalist community. I remember going down to a priest in St Patrick's parish in February of that year and he said to Philomena "you and your daughter had better get back to Maghera because John is needed here." There was that feeling right across the nationalist community, from professional classes right down to ordinary working class people who were anxious about this whole notion of defense. How was it going to be carried out? Where would we get the weapons from? It was natural to look to the south.

There was little room for debate amongst that group of people about where the republican movement was going. Of course there was a meeting in North Queen Street which Jimmy Steele and Adams and Billy McKee attended and a challenge was thrown down to Billy McMillan in Leeson Street [these are events in Belfast leading up to the IRA split]. The leadership [i.e. McMillan] in Belfast were reluctant to engage because of their own political philosophy; maybe they were right at the end of the day. Maybe at the end of the day things would have gone better if they had prevailed but at the time it was just how you could procure the weaponry.

In the midst of that Padraic Haughey [Charlie’s brother] personally delivered a consignment of weapons from London to Cahal Goulding. They came in on a plane. That happened in September of 1969. Those guns weren't supplied to the north. They certainly weren't supplied to volunteers in the north so I would say that Goulding sat on them.

These were brought into Dublin, on a commercial flight. Padraic went out to the airport and collected them in a van and delivered them to Cahal. There were two boxes of short arms. Maybe 20 or 50 weapons, something like that.

It seems surprising now but at that time there would have been a lot of sympathy even amongst the Gardai even amongst the Customs, the army and offialdom.

Padraic told me he gave the guns to Goulding and then we were wondering "where are they".

It wouldn't have mattered about Fianna Fail or Fine Gael or Labour, a split was still going to happen. The thing that exacerbated the split was what happened in 1969 but it was there from 1963 or 1964. The tensions already existed.

I suppose in a way 69 was an opportunistic time for what later became the Provisional IRA to make their move and do what they did. In many ways the Officials, Goulding and Garland, were on a hiding to nothing in terms of the whole emotive issue in relation to what was happening in nationalist areas, the fact that people on the ground blamed the leadership for the perceived failure to defend areas.

The annoying thing about it was that the people who complained the most were the people who wouldn't have had an IRA man about the door, who wouldn't have given him succor or wouldn't have supplied a car or wouldn't have supplied a dump. They were nationalists but they weren't there for us. They were Hibernian nationalists.

The formation of the Provisional movement came mostly from that kind of background, a sectarian background of people who didn't understand the true nature of republicanism and saw it as a fight between taigs and prods. As the so called war developed that became a more predominant feature of Provisionalism.

Goulding could have garnered more support but the knives were drawn since 1964 and the gap was unbridgeable, yet if 69 had not happened it would have petered out as a row within republicanism that there was nothing unusual about.

I have a lot of respect for Sean Garland [who joined the Officials in the split and later led the Workers Party]. He was a soldier, he wasn't afraid to put his own life on the line, he wasn't some sort of Trotskyite apparatchik, he was a solid guy but he was on a hiding to nothing because of the northern Ireland situation.

I knew Sean South; I was on training camps with him. He was in the mould of Pearse, very idealistic, good Catholic, that side of the republican movement. Sean Garland would have had the same idealism but would not have had the same religious fervor about republicanism as Sean South. [Sean South, aged 27, and Fergal O’Hanlon, 20, were killed in an IRA raid on Brookeborough police station in 1957. Garland, who also injured in the attack]

There had been those two sides of republicanism since the 1930s.

The first time I met Charlie Haughey was on that delegation of the Irish government. The second time I met him was when we were told the decision had been made by the government to go ahead with the project of supplying arms to northern nationalists. That would have been in early September of 1969. We met in Leinster House. Neil Blaney told us of the decision in the presence of Jim Kelly.

After that the only person we had contact with at governmental level was Neil Blaney. He was the driving force of that whole arms procurement mission on behalf of the Irish government.

There was arms training by the FCA for northern nationalists in Donegal and we were delighted about that. Eamon McCann put an end to it. Someone asked him if he would go on it and he put it in the papers so it had to be cancelled.

The first meeting I had with Padraic Haughey [Charlie Haughey’s brother], Jock as he was known, was through Neil Blaney who told us he had a contact in London who was prepared to supply arms. It turned out to be Markham Randall who was a British agent.

Padraic Haughey and I were dispatched to London to meet with this Captain Markham Randall who, we were told, was equipped to buy arms within 48 hours. Arrangements were set in place with the banks and whatever else had to be done.

When we went there the whole thing turned out to be a farce.

Why didn't the Brits take us? Eamon Smullen [another IRA man who later joined the Officials] had been done only a couple of weeks earlier in England in the same kind of entrapment where he met a guy with a briefcase who opened it and was talking and recording.

Markham Randall did the same, he opened the briefcase, and it was a surveillance device. The only way I copped it on was when we were leaving the place we were meeting him in It was an upstairs room in Oxford Street,  I think was a mini cab centre, and we were going down the stairs after waiting about four hours for Markham Randall to appear.

I sent Jock and your man [Randall] some way in front of me. As I was coming out after them I saw this woman coming walking along talking into her headscarf, saying "they are coming towards the cafe". I spotted her just fortuitously.

I went into the cafe and we were sitting down to have a conversation about these arms and your man had the brief case half opened. I said to Padraic "I want to see you for a minute."

I told him exactly what had happened. We came back to Markham Randall and said we were in a hurry to leave and we left. We were being pursued, there was no question about that, we could see them there tailing us along Oxford Street.

We finished up in the Irish club in Eaton Square that night and I was waiting. Padraic and I separated because we thought for sure that we were going to be taken and arrested but nothing happened. I figure that British Special Branch knew exactly who they were dealing with and that this was part of an Irish government escapade. Maybe they were trying to suss out how far this was going to go or maybe they were told to lay off it for a while.

When we were at the Irish Club who was there but Gerry Fitt [than a Republican Labour MP, later leader of the SDLP] and a guy from the Irish embassy, a Clare man with reddish hair, Con somebody.

We sat and talked about what had happened and they knew all about it. Gerry was aware of it from a meeting in his house with Jim Kelly, which was the first meeting we had with the Irish government. He asked for guns very histrionically. My brother Billy was there and so was Tom Conaty.

Markham Randall made contact again and I invited him to Dublin to meet us along with Jim Kelly in the Gresham hotel. We were going to assassinate him; that is why we arranged the meeting.

Jim Kelly didn't know anything till Markham Randall arrived and he said no to it.

Kelly was out in the airport watching for this plane. He never got off the plane but when Jim Kelly came back to the Gresham Markham Randall was there, he just turned up however he got into the country.

I told Jim Kelly what was going to happen, we were going to kill him [Randall], and Jim Kelly said "no, Jesus Christ, we can't have that". Jim Kelly had a conversation with Markham Randall and Markham Randall then got off side.

Markham Randall must have had balls of steel. He must have been told to pursue this; he may have thought we were just suspicious and that he could talk his way out of it.

That was the first contact I had with Padraic Haughey. Neil Blaney was the man was central to all that happened in this arms business. We met in Leinster House with Neil Blaney, there was no beating about the bush whatsoever, he was a man who would go on the arms mission with me for the Irish government.

The second meeting was when we were told that things had been finalised and the government had agreed and that they were going ahead with the project to procure arms. This was the outcome of all the meetings with Northern Ireland delegations.

After that I kept in contact with Padraic and he was informed of what was going on. We formed a friendship. He as a quantity surveyor, he was a man who would have taken chances business wise; he would try one thing and if it didn't work he would try another. He never leaned on his brother; he made his own way in life. He ended up a taxi driver in Dublin.

Then we went to America with Sean Keenan. After Markham Randall I suggested that, instead of dealing with people we don't know, why not go to those we know and can depend upon amongst the Irish Americans?

Blaney agreed to that. Sean Keenan were dispatched, passports provided by Neil Blaney, to go to America and in America we met [Michael] Flannery [an IRA arms supplier] and those guys. Their reaction was one of horror. "No effing so and so way are we going to deal with the Free State government and de Valera and Fianna Fail and all that." [Martin] Galvin was there.

That was a meeting in the Bronx, it was really the beginning of Noraid, and it was in November or December of 69. They were reluctant to get involved because they wouldn't trust Fianna Fail after what de Valera did and so on.

I said to those guys, "well look, I agree with all you are saying in terms of not trusting the Free State government but who else? Can you supply the money that will get this deal put together? Have you got it now?"

The answer was “no” so reluctantly they agreed and Liam Kelly came into the picture. Liam went off to Canada to arrange a shipment. We had already arranged through the Irish Seamen's Union that whatever container arrived in the port in New York would go on to Dublin. We met the guy from the Longshoremen's union in New York. A small guy. He was on the docks in New York and Liam Kelly arranged the meeting.

Willy Stacey, who was general secretary of the Seamen's union, cleared everything on the Dublin side. He is dead now.

We were communicating from America with Jim Kelly to tell him what progress was made and I was delighted to report to him that everything was in hand. The weapons were available; the money was transferred from Dublin to an account in America held by Alan Clancy who is dead since but who owned a chain of pubs in New York. £75,000 was involved. This was OKed by Blaney, so we thought, but the next communication from Dublin was that Blaney had cancelled it. He had a contact closer to home who could deliver the goods. The money had never been transferred after all.

When we told the Americans they blew a fuse and said "we fuckin told you" and we were very annoyed but we were the servants and what could we do. Clancy had exposed himself for nothing.

I arrived in Dublin a very angry man but Kelly said, "Blaney has it all set up. Blaney has this guy in Belgium who will be in contact and the weapons will be here in a couple of days."

I was back and forth to Vienna and Amsterdam after that, so was Jim Kelly. Three times we went to the docks in Dublin to receive a shipment and we had people in place to take the stuff. On one occasion the Irish army was there co-incidentally and we had suspicions. They are taking stuff off, and I often wondered afterwards if this was the stuff they were taking off.

Albert Lukyx was a Flemish nationalist who had taken the side of the Germans during the occupation because he thought it would solve their dispute with the Walloons. He had been sentenced to death as a war criminal and he had escaped and got to Ireland. He was selling hacksaw blades and hardware products.

He was fairly wealthy; he was a friend of Blaney and of Lenihan and Paddy Hilary. He was inveigled into the whole thing believing it was government business. He was an interpreter, he spoke German and French. That was Albert’s role, to do the talking.

He suffered terribly as a result. He lost his business, his family lost what they had and he was accused of being a Nazi. He had a marvelous house out in Sutton. Who bought it off him when he hit hard times? Neil Blaney. They didn't call it the Donegal mafia for nothing.

I think that the reason Blaney cancelled the American operation was that he was afraid that we would take it and that he wouldn't see it. Which leads me on to believe that this was a government operation. He thought "we had to have this under our control".

When we questioned Blaney about Markham he said "it was a mistake, I'm sorry John but we were put on a bum steer." He didn't go into too much detail, but we were had no choice because he was still in charge and we were the servants.

During that whole period Charlie was never central but I presume he was in the background. Goulding and co were out of the loop now.

I have no doubt that Blaney and co wanted to have an IRA that would be solely concerned with Northern affairs, but the split would have happened anyway. It would have happened without them.

The next time I met Charlie Haughey was when we were charged. Naturally when you meet a man every day in court you talk to him and get friendly. My wife's mother had been a bridesmaid at his mother and father's wedding so Mrs. Haughey became very friendly with Philomena and we would visit the house. It was a very humble home in Belton Park; she lived in a council estate in Artane. She was one of the McWilliams, a very devout typical Irish Catholic.

We became family friends with the sisters and the other brothers; we really got to know them after the arms trial. I also kept up contact with Charlie. I was never involved in his social circle but I would be in his mother's house when he came in or I would call in to Kinsealey to see him and say hello. But it would be a very hit and miss thing, just a casual friendship. I was very close to Padraic, Padraic and I were good friends and drinking companions.

In 1981 at the time of the hunger strike Bernadette Devlin rang me, she wanted to meet with Charlie and I rang Brendan O'Connor his secretary. He came back to me within five minutes and said "that's OK John, provided it’s kept private and there is no public mention of it."

Bernadette did meet with him and afterwards she didn't know what he would do, whether he would or whether he wouldn't. Then you know what happened about the hunger strike, how it finished. He was criticised and he may have lost the election over it.

In fairness to him he said "if I had come out and had this rant about Maggie Thatcher in public as the hunger strikers died everybody was going to blame Charlie Haughey for exploiting the hunger strike situation for his own ends."

He didn't want to be seen to be exploiting it for cheap political gain. He therefore wasn't going to stand up and start ranting across the airwaves at Maggie Thatcher just to be a one day hero whilst endangering lives. There was as sensitivity about him that you didn't find with Blaney who was a saber rattler. I think it was a credit to him that he handled it the way he did, he didn't jump on the bandwagon. He was a very intelligent man and he was always conscious of the outcome, particularly in relation to the north, of  how things were played out in the south.

He did help the hunger strikers and it wasn't his fault that it didn't work out.


Padraic and I would have had conversations about that and he relayed what I said to Charlie. Basically I encouraged the whole Reid project.

My view of Charlie was that he had a very, very astute intuitive insight into the north. That is where his mother and father came from, that is where he spent his school holidays; so he knew instinctively how to play things in relation to the north and I think he was very good at it. He would have been very successful had things been allowed to progress.

At that time Adams did everything he could to get a meeting with Haughey and Haughey refused to meet him. Even speaking to Hume he refused to meet Adams, he preferred to deal with Reid or Hume. That was good intuitive politics. He told me later he wouldn't trust Adams and that was why he wouldn't talk to him, he just couldn't talk to him. Maybe Charlie knew more than the rest of us.

He never discussed the arms trial with me after it was over, he didn't want to discuss it.

I think his defense at the arms trial (where he said he knew nothing, said nothing, heard nothing) was linked to the collapse of the case against Blaney. He was the man who orchestrated the whole escapade. He was the engine driver but the first thing he did was got himself off in the depositions court. He gave the court £2.5 k to get himself off at the deposition stage. He didn't have to face any trial and Charlie was left hanging on his own. That would colour your approach.

Charlie was sent forward for trial and Blaney got off, although he was the man who organised it all. Jim Gibbons was never charged although he knew the whole thing; I met him with Jim Kelly. He knew exactly what was going on and Brian Lenihan knew. He was friendly with Blaney. When I met Lenihan he was always giving the thumbs up and saying "keep it on, keep it on." I asked him about why he supported Lynch after it and he said "I am the X in OXO", by which he meant a leg on both sides.

Part of the problem with Charlie and Neil Blaney is that they were considered outsiders. Charlie more so than Neil Blaney because, under Collins, Charlie's father was taken down to the south. He  was part of a contingent from the [IRA] Northern Command. They were to be trained in the Curragh. He was to be sent back up to defend northern nationalists. Desmond Fitzgerald who was Garret Fitzgerald's uncle was given £10,000 to go to the continent to procure the arms to give to these fellows to go back up and defend nationalist areas in the six counties.

The murder of Michael Collins intervened and the majority of fellows who were in the Curragh at that time joined either the Gardai or the Irish army out of loyalty to Collins. So Charlie's father was a Free State officer and that made him a bit of an outsider within Fianna Fail.

One of the first Chiefs of Staff of the Irish army was General Dan McCann was part of the South Derry IRA brigade. That was under de Valera but he had taken Collins side in the civil war.

He said the six counties were a failed political entity at the time of the Anglo Irish Agreement, but that turned out to be opposition talk. When he did come into power he organised joint intergovernmental meetings.

He had a better intuition than Fitzgerald in terms of the north. Charlie was a complicated complex man but on the other hand he could be very open. He had a great sense of history; he was European in his attitude and preferred to go to Paris, or Berlin or Rome. He believed Ireland's destiny lay in Europe and he would have more in common with Mitterrand than the British.

He didn't want money for money's sake, but he felt it gave him the stature and the standing he needed - the Gandon House, the yacht, the island. He had this vision of Ireland and he felt he had to represent that in a European context.

Mitterrand had a mistress and I think that is one reason why Charlie had to have a mistress. Mitterrand had prostrate cancer and refused to have the operation; Charlie had prostrate cancer and refused to have the operation too, because it would make them impotent. He modeled himself on that European image.

He was a republican in the sense that he believed in a sovereign independent Ireland. He had an instinctive republicanism, he was from Swatragh after all, and he would have been different from Brian Lenihan or O'Malley or Lynch. He hated Lynch with a passion.

[The property developer] Dermot Desmond's father gave evidence at Charlie Haughey's trial. He was the chief customs airport when this plane was to arrive with the arms on board. He had been told it was coming and he gave evidence to Charlie's disadvantage.

Then you had his son Dermot as perhaps one of Charlie's best friends and benefactors.

Jock, Padraic, was a strong republican. He was there when you needed him.

I went to see Charlie a month ago, I went down to see him. He wasn't in good health, I had seen him six months earlier and I could see the difference. The last time he was in bad form, he was down and he knew he was down; he had resigned himself because it was heading to the liver and the chemo was not working. He said this to me and he was comparing notes on the treatment and medication we were both getting [John Kelly had the bowel cancer and was on chemotherapy at the time].

At the end he was cheerful and he was resilient. I think he recognised he could have done better and than he did. He wasn't arrogant. I don't think any man who I have met possessed as much self knowledge as Charlie Haughey, he knew about himself and he knew about his failings and the things that were good and bad in him.

I think he has suffered more than any politician since Parnell.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles


14 January 2008

Other Articles From This Issue:

Republicanism...Alive or Dying?
Anthony McIntyre

Pillocks of the Community
John Kennedy

Irish Unity Cannot Be Ruled Out
David Adams

A Great Republican and a Great Man
Aine Doherty

John Kelly
Anthony McIntyre

How Urgent the Need?
John Kelly, from an interview with Liam Clarke

My Grandfather's Insurgency
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

Kitsonian Success With the Provos...?
Liam O Comain

McGuinness Takes the Finland!
John Kennedy

Provisional Sinn Fein - Don't Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater
Jerry Pepin

John Kennedy

Operation Helvetic: To Be Expected
Michael Gillespie

Hung Out to Dry
John Kennedy

Re-Imagining Ireland
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission
Mick Hall

One Armed Bandit
John Kennedy

Terrorism and Leftism
Paddy Hackett

Power to the People
John Kennedy

24 August 2007

The Battle Against Truth
Anthony McIntyre

Divine Intervention
John Kennedy

Terence Killeen's "Ulyssess Unbound"
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Heads of Bigots Must Roll
Dr John Coulter

A Look at Bi-Nationalism
Michael Gillespie

Eire Nua, Revisited
Michael Costello



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