Haughey’s support for IRA fundraising thwarted by the US and John Hume – Donlon memoir

It was a godsend that Sean Donlon, Eamonn Gallagher and Noel Dorr were the chiefs of Dublin’s Department of Foreign Affairs at the height of the troubles. In a memoir appearing in the Irish Times over the past two days, Donlon gives a gripping account of how Charles Haughey when first elected Taoiseach at the end of 1979 tried to overturn the anti-Provo stance of Jack Lynch. Clearly, the diplomats were nervous of how the (wholly and completely innocent) former gunrunner would react.

When telling me of my appointment, the then taoiseach Jack Lynch said that the priorities in my mission were, firstly, to do everything possible to reduce US financial, political and logistical support for the Provisional IRA and, secondly, to work closely with the IDA to secure US investment in Ireland

Typically, Haughey didn’t have the guts to argue openly for a change of policy but instead, tried to undermine his own ambassador by using his monkey Brian Lenihan snr to go behind his back in Washington and then shifting him. Haughey wanted to encourage New York Congressman Mario Biaggi and a group called the Irish National Caucus who supported IRA fundraising in the States. This was contrary to the established policy of relying on the Four Horseman, the senior congressional figures including Ted Kennedy who took the John Hume line, set firmly against violence.

Biaggi had informed secretary of state Cyrus Vance that the Irish government was now working with the INC and he handed Vance a letter formally requesting the state department to declare me persona non grata for actions incompatible with my diplomatic status…
I had a meeting with Haughey. It was brief and cold. He sat at his desk. I was not offered a seat and remained standing. I was to leave Washington in August and take up the post of permanent representative to the UN in New York. It was an important post as Ireland was about to take a seat on the UN Security Council. I said that the move would, however, be seen by the Four Horsemen and others as a snub. For the first time in history, a powerful Irish lobby had been created in the US. It appeared that it was now to be put at risk. Haughey made it clear that he did not wish for a discussion. He pointed to the door and I left.

Typical bad manners from the ignorant wee blurt. Typical too, that his flanker failed. As a connoisseur of power himself, it was only surprising that he failed to appreciate Kenndy and co’s far greater clout with Irish America compared to the likes of Biaggi, the INC and Noraid. To use one of his favourite epithets, Haughey was mostly a bollocks, for all his swagger and hooded menace. He was a gesture republican who never took any risks to advance the cause and backed down at the first whiff of greater power. He remained ambivalent towards the IRA up to his retirement and disgrace.

For Hume, this was a unique stance. Over the years, he had gone to great lengths to avoid embroiling himself and the SDLP in Dublin politics. He now issued a statement: “In order that all shades of suspicion be removed and this unfortunate affair closed, it is necessary that it be made absolutely clear that the activities of Congressman Biaggi and the organisations with which he is associated enjoy no support whatsoever among any substantial section of Irish opinion.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London