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24 July 2007 Edition

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Too little too late

Captain James Kelly, who died on 16 July, had "honourably served his country", said Bertie Ahern. While the Taoiseach's recent statement that "as far as the state is concerned" Captain Kelly was innocent of the charges placed against him in the '70s will have been of some comfort to his family, these comments are really a little too late.

The remarks were rather opportunistic in view of Captain Kelly's protracted campaign for truth and justice. But opportunism has always factored in the southern state's handling of some of the most controversial issues in Irish history. When it comes to cultivating their own interests, Free State politicians have performed extraordinary feats of mental gymnastics and the Arms Trial debacle is a prime example.

Political amnesia is a condition that has prevailed in Irish history over the past three decades and in this instance, Captain Kelly was a victim of successive governments' policy of 'remembering to forget'. Like many another incident in Irish politics, some of those implicated in the notorious Arms Trial denied all knowledge, failing to 'remember' the facts. To quote the Evening Herald of 13 April last year: "It's not just students of history who will be eager to see the latest round of documents released under the National Archive's 30-year rule."

What the suppressed information in file S/7/70 indicates is that government authorities knew of the intended gun-running. An embryonic split at the heart of the Dublin government was postponed by the suppression of this information. As Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin recently pointed out, "James Kelly was one of those scapegoated in the early 1970s by powerful sections of the establishment in this state who refused to face up to their responsibilities and who abandoned the nationalists in the Six Counties to their fate". Those implicated in the Arms Trial harvested the smell of cordite hanging over the event while criminalising the only genuine agency for resistance, the Irish Republican Army. Fianna Fáil was perceived to be "The Republican Party" while republicans were outlawed and demonised. It was opportune for Free State governments to attempt to criminalise the IRA and to capitalise on their fight for Irish freedom. Free State governments rode to power on the backs of assassinated and incarcerated republicans. British and Free State securocrats have collaborated in the attempted criminalisation of republican prisoners since 1976 in a manner reminiscent of their attempt to scapegoat and criminalise Captain Kelly.

Peter Berry was secretary at the Department of Justice at the time of the Arms Trial. The entry from the Berry Diary for 17 October, as published in Magill magazine, indicates that he had informed the then Taoiseach Jack Lynch of a meeting related to the gun-running event, the implication being that the Taoiseach knew of and facilitated events. The Official Secrecy Act in this country secluded various incidents of crucial importance to the Irish political context. Amnesia overtook Irish politics from that period and Berry states: "I did not have a hundred per cent recollection of my conversation with the Taoiseach." Jack Lynch himself incurred critical amnesia some time later and that unfortunate condition has plagued Irish politicians ever since and often at the expense of the likes of Captain James Kelly.

Our sympathies must go the family of this man who deserves considerable admiration not just for his endeavours of the early '70s but for his determined and relentless efforts ever since to have the truth revealed. As Bertie Ahern finally acknowledged so many years too late, Captain Kelly "honourably served his country". Though that tribute will be of some comfort to his family, it is too little too late.


An Phoblacht
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