Irish Republican News · December 30, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Scraps of 1975
Scraps of 1975
Some of the other details which have emerged so far from the historical papers released in Dublin, Belfast and London under the 30-year-rule.

 

In early 1975, British intelligence helped provide the US Federal Bureau of Investigation with an updated blacklist of suspected IRA members, whose US visa applications were then systematically turned down.

British officials also considered encouraging rival Irish politicians to raise funds in the US, as a way of diverting funds away from Irish Republicanism. But in London it was generally accepted such efforts had limited impact on the steady support the IRA enjoyed among some Irish-Americans, with British officials estimating up to a third of the organisation’s income was being raised in the US.

One of the main concerns of British officials was the extent to which the Irish National Caucus - a Washington-based lobby group - might extend its influence within the US Congress and the US media.

In Washington, British embassy officials warned that once Sinn Féin had “gained respectability or power” in the South [of Ireland], then the Irish National Caucus “would become an organisation to be taken seriously both on Capitol Hill and in the country at large”.

IRISH-AMERICANS ‘INSECURE’

Meanwhile, Dublin’s consul-general in New York, Michael Lillis, had an even more contemptuous attitude to Irish-Americans.

In a memo, Lillis declared that the Irish-American community was “socially and culturally insecure” and their political understanding of the conflict was nothing more than “a totem of historic myths of British repression and Irish failure which provides them with a history, an identity and a cause”.

Lillis also noted that Irish-Americans were “not disposed to accept a didactic and prescriptive message from Dublin as to whom they should endorse or support”.

‘MISS GOOD CHEER’

Papers reveal proposals for a “Brighten up Ulster” campaign designed to cheer people up in the wake of a tragic 1974, during which the devolved government collapsed after a general strike organised by loyalists and more than 300 people were killed as the conflict worsened.

One suggestion for raising spirits made by British officials was to see famous comedy duo Morecambe and Wise perform on the lawns of Stormont, who, it was hoped, would “give their services for more or less free as part of an attempt to boost Ulster”.

He also suggested recruiting Frank Sinatra to sing as another “morale boosting” event. Other suggestions included “a token gesture to remove the security barriers in towns” and the mounting of “a beauty competition for the title of Miss Good Cheer”.

Another suggestion which actually came to fruition -- an inter-town ‘It’s a Knockout’ game show, which became the BBC’s “Town Challenge” -- is still in production and is still presented by television celebrity Hugo Duncan.

Another suggestion, for newspapers and television to be required to run planted “positive news” items, was also implemented and continues to this day.

BAD FUNERAL

British diplomats could not refrain from gloating over the absence of some world leaders from Eamon de Valera’s funeral.

The former taoiseach and president, who had been jailed by the British after the 1916 Easter Rising but escaped execution by dint of his US citizenship, died in 1975 at the age of 92.

In files released to the National Archives under the 30-year rule, GW Harding, an official at the embassy in Dublin gleefully noted that, with the “conspicuous exception” of Princess Grace of Monaco, the level of foreign representation was “probably not as high as the Irish people might have hoped”.

Even the “anticipated crew of Irish-American vote-seeking politicians” failed to put in an appearance, he said.

SPOOKY BEHAVIOUR

‘Military intelligence’ figures in the 26-Counties kept files in 1975 on a wide array of individuals and organisations in Irish society, including at least one member of the Dublin cabinet as well as a former minister, along with political parties, trade unions, campaigning organisations, student groups, women’s rights activists and journalists.

Minister Conor Cruise-O’Brien, former health minister Noel Browne, journalist and broadcaster Proinsias MacAonghusa, were among those who came under the watchful eye of 26-County spooks.

Other not-so-prominent personalities in Irish life were also being monitored and there are individual files on journalists Gery Lawless of the Sunday World, Sean Cronin of The Irish Times, Deasun Breathnach of the Irish Independent and Eamonn McCann from Derry.

Republicans and socialists were also an object of attention and there are files on Sean MacStiofain, Sean Garland, historian and political activist Rayner Lysaght, former Westminster MP (1969-74) Bernadette McAliskey (nee Devlin) as well as the late Capt James Kelly, a central figure in the 1970 Arms Crisis.

Eight pupils in the fifth-year Spanish class at Mount St Joseph College, Roscrea, County Tipperary ended up in a military intelligence file when they wrote a letter to newspapers protesting against executions carried out by the Franco regime in Spain.

There is also a file entitled “Women’s Liberation Movement” which features another letter from ministers Gemma Hussey and Nuala Fennell about the continuing failure to enact legislation for women’s rights including equal pay.

© 2005 Irish Republican News