Century of Endeavour

The Blatherwick Memorandum

(c)see below

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)

Commentary by Anthony Coughlan on memo by Dublin British Embassy official David Blatherwick dealing with Republicanism, Civil Rights and left-wing activity in Ireland in the 1960s.

Social Studies Department, Trinity College Dublin, 13 August 2004.

This commentary by Anthony Coughlan relates to various errors of fact and judgement contained in a letter plus annexes by Mr David Blatherwick, senior diplomat at the British Embassy Dublin and later Ambassador to Ireland, on the subject, "Communism in the Republic of Ireland", dated 6 July 1970, published in the British Public Records for 1970. A warning is given against the republication of uncorrected false and defamatory statements contained therein.

(West European Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; File No. WRR 1/10; also marked FCO 33/1204, Closed until 2001. The references in the commentary below relate to the page numbers of Mr Blatherwick's letter with annexes, as well as Professor Eunan O'Halpin's photocopies of this letter on discette. This commentary was written in August 2004)


The existence of this file in the British official records for 1970 was drawn to my attention by Professor Eunan O'Halpin of the Modern History Department, Trinity College Dublin, in mid-July 2004. The commentary below relates to a letter plus annexes by Mr David Blatherwick, then a senior official at the British Embassy in Dublin and later British Ambassador to Ireland, to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, on the subject of Communism in the Republic of Ireland. Mr Blatherwick's letter, dated 6 July 1970, strikes me as a broadly valid political assessment of the influence of the communist movement in Ireland at the time. There are however several inaccuracies in it and its Annexes, including at least one completely false and defamatory statement about myself, the author of this commentary, which I am anxious to correct so as to ensure that it is not given credence or publicised or disseminated further without correction.

The last paragraph of Mr Blatherwick's letter states that the interpretation and views in it and the annexes do not come from "a classified source" but are those of the British Embassy itself. Much of the factual information in the Annexes was publicly available in the various left-wing papers and magazines of that time.

Under the heading "communism in the Republic of Ireland", Mr Blatherwick categorises not just the activities of the Communist Party, but those of Trotskysist, Maoist and Left-socialist bodies such as the Young Socialists, as well as the Official Sinn Fein/IRA and organisations like the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Irish Voice on Vietnam and the Wolfe Tone Society. So he is using a very wide definition of "communist activity", which many would disagree with.

Page 1 of Ambassador Blatherwick's letter (Irish C-1 JPG):

Here Mr Blatherwick refers to James Connolly as "a convinced Catholic", which was certainly not the case, as any of the biographies of Connolly readily available in 1970, in particular the late C.Desmond Greaves's definitive study, would have informed him. While Connolly took the Catholic Last Sacrament before his execution, it is well known that he was not a religious believer for most of his life.

Mr Blatherwick also refers to "Mary Burke" who was "attached to the Goulding fringe." This is presumably Maureen (Mairín) de Burca, who was a well-known Official Sinn Fein activist at the time. I knew her moderately well in the 1960s and never heard her referred to as "Mary Burke". Perhaps British diplomats, or Mr Blatherwick on his own account, followed the practice of translating Irish "Maureens" into "Marys"?

Annex 1; Irish C-4 JPG:

"A. Rafferty" was a pseudonym often used by the late Patrick(Paddy) Carmody, who was a public servant, when writing political articles. He is referred to under his own name further down the same page. I was acquainted with most of the people named on this list as members of Executive of the Communist Party of Ireland at the time, but I never heard of a Patrick McCarthy or Peter McCarthy. There may have been a person or persons of that name whom I did not know, but I would be surprised if there was, for the Dublin radical political community was quite a small one then and since. Of course this may have been another pseudonym.

Annex 1(3); Irish C-6 JPG:

It is false and misleading to describe the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement as a "communist front organisation", as Mr Blatherwick does. I was a founder member of that body in 1964, together with Kader Asmal, former lecturer in Law and later Dean of Arts in TCD and until recently Minister for Education in South Africa, and various other people. I was a member of its original committee and remained a committee member for some years, although I think I had ceased being on the committee by 1970. Of the people who founded the IAAM and the dozen or so members of its original committee, there would have been at most one or two communists, in my recollection. I suppose it comes down to what Embassy staff and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office used as their criteria for "communist front organisations" at the time. They seem to have regarded any organisation with a few active communists in it as a "communist front organisation" - quite mistakenly in my opinion - yet they do not apply this characterisation to trade unions in either Ireland or Britain, where communists were often quite influential in those days. The official mind-set that led to the characterisation "communist front" being used for various bodies might well be a worthwhile historical research topic in its own right, although it could well turn into a study in the political pathology of officialdom at the time.

The same point goes for Mr Blatherwick's reference to the Irish Voice on Vietnam organisation. Two of the six members of its Executive listed (Frank Edwards and George Jeffares) were CP members, so far as I know; the others were not.

Annex IV; Irish C-9 JPG:

I am adding some comments interspersed in this section. RJ 11/06/06.

"Chief of these infiltrators was Dr Roy Johnston, an active member of the Communist Party since the age of 17." This characterisation, and the sinister connotations of "infiltrator" and infiltration, imply that some person or body organised or urged such "communist" involvement in or with the IRA with a view to "controlling" it....

I certainly was not a member of any CP at the age of 17, though I aspired to help develop some form of organisation in Ireland in the Marxist tradition since the age of 16. At the age of 19 I had a hand in setting up the Irish Workers League which was a step in that direction, though I was far from being at ease with its policies and procedures. We had as students made use of CPGB educational courses on history and economics, given by Eric Hobsbawm, Rodney Hilton and others, but this was by informal arrangement, done through C Desmond Greaves, who at the time was influential with the Irish student Left. RJ.

....Yet that is not what happened at all. No organisation or person outside the IRA ever urged or advised Roy Johnston to join it, as I am sure that he would readily confirm himself if asked. I was quite friendly with Roy Johnston when he returned to Dublin - in 1963, I think - after a year or two working as a scientist for Messrs Guinness in Britain. I had rented from him the flat in the basement of his house in Belgrave Road, Rathmines, for a time while he was abroad. I did not know that Roy Johnston had joined the Republicans(IRA) until quite some time after he had done that. Neither did the late C.Desmond Greaves, who would meet Roy Johnston regularly during his frequent visits to Dublin in the early and middle 1960s while he was researching his biography of Liam Mellows. Roy Johnston decided on this course of action entirely of his own accord, motivated, he states, by the desire to encourage the Republicans to return to the inclusive republicanism of Tone, as he details in his memoirs, A Century of Endeavour, which have just been published in America....

And now thanks to the Tyndall-Lilliput combination, since April 2006 in Ireland. My joining with the republicans was a reflection of a personal attempt to break away from the narrow doctrinaire philosophy of the Irish Workers League which had contributed to its isolation. RJ.

....My recollection from the social gossip in our circle in the years following was that Cathal Goulding, Sean Garland and Co, who were in the IRA at the time, were said to have approached him, being impressed in part by the fact that that he was a republican of Protestant background, and also because he was a member of the Dublin Wolfe Tone Society from around the time of its foundation in 1963, and they saw him as possibly helping them to become more politically relevant in the conditions of the early and mid-1960s. If that is so, it means the Republicans approached Roy Johnston, rather than he them; but I am sure that he would readily clarify this point himself, if asked. In no way, moreover, would it be true to say that Desmond Greaves encouraged Roy Johnston to join the Republican Movement....

This is substantially correct. RJ.

....Rather the contrary in fact: Desmond Greaves was frequently critical in the middle and later 1960s of aspects of Roy Johnston's political activity with the Republicans, a criticism that influenced myself to an extent in not following him into joining either Sinn Fein or the IRA. I was quite happy to seek to influence the politicization of the Republicans during the 1960s as much as possible, as long as it did not entail any organisational or disciplinary commitment on my part. Hence my involvement in the Dublin Wolfe Tone Socety and, in the later 1960s, in the moves to establish the Civil Rights Movement; for most of the members of these bodies did not belong either to Sinn Fein or the IRA. When in the crisis of August 1969, the attempted pogrom occurred in Belfast, I recall Cathal Goulding and Sean Garland asking rather formally to meet me, and when we did so inviting me to join the IRA in order to help with the politicization process "from the inside", as it were, at a time when it was running into considerable difficulties. I declined that invitation.

As the Northern troubles escalated in 1969, I remember C.Desmond Greaves remarking on several occasions that things would end up with the Republican Movement splitting, Roy Johnston being blamed for it, and, as he remarked more than once,"The Provisionals will then be the IRA "; which was more or less what transpired.

So there was no "infiltration" of the Republican Movement by communists in the 1960s, no take-over bid (cf. page 2 of Mr Blatherwick's letter; Irish C-2,). There were actions by particular individuals who "did their own thing" quite independently, motivated by their personal views and not pushed or encouraged by anyone else. That would be true of both Roy Johnston and myself. We acted entirely as as private individuals - or maybe as "individualists", as Desmond Greaves might characterise it! This will be confirmed when people read Greaves's extensive journals for that time, which are in my possession and which will be deposited in due time in the National Library of Ireland. It should also be clear from Roy Johnston's own Memoirs...

And from the extracts of the Greaves Journals which are contained in this hypertext. RJ.

Indeed, being something of a computer "geek", Roy Johnston is accompanying his memoirs with a CD-ROM, which he is making available for sale, containing extensive documentation on the primary sources for his memoirs. These include the Sinn Fein Party Minutes for much of the 1960s, which Sean Garland of the Workers Party let him copy. I gave him access to the Wolfe Tone Society Minute Book, which he has put excerpts from on his CD Rom. I also allowed him to copy excerpts fom Desmond Greaves's Journal relating to the period, and the CD-Rom also gives the text of various documents that Roy Johnston himself was largely responsible for as "Education Officer" for the Republicans in the middle and later 1960s and which were important for the Republican politicisation process of those years.

I make these points because in my opinion, and pace Mr Blatherwick, the whole concept of "infiltration" is a rather dubious one - at least in the Irish context which the future Ambassador is referring to. It just does not describe correctly the reality of what happened.

It will be apparent elsewhere that in the republican context I campaigned consistently against the use of this word and concept in any political context; if people join an organisation, it must be in genuine support of the objectives of that organisation, and not in the context of any 'hidden agenda'. RJ.

Mr Blatherwick further refers to Roy Johnston as importing "Marxist doctrine" into the IRA/Republicans. This is another misleading way of looking at it. Neither Roy Johnston nor I were seeking to influence the Republicans of that time to become Marxists or subscribe to "Marxist doctrine", whatever that is. We were seeking rather to encourage them to take up politics, to "go political", to get away from the gun - to use different phrases for the same thing: in other words, to take up practical political and social issues that might resonate with "ordinary people", with the general body of citizenry or sections of them, particularly in relation to such issues as Partition, Irish national independence, neutrality and the like, in other words to help them to become more effective Republican nationalists.

Of course we subscribed to what one might fairly designate as the classical Marxist view that there was no point in seeking to advocate socialism in a country that did not have an independent State that was fully in control of its own territory and its own affairs in the first place. In other words, that a distinction could be made between a democratic revolution to establish a politically independent State, and "socialism", using that word to refer to various economic and social changes that such a State might implement.

Or in other words, that progressive politics in Ireland should give priority to solving the national question, which in Ireland meant Partition and all that flowed from that. In this view both Roy Johnston and I had been much influenced by the late C Desmond Greaves; but it would be quite fallacious to regard this distinction as peculiar to him.

One might characterise this as a "classical" Marxist distinction in that Marx and Engels themselves made it, as is amply testified by their voluminous writings on Ireland; but so do countless people who have no idea of that, who never heard of Marx or Engels and who in no sense would regard themselves as "Marxists" - such as the early Provisionals for instance - for this distinction or view is part of the ABC of practical politics, little more than common sense; or so we then regarded it and I would regard it still. It seems to me that only Government officials such as senior Embassy staff and people like that, turn such common sense into political Aunt Sallies, or see conspiracies and sinister goings-on where there are none. Hence their loose talk of "Marxist theories","Marxist principles" and the like.

I wonder what Mr Blatherwickwould have done if he had been asked by his superiors to write an essay listing or characterising these Marxist principles or theories, or to indicate what was specifically Marxist about them. He would have been put to the pin of his collar to comply, I expect! I suspect that any popular political agitation which disturbed the decades-long complacency of the British Government regarding Northern Ireland and upset the political apple-cart there, would have been virtually automatically regarded as the result of "Marxist" subversion in the eyes of British Embassy diplomats and their superiors in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the time.

I must say I find the above points made by AC totally valid, clear and comprehensible. RJ.

Annex IV; Item C-9 JPG (continued): "Another prominent communist in the IRA is Anthony Coughlan, a lecturer in Social Administration at TCD and an IRA "travelling lecturer" since the middle of 1965." This sentence contains three false statements: (a) that I was a communist; (b) that I was in the IRA, and (c) that I was an IRA "travelling lecturer". These statements are seriously defamatory of me and my reputation, and I am very disturbed to discover that they have been published in the British public records.

I can understand AC's concern; he always asserted his independent role, usually creatively. RJ.

I wonder do public records of this kind give grounds for legal action for libel and defamation, with prospect of recompense and damages; for if that were the case I would be prepared to launch such an action? (My legal advisers, whom I have consulted since learning of this matter from Dr Eunan O'Halpin and before writing this commentary, tell me that even if they are covered by statutory immunity in the jurisdiction they are published in, they will not be outside that jurisdiction.)

Indeed over the years, as I have sometimes said to friends, I have done quite well financially out of not being a member of either communist or illegal Republican organisations! When Messrs Bishop and Mallie wrote their well-known book on the Provisional IRA, published by Messrs Heinemann and Corgi books, and stated in its first edition that I was a member, with Roy Johnston, of "every IRA gathering" in the mid-1960s, I took legal action which impelled them to retract this, insert a correction slip repudiating this falsehood, and lifted some thousands of pounds off them.

When their publishers later changed hands and a variant of this libel was repeated, I had the satisfaction of lifting some thousands more and got the publisher to pulp what remained of the offending edition. When a political columnist in the Sunday Tribune newspaper referred to me at the outset of the Nice Two referendum campaign in 2002 as a "communist," with a denigratory adjective attached, I took legal action against that paper, got them to publish a retraction and apology and improved my bank balance in minor compensation for the slander.

There is indeed a lot to be said in favour of the political intellectual writer and lecturer keeping an independent status, outside of political organisations; I sometimes wish I had done the same! RJ.

So I am naturally anxious that no countenance should be given to these mis-statements by Mr Blatherwick, and that if people become aware of them, they should simultaneously be aware that they are false and should not be repeated uncorrected, and that such uncorrected republication or repetition constitutes grounds for legal action for damages for libel, which I will not hesitate to institute. I have never been much of a joiner of political organisations, having set up or initiated the establishment of more political bodies than I have joined. The only political party I was ever a member of was the Irish Labour Party, to which I belonged for a couple of years, 1957-8, when I was a student at University College Cork. I was an active member of the Connolly Association in Britain between 1958 and 1961, when I lived and worked in London, where I became an admirer and close friend of the late C Desmond Greaves(1913-88), who made me his heir and literary executor on his death 30 years later.

The Connolly Association used sometimes be referred to by persons of ambassadorial and non-ambassadorial status in the 1940s and 1950s as a "communist-front organisation", rather as the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement was by Mr Blatherwick above. Again it depends on definitions and criteria. While Desmond Greaves and some other members of the Association belonged in those days also to the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), it did not mean that the CPGB "controlled" the Connolly Association, or that CA policy was decided by anyone other than its own members at their open public annual conferences. Most CA members, then and now, were and are in no political party, and overall I would estimate that of those who belonged to a party, there would have been significantly more Labour Party than CPGB members in it in those days.

It will be apparent from the CDG Journals that from the beginning he worked to give the Connolly Association an independent democratic constitutional status, breaking from its earlier dependence on CPGB initiatives. RJ.

While Desmond Greaves was a member of the CPGB from his student days in the 1930s, he was not a person whom anybody ever "controlled" or manipulated, least of all British CP headquarters, not to mind Moscow, although this was the way that ignorant people sometimes liked to represent things in those days; and various ill-motivated or slovenly and ill-informed commentators may still do. The concept of manipulation or control being exercised in relation to Desmond Greaves is quite derisory for anyone who knew him.

Although I was full-time organiser for the Connolly Association for a year in 1960-61 - the Association's members having raised a guarantor fund to employ someone to work on exposing in Britain the misdeeds of the Northern Ireland Unionist regime - and I was very active in the Association during the three years I lived in London, no one ever asked or invited me to join the CPGB in that time, not to mind putting "pressure" on me to do that. This was so even though some of the CA members whom I most admired and respected were CPGB members, in particular C Desmond Greaves himself. But for them as for me, it was their Irish political work that was primary, and this was undertaken of their own free choice, because they were Irish or of Irish background, or they were British people sympathetic to the Irish cause. Thus there was no manipulation or hidden "control" of the Connolly Association and its work from outside. Only the Cold-War-obsessed officialdom of those days analysed affairs in these simplistic categories. The full story of the Connolly Association and its work in Britain to draw attention to the deplorable civil rights situation in Northern Ireland from the mid-1950s to the 1970s is documented in the Association's monthly newspaper, the Irish Democrat, which can be readily consulted in the National Library of Ireland or the British Library.

When I returned to Dublin in 1961 Desmond Greaves asked me to act as Dublin correspondent of The Irish Democrat, which he edited for some 40 years until his death. I agreed to do that and am still sending occasional pieces to the paper over 40 years later, having written for it under my own name since 1961. The political course that I followed in Dublin was completely my own, undertaken entirely "off my own bat", without asking or seeking advice from anyone else. I did not renew my membership of the Irish Labour Party, although I considered that. I joined the Wolfe Tone Society about a year after it was founded, in time became assistant secretary and later secretary of its Dublin branch and from that position sought to influence the politicization of the Republicans, which was one of the political trends of the period, and the general Left-Republican convergence which such politicization implied in practice, mediated through various activities that it would take too long to detail here.

The most important of these political initiatives historically was to urge the Republicans to take up the civil rights issue in Northern Ireland, for that was the central focus of Connolly Association's and Desmond Greaves's political activity during the 1960s. I continued to interest myself in that, mainly through personal contact with the Association during my annual summer holidays in London during the 1960s, and with Greaves himself, who used stay with me on his frequent visits to Dublin to work in the National Library and meet people in connection with his researches on Mellows, Sean O'Casey and later the ITGWU, of which the Executive of that trade union had commissioned him to write the official history.

For what it is worth, Desmond Greaves's general view during the 1960s, was that "progressive" people, such as he regarded Roy Johnston, myself and others in our circle, and people generally on the political Left, should devote their political efforts to seeking to make the Irish Labour movement Republican rather than trying to make Irish Republicanism political, so as to bring it closer to Labour, although he naturally welcomed evidence of the latter when it happened. In retrospect I believe that Greaves was right in that political judgement, although he used say that he had no formula to offer as to how that could be done.

As I have stated above, I was never a member of the IRA, and when invited to join it by Cathal Goulding and Sean Garland at the time of the August 1969 crisis, I declined. As for Mr Blatherwick's reference to me as an IRA "travelling lecturer", it is worth noting that for me and for most politically interested people in the Wolfe Tone Society and related groups at the time - and indeed for the Irish public generally - the IRA was regarded as virtually moribund or non-existent between 1962 and 1969. Sinn Fein was the main public face of Republicanism in those days, and "politicisers" like Cathal Goulding and others among the Republicans were obviously seeking to build up Sinn Fein influence and that of the Republican newspaper, the United Irishman, not the IRA.

I gave lectures and talks to many meetings during the 1960s, usually under Wolfe Tone Society auspices or that of groups initiated as spin-offs from the Society, such as the organisations that opposed the 1965 Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement and the EEC/Common Market. I have no recollection of ever addressing any IRA gathering, and almost certainly would not have agreed to do that if invited. So far as I know, the IRA, which would have been very small in numbers until 1970, did not hold meetings or gatherings which non-members could or would be invited to address in any case. I recall once being invited to speak to the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle (National Executive) on the theme of either the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement or the EEC - I forget which. Whoever was in the IRA in the 1960s did not have a political existence separate from Sinn Fein or its associated political groups, as is doubtless still the case with the Provisional IRA today. So the very concept of an "IRA travelling lecturer", to use Mr Blatherwick's phrase - at least on political matters, whatever about lectures on bazookas and suchlike - is counter-factual and misleading.

Annex IV(2); IRISH C - B JPG:

'Coughlan has been Johnston's main assistant in persuading the "official" Sinn Fein movement to accept Marxist policy on certain issues..'.

Again this is an inaccurate and misleading way of putting it. I sought to influence the Republicans as much as possible to take up politics, so that they might become politically relevant and thereby work with and interact with others for what I believed were worthwhile political goals, entirely on my own account and independently of Roy Johnston, Desmond Greaves or anyone else. I was not a member of either Sinn Fein or the IRA, so I could not give Roy Johnston, who was in these organisations, any direct assistance within them. But Roy Johnston and I were of course ad idem in regarding the politicisation of the Republican Movement as desirable and worthwhile.

The only organisation that we were both members of was the Wolfe Tone Society, which was quite a modest body in terms of membership, but which did launch a number of public initiatives that influenced others in various ways during a politically lively decade. Neither was the Wolfe Tone Society "controlled" by the IRA or by anyone from outside its own modest membership. Apart from Roy Johnston, I cannot recollect that any of its members were in the IRA, at least for most of the time I was involved with it. I recollect Cathal Goulding being present at a few of the first Society meetings I attended, but he ceased attending later and it was not a regular occurrence. Most of the Society's members were unattached Republicans or Left-wingers of one kind or another, as the Society's Minute Book, which I have, should bear witness, for it lists the attendance at its monthly or fortnightly meetings.

It will be apparent from my memoir of the period that in retrospect I wished I had paid more attention to what AC was doing; perhaps if we had co-ordinated our actions more effectively, the development of the Civil Rights movement would have been able to avoid some of the difficultiues it encountered.

And what did Mr Blatherwick mean by referring above to Johnston and Coughlan as advancing "Marxist policy on certain issues" amongst the Republicans? I warrant that he would have found himself mentally challenged if he had had to set out what constituted the "Marxist" content of those policies! Did he mean civil rights, housing action campaigns, saving Dublin's Taylors' Hall, restoring Kilmainham Jail, reviving the Irish language, opposing ground rents in Dublin, seeking the nationalisation of the Lough Neagh eel-fisheries, supporting the Anti-Apartheid cause, opposing the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement and membership of the EEC? These were the kind of practical issues which the Republicans, along with sundry others on the broad political Left, Labour, communist and non-aligned, took up in the 1960s; but to what extent were they specifically "Marxist"?

I doubt if the diplomat could tell us, apart from pointing out that a tiny handful of people with Marxist or communist links or associations were involved in various ways. Doubtless it is that which made such normal democratic political activity "Marxist" in the eyes of the British Embassy or the Foreign and Commonweath Office of the time, not that it embodied or expressed any specifically Marxist ideological scheme or doctrine.

But seeking to understand the diplomat's thought-processes and mental categories on this matter threaten to make this commentary too long!

Mr Blatherwick writes: "...many of the Goulding group would properly deny (like Miss Devlin or Messrs Farrell and McCann) that they are Marxists."

This is another misjudgement, I suspect, for I am fairly certain that McCann and Farrell would have openly styled themselves "Marxists" in those days, if anyone had asked or challenged them, and they would have been able to give reasons for doing that, which other "Marxists" might well have disputed; and I think that Bernadette Devlin would probably have accepted the designation also. Which goes only to show that Mr Blatherwick's notions of what constituted Marxism were somewhat simplistic.

He writes further: "...a major cause of the break was dislike of the Marxist policies and the social disruption advocated by the Dublin-based headquarters of the Movement."

I was rather amused to read this. The Dublin-based Republican politicisers were doing their damnedest in the 1968-70 period to damp down "social disruption", as they saw it, in Northern Ireland as much as possible and to keep civil rights-type activity - that is, peaceful, political, disciplined and constitutional activity - to the fore. It was Messrs McCann and Farrell and the ultra-leftists of the People's Democracy who were the coat-trailers and disruptionists of the Northern Civil Rights Movement at that time - for example with the Burntollet March in January 1969 and the Newry civil rights demonstration that followed - as was clearly documented later by the British Government's Cameron Report.

In my opinion Sean MacStiofain, who was the key man in leading the early Provisionals and encouraging the Sinn Fein/IRA split, would have been broadly of the view that Cathal Goulding and his colleagues were not out to cause enough "social disruption"! I suspect that that would have been his main complaint and that of others who thought like him. Certainly the issue of parliamentary abstention caused tension and division within Sinn Fein and the IRA , but Roy Johnston was involved with and dealing with that as a member of these bodies, not I. Again it is not clear what were the "Marxist principles" which Mr Blatherwick states were being propagated, and which the embryonic and early Provisionals might take exception to.

Their central complaint was that Cathal Goulding, who as IRA chief-of-staff was formally in charge of an illegal army, did not have guns and gunmen on the ground when Belfast blew up in August 1969. If that had happened perhaps Goulding and the Republican "politicisers" might have been better able to keep on top of events? But if that failure or inadequacy could be ascribed to a bogy called "Marxism", a concept that really stood for "politics", then MacStiofain, Ruairi O Bradaigh and Co were quite happy to throw the pejorative appellation around. And there were plenty of silly commentators and naïve or lazy historians afterwards who were only too happy to follow them. But one might have expected more political sophistication from diplomats.

Further down the same page, on the Wolfe Tone Society, Mr Blatherwick states: "Anthony Coughlan and Roy Johnston were founder members." The Wolfe Tone Society was formed in 1963 to hold a series of lectures on the 200th anniversary of Tone's birth, and its members or committee decided to continue in existence therafter. I was not one of the original members, not joining the Society until nearly a year later, although I recall attending some of the initial lectures in Dublin's Mansion House - one of them incidentally being given by the late Hubert Butler of the Kilkenny Ormond/Butler family, who was scarcely a socialist republican. Roy Johnston was not in the original founding group either - which revolved around Dick Roche and Sean Cronin, then working together at the Irish Independent, and the architect Uinseann MacEoin, but he did join the Society some time before I did.

The 'Wolfe Tone Directories' were set up by Goulding in 1963 as a means of re-introducing the inclusive politics of 1798 to the thinking of the movement. The Dublin 'Directory' did not become the Society until 1964, when it adopted its own independent Constitution. The Dublin, Belfast and Cork Societies were always independent entities; the idea of the 'Dublin Branch' of the Society is incorrect. RJ.

Annex V; IRISH C-C: JPG :

"The Connolly Association is based in England but has very close connections with the Irish Communist groups. It is tolerated by the CPGB (? The latter initials are faint and hard to decipher on my copy of the print-out, but I think that these are what they are). It publishes the Irish Democrat."

Based in "Britain" rather than England would have have been more accurate, as the Connolly Association had a branch in Glasgow and members in other parts of Scotland as well as in Wales. Being organised exclusively in Britain, the Association would have had no formal connection with any organisation or party in Ireland, although there would have been friendly relations between people such as Desmond Greaves, Roy Johnston and myself, and of course generally amical personal and political relations with various members of the Irish CP, the Republicans and all sorts of other people.

"It is tolerated by the CPGB" is a curious statement. The CPGB had an International Committee, which advised that party's Executive on international issues, and it had an Irish Committee which advised the International Committee and the Executive on specific Irish ones. My impression from Desmond Greaves's Journal, which contains several references to the Irish Committee, is that over the decades this committee was sometimes more active and alive than other times, and Greaves himself, the late Joseph Deighan, Patrick Bond and other CP members who were members of and active in the Connolly Association would have been members of it from time to time.

But again the implication that one organisation was "controlling" another gives the wrong impression. Desmond Greaves spent much of his political lifetime seeking to influence the CPGB to take the Irish question, to which he was personally strongly committed, more seriously and to urge the English, Welsh and Scottish members of that party to "push" or "take-up" the Irish issue in the British Labour and trade union movement, on which its CPGB members had considerable influence at the time.

This is as much part of the picture as the notion that the CPGB was hoping through Greaves and the Connolly Association to extend communist influence amongst the Irish in Britain. In Greaves's view the communists were the element of the organised British Labour movement that should in principle have been most open to an "anti-imperialist" message and policy on Ireland, such as he was advocating, in their own interests as well as Ireland's; and while some British communists did indeed respond to that and became committed critics of the Ulster Unionist regime, it was often difficult for Greaves and his colleagues to get significant or wholehearted support even in such left-wing circles, so widespread was the ignorance of, indifference to, or general chauvinism about Ireland and Irish affairs at that time and since.

Desmond Greaves came to be the acknowledged authority on Ireland and the Irish question in British communist circles from the 1940s to the 1970s, I would say, and of course he became in time recognised as an authority in some British Labour Party and trade union circles as well. However, as the CPGB became more "Euro-communist" and "revisionist" in the late 1970s and 1980s and came to be actively cultivated by the Goulding/Garland "stickies" of the Official Republican Movement in those years, as they sought to displace the Irish CP in the eyes of the USSR CP and the international communist movement generally, relations between the CPGB and Greaves became indifferent or even strained at times.

In his later years, particularly in the 1980s, Desmond Greaves used sometimes say that the less the British CP had to do or say on the Irish question, the better he liked it, "for they just don't know anything about it!" Although Desmond Greaves retained his formal membership of the CPGB until his death in 1988, he was frequently scathing about that party's development, particularly on Ireland. I recall him saying that if they forgot to approach him to renew his annual membership, he would not mind and certainly would not chase after them. This was because of the CPGB's adopting what he regarded as an ultra-leftist policy on Ireland and their flirting with the "stickies" of Official Sinn Fein in the later years before that party's formal dissolution. All this will be quite evident when his Journals become publicly available.

It is now 16 vears since CD Greaves's death and over a decade since the CPGB dissolved itself, but the Connolly Association is still thriving and, I am informed, has more members on its books than in Greaves's last years. Its paper, the Irish Democrat, is stll coming out, although latterly as a bi-monthy. I am still acting as its occasional Dublin Correspondent and keep in regular contact with the Asssociation, having several good friends among its older members. So that is one supposed "communist-front organisation" - pace Mr Blatherwick - that has continued in being long after the body it was supposed to be a front for has disappeared, which is further evidence, I suggest, of the limitations of the British Embassy diplomat's political categories.


In recent years the Provisional Republican Movement has come around to politics and civil rights issues again in Northern Ireland - to seeking "equality of treatment and parity of esteem", to use the current buzzwords - after 30 years of "armed struggle" that sought to dislodge Britain and NATO from Ireland by physical force during the heyday decades of the Cold War. Indeed on Saturday 31 July 2004, I had the pleasant experience of being invited by the Belfast Republicans to speak as Desmond Greaves's heir and literary executor at the launch in that city of a new edition of his most important book, Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution, which had just been jointly published by a group of Republican ex-prisoners and Greaves's British publisher, the former CPGB publishers, Lawrence and Wishart, which is now a private firm. This new edition has an introduction by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams that is worthy of the book it introduces, and he was the principal speaker at this re-launch. So as has been said, things that go around, come around!


I request that anyone reading Mr Blatherwick's letter in the British public records, and the annexes thereto referred to in this commentary, should note these corrections of the errors of fact and judgement contained in it. I request them to do nothing to republish, publicise or disseminate without correction the false and defamatory statements concerning myself that this letter and its annexes contain.

In so far as Mr Blatherwick's false and defamatory remarks about me are copied and disseminated by others without correction, I hereby put them on notice that they constitute a re-publication of false and defamatory material that makes the person responsible open to legal action for defamation, libel and damages, which I shall not hesitate to institute.

Anthony Coughlan, Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Social Policy.

PS: 1969 MI5 report on the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement:

After reading the file containing Mr David Blatherwick's letter of July 1970, I also read with interest a document Professor O'Halpin had copied from the 1969 British public records on the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland. This was an MI5 report dated 18 February 1969, on Professor O'Halpin's discette under the heading"NI Crisis". This gets the politics of the NICRA, the People's Democracy and the other elements of the Civil Rights movement at the time more or less right, in my opinion. The large number of "identified members of the IRA" which this MI5 report says were present at the first annual general meeting of the NICRA in February 1968 - at which I was present myself, if I remember rightly - would have been there as members of Sinn Fein of course, not IRA people. Indeed, I would be disinclined to trust the "Northern Ireland sources" which the MI5 report states were the basis of this estimate. I would think that any committed Northern Republicans who were engaged in political, civil rights-type activity at that time would have been more or less automatically assumed by the Stormont/Unionist regime and the RUC/Special Branch to have been "in the IRA". Certainly some of those present at the NICRA annual conference would have been that; but "nearly half"? I have my doubts.

[To Appendix 10: Left Politics Overview] [To RJ 1970 Political]

Some navigational notes:

A highlighted number brings up a footnote or a reference. A highlighted word hotlinks to another document (chapter, appendix, table of contents, whatever). In general, if you click on the 'Back' button it will bring to to the point of departure in the document from which you came.

Copyright (c) e-version Dr Roy Johnston 2006, also as regards content JA Coughlan 2004