Century of Endeavour

Peter Rose and the Origin of the Troubles


(c) Roy Johnston 2001

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)

The following omnibus review was published by RJ in the October 2001 issue of Books Ireland; the other books were by Derry Kelleher.

Republicanism, Civil Rights and the North

Roy Johnston

The present writer, along with the late Derry Kelleher and perhaps a handful of others, have struggled over our lifetimes to salvage the basic Enlightenment secular republican democratic tradition from the various overlays of Catholic nationalism, Fenian conspiracies and quasi-Stalinist centralism which have infested it. Both of us have also swum against the tide of emigration, in our separate ways, each on two or more occasions. We both had a hand in the 1960s attempt to politicise the republican movement, helping it to focus on the need to achieve civil rights in Northern Ireland, within which context an open political movement for an all-Ireland Republic, conceived as a welcoming environment for the Protestant sector of the working people, might begin to become politically feasible.

Peter Rose has presented an important window into how this process was perceived in British governmental and media circles, contributing partially to the understanding of why we failed. Below I identify a couple of important gaps in his work, which still need to be filled.

The first of Derry Kelleher's two books give his interpretation of the way the 1960s movement developed, with the Provisional split, and the subsequent evolution of 'official Sinn Fein' towards its present 'Workers Party' identity. The second is his personal memoir and includes a record of his struggle against the 'Rome Rule' environment of the 1940s and 50s, as embodied in the person of the dreaded Alfred O'Rahilly, John Charles McQuaid and other such luminaries.

Derry Kelleher died on July 28 last, leaving these two books as part of his legacy. Their distribution has been taken up by Alan Hanna in Dublin and by Athol in Belfast. Justice Books was Derry's self-publishing imprint.

How the Troubles Came to Ireland; Peter Rose, Palgrave, Contemporary History in Context series, 2001, 216pp, pb, npg (except barcode), 0-33394941-2

The overwhelming impression given by Rose of the British attitude to Northern Ireland is one of total incomprehension, blindness, not wanting to know, and when forced into a need to know, dependence on faulty sources. Rose's failure to identify the key role of the latter is the primary flaw in this otherwise important book. For example he points out that in 1966 the British government thought they were facing a threat of a new IRA insurrection, related to the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Their source was the RUC; there were alleged to be 3000 IRA volunteers involved. This was of course a complete fabrication; the IRA at this time was actively engaged in becoming political within the previously empty shell of Sinn Fein. The British had no separate intelligence that was in a position to tell them this; they decided not to set one up, but to continue to depend on the RUC for their intelligence. The motivation of the RUC and the Unionist establishment for promoting this deception was of course to keep in existence the excuse for their repressive regime, supporting the privileged position of the Unionist elite. I am on record in Desmond Greaves' journal, on December 10 1965 as follows: '...there is no truth in the six-county rumour that a further disturbance is to be expected. (RJ) says "if the IRA didn't exist, the six-county government would have to invent it"...'

The result was that when 1968-9 came around, with O'Neill under pressure from the Civil Rights movement, they were still depending on the RUC world view, apparently unaware that their adjunct, the B-Specials, were responsible for blowing up the Belfast water mains (the Silent Valley episode) and for planning and initiating the armed pogrom in the Falls Road in 1969.

Despite the best efforts of Gerry Fitt in the Commons,
the ongoing work of the MPs of the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, and later the work of the Society of Labour Lawyers, whose interim report was published in August 1968, creating a furore, in August 1969 the perception at the top still was of a valiant RUC battling a threat to law and order from a re-emergent IRA. When intervention took place it was perceived as 'in support of the civil power', not realising that the 'civil power' was in fact attacking an unarmed Catholic population in the Falls Road with armoured cars and machine guns. Wilson however seems to have had some inkling; there is reported on p156 a conversation between Crossman and Healy, with the latter accusing Wilson of some 'crazy idea... that we should side with the Catholics and Civil Rights movement against the government and the RUC...'. Crossman went on, correctly, to question the reliability of the information the RUC was feeding them.

There is a reference on p165 to a retrospective seminar of the Institute for Contemporary British History at which Paul Bew asked '...why the government did not take over immediately and cut the grass from underneath the Provisionals..'. instead of '...propping up the ramshackle apparatus of Protestant domination...'. This is indeed the key question, but in its formulation it shows how much historians have got it wrong, because at that time there were no Provisionals in existence. Those who subsequently became the Provisionals were studiously avoiding the political process, and conspiring with Fianna Fail hawks in Donegal and elsewhere to undermine and split the leftward politicising republican movement, which was successfully engaged in Dublin exposing the racketeering of the Dublin property developers who were the financial mainstay of Fianna Fail, and to supersede the Civil Rights movement, arming the Catholics and laying the basis for a sectarian civil war (see Justin O'Brien, The Arms Trial, Gill & McMillan 2000 for analysis of this process). I remember attending meetings of the Derry republican club, in Sean Keenan's house, discussing Civil Rights movement tactics, with Sean Keenan in the background watching television and taking no interest.

What this book fails to do is to expose the full background to the events of August 1969, who planned them, and to expose the strategic objective, which must have been to provoke into existence an IRA in its traditional armed insurrection mode, which they knew how to deal with, and which gave them the justification for their repressive regime. Those who became the Provisionals fell for this provocation, and the rest is history. The master-minding of the Unionist deception of the British over this period, and their successful transformation of the environment to one dominated my militarism and repression, is treated partially in Sean McPhelimy's book The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland, (Roberts Rinehart 1998) in a manner which, although it has lent itself to discredit, contains indications of many valid trails which historians should follow.

Despite the flaws in the book, it is an important starting-point for further analysis of British policies on Ireland, along with other critical books such as Justin O'Brien's which gives the Dublin angle. One has to ask whether there was British strategic thinking behind the release of several post-Casement remains, the timing of which helped focus the Provisional conspiracy and disrupt the Civil Rights process, negating the latter's opening up of opportunities for political republicanism uniting with the labour movement to wean the Protestant workers away from the leadership of Unionist landlords and capitalists.

Irish Republicanism: the Authentic Perspective; Derry Kelleher, Justice Books 2001, 515 pp, pb, £20, 1-901866-03-3

Kelleher acknowledges as his mentors Mick Kelly, who gave political classes in the Curragh in the 1940s, Desmond Greaves who in 1959 enabled him to link socialism with the republican perspective, and George Gilmore the last of the line of Dissenter republicans. He submits the book as 'a Primer for Peace in the Millennium'. After chasing entertainingly some hares in an extended Preface, supported by cartoons, in an introduction he sets out his key theses: 'Republicanism is not a Papish Invention' and '...the iniquitous symbiosis between British Imperial and Vatican temporal power...'. (While doing this he manages to chase several more hares, including a gallant defence of Michelle de Brun, Derry having been in his prime a competitive swimmer; readers should enjoy Derry's digressions as entertainment between his substantive nuggets).

The chapter headings indicate the scope: King Billy and the Battle of the Boyne: Fact and Fantasy; the Legacy of the English Revolution; the Genesis and Reverberations of the French Revolution; the Genesis of Neo-Colonialism, the Lessons of the Civil Rights Struggle 1968-72; the Moral Dilemma of Fianna Fail; Peace in Crisis; the Rise of Orangeism - Demise of Official Republicanism; Common Ground - or the Quagmire of Defeat.

I can pick out a few nuggets: from Connolly and Guizot '...William's army had a large Republican contingent... of the Dutch Republican Army and those of the Leveller and Digger traditions of Cromwell's army as well as 30% Catholics drawn from European Catholic monarchies loyal to the Vatican..'. In the French Revolution chapter he stresses the 'reformed Parliament' objective of the United Irishmen, compares it with the NICRA demand for the reform of Stormont, and contrasts it with the 'abolition of Stormont' demand which the 'Peoples Democracy' group later shared with the Provisionals. In the Civil Rights chapter he reminds us how the Cameron Report gave credit to the politicising republicans, who supported the movement, for helping to maintain order. He also remarks on how the British gave tacit support to the elements which subsequently became the Provisionals, linking this with the published work of the British military theorist Kitson. He homes in on Aldershot as the turning point; as the 'official IRA' response to Bloody Sunday it killed the healthy political process which had given rise to the Civil Rights approach. He rightly took the present writer to task for overlooking this in a letter I wrote in 1999 on the occasion of the death of Cathal Goulding.

I could go on and on; savour the nuggets and enjoy the hares, some of which are somewhat eccentric. He adds Appendices: Home Rule as Rome Rule, 1798 Myth and Truth, Northern Ireland Bill of Rights, Orangeism Myth and Reality, Irish Republicanism, Socialism and Imperialism; these are mostly reprints of occasional papers and articles collected from his last couple of decades of his fringe political gurudom. The Bill of Rights is a reprint of the 1971 Brockway attempt to introduce one to the Commons; it is from the Greaves papers, courtesy of Tony Coughlan.

Buried Alive In Ireland. A Story Of A Twentieth Century Inquisition; Derry Kelleher, Justice Books, 490pp, pb 24 cm, £20, ISBN 0 85034 093 4.

This is Derry's personal memoir, and it is constructed differently, with foreword, 32 short chapters, epilogue and 3 appendices. I select some chapter heads to give a flavour: The Men Behind the Wire 1940; The German Connection and Operation Barbarossa; The Attraction of Marxism: John Desmond Bernal; Cork Labour Becomes Republican - the Liam Mellows Branch; The Real Origin of the Red Smear Campaign; the Cork Socialist Party is Launched at High Tide, Backlash! Bell Book and Candle in Trinidad and Ireland; the Jewish-Communist-Masonic Plot; Interlude on the Big Lies of History; Evolution and Entropy; Communist Tunnel Vision....

We have the same basic nuggets and hares structure; the Micheal O Riordain Cork election episode is a nugget: one has to ask, why did he not stay in Cork and build a local socialist centre of influence, as Declan Bree did in Sligo? The exposure of the role of Alfred O'Rahilly in the UCC community is another. Derry's experience with ESSO in England, in the Fawley refinery, in relation to the presence of the Whitegate refinery trainees, is a further nugget; this is while the 1950s IRA campaign in the north is going on. Later it seems O'Rahilly, after becoming a Monsignor, was silenced by McQuaid. He introduces the 'Big Lies' chapter with a quote from my father Joe Johnston, in the Seanad on February 2 1939: '...the men behind the walls of Derry were better republicans than the besiegers...'. In his criticism of the Aldershot bombing he overlaps with the other book somewhat. There is much on the Marxist-Christian dialogue, to which he contributed, along with the present writer, via the Teilhard de Chardin Society. The latter part of the book deals with his struggle for survival as a professional chemical engineer in a political environment increasingly dominated by doctrinaire politics, and his attempts to keep active creatively in politics in Wicklow despite the ideologues.

The Appendices include the Constitution of the Cork Socialist party as it was in 1946, the 1887 Anathema excommunicating Father McGlynn, under Leo XIII, as reprinted be de Leon in 1962, and a paper read by Derry to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Trinidad in 1949; the first and third are nuggets, while the second is to my mind a hare, but some may find it a nugget.

Derry Kelleher, God rest him, badly needed a good editor, but he would never have accepted one. Perhaps someone will emerge to to a posthumous editing and indexing job on these two remarkable books, integrating them into the record of a career which some may find exemplary, in its capacity to link science, technology, philosophy and politics.

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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 2003