Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916

Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916
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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Neil T Blaney and that now famous rift with Fianna Fail

As many people have been finding, over the last 48 hours, it is difficult to disentangle Fianna Fail's political strategy, if there is one, in Donegal. The chances of repeating three seats there are nil.

Jim McDaid changing his mind is unlikely to enhance party prospects after Niall Blaney's bonfire return to the county. Is Bernard McGlinchy, once the promoter of McDaid, masterminding the latest developments? Is the party now trying, a bit desperately, to ensure two out of three in Donegal North-East? Will Joe McHugh concede space for Paddy Harte's son on the Fine Gael ticket? There is a lot of teasing out to be done.

For the sake of the historic record it is worth looking at where it all started, in what was described in this paper on Thursday as "one of the oldest and most bitter rifts in Irish politics" between Neil T Blaney and Fianna Fail. But was it?

Bertie Ahern, in what he meant should be taken as an apology, fudged almost every aspect of the "bitter rift". He got his facts wrong about the aftermath of the Arms Crisis. He described the time of the Arms Trial as one of "great controversy", which is monumental fence-sitting. He passed over to historians the task of making their own judgments - which most of them consistently fail to do. And he talked about "reconciliation" and "ending a long division in our shared history."

So who apologised to whom, and for what? Young Niall Blaney said he would "not be splitting hairs on this. This is as close to an apology as I expected." He thought it "put ink to the final chapter of a crisis" dating back to 1970.

Among other things, Bertie Ahern said Neil Blaney was acquitted of all charges. He was not acquitted of any charges at all. He was arrested, with Charles Haughey, on Thursday, May 28, 1970, and charged with conspiracy to import arms. On Thursday, July 2, the charges against him were dropped.

From the time of his dismissal by Jack Lynch, on May 6 of the same year, Blaney was categoric in his denial that he had ever "run" guns. He denied any dealings with subversive organisations.
He was equally clear in outlining his views about the use of force. He did not favour it for reunification; he did, however, believe that it was legitimate in the defence of "Nationalist people", "our people" against "murderous assault" and he made the statement: "We in this part of Ireland cannot stand idly by in these circumstances."

This view was against government policy and Jack Lynch dismissed him for this reason. He was expelled by Fianna Fail in 1971 because he abstained in a vote of no confidence in the Minister for Agriculture, Jim Gibbons. Blaney's position, which he shared with Kevin Boland and others, including it must be said the nascent Provisional IRA, was that the "root cause" of Ireland's problems was "the British presence".

This was not the root cause of Ireland's problems, as 35 years have clearly shown. Indeed, the very conception of Ireland having a single package of problems that could so glibly be resolved by British departure - a recipe for unprecedented violence at that time and later - is absurd.

But Blaney was honourable in holding that view while at the same time not conspiring, as Haughey did, against his own leader.

Blaney had a different view of how things should be. He did not know whether the view had sufficient covert support on which to base a challenge against Lynch for the Fianna Fail leadership. Haughey was in the same indecisive situation. This in any case would have been affected by events in Northern Ireland. Mercifully, after the early, 1968-9 violence, the situation became more stable and the prevailing view in the country turned against Blaney and Boland and in favour of Jack Lynch. That view, of peace by reconciliation and agreement, with the choice of the future destiny of the North being in the hands of the people of the North, has prevailed ever since and still does prevail.
I am not sure that any apology was ever in order. And I think that young Niall Blaney, who fortunately did not live through these events, even as an infant, but has probably imbibed them at his uncle's knee and within the Blaney family more widely, is right not to be splitting hairs.

NEIL T. Blaney who, like Kevin Boland, had a gritty, perverse kind of integrity, said that, if he had resigned, he would be "aiding, perhaps causing, something that would result in some explosion about which we might be very sorry in the future. If my judgment was wrong, I bow to those who would condemn me."

His judgment was wrong. That was his epitaph, given well before his expulsion, and it was all he had, really, to bolster him through the long wilderness years. No harm will come to Bertie Ahern, the Fianna Fail Party, or Niall Blaney, in recognising the true background to this week's news from Donegal.

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