Finding of collusion with IRA a prompt for us all to examine our consciences
Opinion: There were clearly sympathisers with the ‘armed struggle’ at all levels of southern society
Charles Haughey with Neil Blaney in 1970 at the Arms Trial.
It has taken a long time for the truth to emerge but the finding of the Smithwick Tribunal that someone in Dundalk Garda station colluded with the IRA in the murder of two RUC police officers is still shocking.
The immediate political fallout has been dominated by the cold-hearted response of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams but he is not the only one who needs to take stock in the aftermath of the tribunal’s report.
It should prompt a much wider and thorough examination of conscience about how the institutions and indeed the people of this State responded to more than a quarter of a century of violence that took place mainly on the other side of the Border.
If the current threat from dissident republicans is to be defeated and the institutions established by the Belfast Agreement are to thrive we need to understand what went wrong in the past. That doesn’t mean more long and expensive formal inquiries but an honest appraisal of what happened and why.
The IRA campaign could never have gone on for so long and inflicted as much suffering as it did if a significant number of people on the southern side of the Border had not been prepared to collude or at the very least turn a blind eye to its activities.
How else could IRA assassination squads have managed to flit over and back, not just to launch attacks on the security forces in the North but to engage in a calculated campaign to murder the sons of Protestant farmers living on the Fermanagh side of the Border.
The Garda and the Army generally did their best to block the porous Border but the resistance by the courts and a broad swathe of political opinion to the introduction of normal extradition procedures between Ireland and the United Kingdom for almost two decades facilitated the continuation of murder.
Even when extradition was introduced in the late 1980s, in the aftermath of the Anglo Irish Agreement, it took an inordinately long time for the system to become effective.
The IRA clearly had sympathisers at all levels of society in the Republic, otherwise it could not have continued to wreak havoc for so long. The full story about that has yet to be told.
A disturbing book by respected academic Henry Patterson, Ireland’s Violent Frontier: the Border and Anglo-Irish Relations During the Troubles, published at the beginning of the year, addressed some of these issues but it received little media attention.
While it is undoubtedly true that Kelly was acting on the orders of two ministers, Neil Blaney and Charles Haughey, the available evidence suggests they were defying the authority of the then taoiseach, Jack Lynch, who was too weak to confront them until the situation threatened to get out of hand in April 1970.