January 19th, 1970

Thu, Jan 19, 2012, 00:00

FROM THE ARCHIVES:The heady early days of the Northern Troubles in the late 1960s created huge tensions within Fianna Fáil, notably between its leader and taoiseach Jack Lynch and his senior minister Neil Blaney, who was later fired and charged alongside Charles Haughey with illegally importing arms.

The tensions were clearly on display at the party’s last ard fheis before the Arms Crisis: John Healy explained in this piece how Lynch won the day at the ard fheis.

THE ISSUE of the North dominated the first gathering of the ’70s and the clash between Jack Lynch and Neil Blaney was brought to a head in a day of verbal blood-letting in which the Blaney lobby gored the floor of the Mansion House in the fruitless blood of a murderous Northern August, in what must be regarded as a direct attack on Jack Lynch’s policy, if not his position.

Mr. Blaney remained silent: he had little cause to speak, for his supporters were there in strength: they were well located throughout the Mansion House and they came in on cue. The debate on Saturday was a political replay of the Taca debate the previous year, all the emotionalism seemed to be gripping a good portion of the delegates.

But it was the Taoiseach’s task in the afternoon to come in and do a Blaney on it by cooling off the packed house. He did it in his main speech, and he did it by the longest intervention in a formal script for many years.

The intervention took two forms: the first was the reality of the scene in the North and vis-à-vis the North: force was out and must stay out. And anybody who didn’t like that policy, here was the place to say so and now was the time to do it.

The gauntlet was thrown down as flatly as Jack Lynch has ever thrown down anything in his public life: he didn’t have any alternative for it was a make-or- break moment and he carried it.

He did not, of course, pitch it in terms of Jack or Neil: he pitched it a little more cleverly by invoking the shades of the political saints of the party whom he lined up behind his own name: Eamon de Valera, Gerry Boland, Oscar Traynor, Sean Moylan, Jim Ryan.

This line-up of god-people behind the Taoiseach left Mr. Blaney in a lonely position and Mr. Blaney, who managed to find a spot on the canopy which seemed to engage his attention for most of the interpolation, took the point.

The direct challenge to say, in the here and now, where the party stood on peace or war, was met by the delegates: they cheered and stomped their applause, and the Taoiseach had carried the convention. If a formal concession was needed, it seemed to come later in the evening when Neil Blaney, speaking on agriculture, had his own intervention to make.

It said briefly that he wasn’t interested in the Taoiseach’s job and the delegates could take it that this was so no matter what they had read or what colour would be put on things in the future.