World

The pluck of the Irish sleuths

Carol Kennedy November 19 1979
World

The pluck of the Irish sleuths

Carol Kennedy November 19 1979

The pluck of the Irish sleuths

When Irish Special Branch men swooped out of a grey Dublin dawn, impounded sealed containers from a transatlantic freighter and discovered the biggest haul of IRA-bound arms since 1973, they provided a dramatic curtain-raiser to Prime Minister Jack Lynch’s current U.S. tour, a vital aim of which is to sever the artery of support among Irish-American hard-liners for the gunmen who still claim to wear the mantle of 1916.

The arms, worth an estimated $1.2 million on the black market, included 40,000 rounds of ammunition and 156 assorted weapons, among them 14 Armalite rifles— a staple of IRA snipers—and two M-60 machine-guns of U.S. origin, probably stolen from National Guard armories. The M-60, capable of delivering 550 rounds a minute with deadly precision, is especially prized by Irish terrorists.

And, although police failed in their 24hour stakeout to pick up the IRA linkman due to collect the shipment, the arms coup came as a welcome stroke of public relations for the Irish authorities. Since the murder one day last August of Lord Mountbatten, they have been uncomfortably on the defensive in proving the seriousness of their intentions to crush IRA terrorism.

Mountbatten’s killing stands out as a watershed. The Irish authorities quickly realized the damage that could be done by apparent passivity and, following AngloIrish ministerial talks in October, a package of agreed measures on cross-border co-

operation was hammered out. Such is the anxiety in Dublin to be seen to be acting firmly that one observer suggested the Irish government might well privately be hoping the evidence stands up against the two IRA men currently on trial there for the Mountbatten murders. Dublin still feels, however, that Britain is dragging its feet about a fresh political initiative in Northern Ireland—

something on which Lynch will undoubtedly press Carter to use his influence with the Thatcher government.

Lynch’s nine-day tour, coinciding as it does with Senator Edward Kennedy’s presidential declaration, the Mountbatten trial in Dublin and the bid for political asylum in Philadelphia of suspected IRA bomb expert Michael O’Rourke, throws a firecracker into the tinder-dry brushwood of IrishAmerican politics.

Ironically, in Dublin, Kennedy is seen as a more moderating influence on Anglo-Irish

affairs than Carter, if only because Kennedy already has mainstream Irish-American opinion in his pocket, leaving Carter the temptation to flirt with extremist elements. Carter’s invitation to Congressman Mario Biaggi, noted for his links with the Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs (but also on Carter’s re-election committee), to attend the White House dinner for Lynch was seen as a blunder.

Whether Lynch will make headway on the inflammable question of fund-raising is doubtful, but it may no longer matter much, except symbolically. Money channelled through NORAID, the Irish Northern Aid Committee based in the Bronx, ostensibly to help the families of internees, has declined considerably from the early 1970s to around $120,000 a year and, although Dublin authorities suspect the true total to be higher, it is still a teardrop compared with the $4.8 million stolen in bank and post office raids in the republic last year, at least half of which is reckoned to go to the Provos.

But in the final grisly account, it is not so much the sentimental dollar bills dropped into hats in Irish bars in New York, Boston, i Chicago or Philadelphia that count, but the deadly hardware such as that captured on the Dublin quays. Modern container systems make such coups a matter of luck or tip-off—the last big arms haul, from Cyprus in 1978, was concealed in a hollow section of an electrical generator. It is that tap, jj rather than the one in NORAID’S offices, that Lynch will be hoping to screw tight—and even more, the tap of moral support for the IRA

Carol Kennedy