Call To Arms:
The Ulster Rebellion, 1966-72
By Chris Oakley
based on the series "It (Almost) Happened Here" by the same author
BBC-TV broadcasts a second investigative report on the charge that one of Irish prime minister Sean Lemass’ senior cabinet members is a covert FUA sympathizer. Excerpts of the BBC report are seen in the United States the next day as part of a story filed from Dublin by a CBS News European bureau correspondent.
The KGB station chief in Belfast telegraphs his superiors in Moscow that the FUA’s attitude on foreign affairs appears to be increasingly taking a pro-Chinese track. In response to this information, the Soviet Union will further step up its already substantial financial and political support for the CPI’s efforts in defense of the Reunification Pact.
Former Irish prime minister John A. Costello publishes a guest editorial in the Irish Times calling for his fellow countrymen to fight against what he calls "the forces of disunity". His column, printed as part of the paper’s year-long commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the signing of the 1954 Reunification Pact, accusing Reverend Paisley and FUA general secretary Liam Delaney of being what Costello describes as "different sides of the same dangerous coin of separatism".
Liam Delaney blasts John A. Costello as "a secret fascist" in an editorial in the People’s Defender published in response to the former Irish prime minister’s commentary in the Irish Times three days earlier. Delaney also condemns the 1954 Reunification Pact, calling it "the worst thing that’s happened to Ulster in the last one hundred years".
In an attempt to head off the increasing groundswell of cynicism that threatens to undermine his government, Sean Lemass announces his attorney general is beginning an internal inquiry into the allegations raised by BBC-TV’s investigative reports. But Lemass’ decision does little to quash public demands for an independent probe; in some quarters, in fact, it’s viewed as a transparent attempt by the Lemass administration to whitewash the facts and causes many Irish opposition leaders to step up their calls for an independent investigation.
FUA agitators disrupt a CPI May Day rally in Armagh, leading to a riot that leaves twelve people dead and over fifty more injured; police make three dozen arrests in the disturbance.
UNOBMISUL headquarters in Belfast comes under sniper attack; two UN peacekeepers are wounded in the shooting. At first the attack is blamed on right wing anti-Pact extremists, but further inquiry by local and regional civilian police turns up evidence that the sniper was in fact linked with the FUA.
FUA party general secretary Liam Delaney, under questioning by Belfast police authorities, denies he had any foreknowledge of or connection to the sniper attack on UNOBMISUL headquarters; he asserts that the FUA seeks to achieve its aim of an independent Ulster by political means, not military ones. When reminded that the sniper had been a member of the organzation since December of 1963, Delaney retorts that the gunman had been expelled from the party for "disciplinary" reasons ten days before the shooting.
Two Irish Army lieutenants who had previously been reprimanded for disobeying orders not to distribute pro-FUA literature among their men are court-martialed for insubordination and given a dishonorable discharge. A year later, both men will face trial in civilian courts on sedition charges.
Irish veterans of the 1944 D-Day invasion gather in Dublin for a reunion and a memorial service to honor their fallen comrades; the reunion’s chief organizer caps off the day by giving a speech that is an impassioned defense of the 1954 Reunification Pact.
The Lemass government’s internal inquiry into the allegation that one of his cabinet ministers is a secret FUA sympathizer releases its preliminary findings. The report states no credible evidence has been found to link any of the Irish prime minister’s senior cabinet officials with the FUA; however, these findings fail to satisfy many of Lemass’ critics, and within days after the report is published the Dáil Éirann is debating a resolution calling for Lemass to establish an independent panel to look further into the charges.
The FUA establishes its first branch outside Ulster, a 13-man cadre in Shannon. The creation of this office is greeted with screams of protest throughout southern Ireland; the sternest denunciations come from the Communist Party of Ireland, which accuses the FUA of violating Ireland’s anti-fascist laws.
Irish-Americans in New York City stage an Independence Day rally in Times Square to urge the Johnson Administration to intervene in defense of the Irish government against the FUA, which is in many quarters on both sides of the Atlantic increasingly coming to be viewed as a terrorist group. But with the guerrilla war in South Vietnam continuing to escalate and US interests throughout Asia being threatened by this escalation, Ireland will become a secondary concern in US foreign policy as the Vietnam conflict takes center stage.
Bowing to public pressure, Irish prime minister Sean Lemass finally authorizes the creation of an independent panel to look into the accusation that one of his senior cabinet officials is a secret FUA sympathizer. The scandal and controversy generated by the panel’s findings will eventually see Lemass voted out of office and opposition leader John Lynch become the new Irish prime minister.
Reverend Ian Paisley and Liam Delaney square off in a televised debate over the issue of creating a separate state of Ulster. The debate is the most-watched TV program in Ireland of the summer of 1964.
The FUA’s Shannon branch is bombed by right-wing extremists, killing three and injuring seventeen. The bombing sparks fears that a new civil war in Ireland may be imminent.
A pro-Reunification Pact rally in Derry is disrupted by FUA agitators shouting party slogans and brandishing anti-Pact banners; the pro-Pact demonstrators get into a shouting match with the FUA marchers which quickly turns into a fistfight and then escalates to a large-scale riot. Seven pro-Pact marchers and fifteen FUA members are injured in the melee, along with a Canadian TV journalist who suffers a fractured arm when he gets caught in a brawl between anti-Pact demonstrators and Derry police officers.
Dublin’s largest amateur theater company stages a play titled Voices Stilled; set in an unspecified future time when Ireland has collapsed, the play sparks controversy for its numerous and overt references to the two BBC reports accusing one of Lemass’ senior cabinet officials of being a covert FUA sympathizer. At one point the theater company is actually threatened with a libel suit.
In a speech timed to coincide with the impending publication of the final report of the Lemass government’s internal inquiry into the charges raised by BBC-TV’s two investigations into alleged ties between the FUA and one of Lemass’ cabinet officials, FUA deputy general secretary Seamus Murphy1 grants an interview to BBC-TV in which he makes it known that the FUA has additional sympathizers within the ranks of the Lemass government. Murphy also claims that the party is starting to win converts to its cause from among the members of Reverend Ian Paisley’s Protestant church.
Reverend Paisley issues a written statement vehemently denouncing Seamus Murphy’s assertions of the FUA winning converts from among Paisley’s congregation as "a blatant and unforgivable lie".
Reverend Ian Paisley is seriously injured in a car accident near Derry while en route home from an anti-Pact rally. Paisley’s most vocal supporters accuse the FUA of sabotaging that car; the FUA responds by claiming that Paisley faked the accident in a blatant attempt to win sympathy for himself and his cause.
The CPI and the Communist Party of Great Britain sponsor a joint rally in London’s Trafalgar Square urging the British government to intervene in defense of the 1954 Reunification Pact.
Scotland Yard foils an attempt by anti-Pact extremists to hijack a Dublin-bound passenger jet out of Heathrow Airport. Though the men behind the failed hijacking plot have no direct connection to the FUA, their statements to police during interrogation indicate that they strongly support the FUA’s aspirations of establishing an independent socialist Ulster Republic; some of the FUA’s most bitter opponents cite these statements as a sign that the party sponsored or at least encouraged the failed hijacking attempt, a charge which prompts FUA secretary general Liam Delaney to issue a statement vehemently denying any links between himself and the authors of the hijacking plot and threatening to file libel suits against any major media outlet in Britain or Ireland which dares to make the slightest suggestion such links might exist.
The UN General Assembly passes a resolution extending UNOBMISUL’s mission in northern Ireland until September of 1965.
Irish-Americans in Boston stage a massive rally in front of the Old North Church to protest rumored plans by Liam Delaney to make a visit to the United States to recruit supporters in the Irish- American community for his goal of an independent socialist state in Ulster. Just a few blocks away, a small but passionate group of pro-PUA activists holds a counter-demonstration calling on the US government to let Delaney come to Boston; Boston Police riot squads are kept on alert throughout the afternoon until both of these rallies end.
The independent inquiry into alleged ties between the Free Ulster Alliance and one of Sean Lemass’ senior cabinet officials submits its preliminary findings to the Dáil Éireann. Shockingly, initial evidence has indicated that many of the accusation made in the BBC’s initial investigative report are in fact true; even worse, the investigators have found credible evidence of a security leak in the Lemass government through which sensitive information may be getting passed to the FUA.
Prime Minister Lemass, either unable or unwilling to accept the evidence presented to Dáil Éireann the previous day confirming a link between the FUA and one of his cabinet ministers, holds a press conference in Dublin to once again assert that his cabinet is unanimous in its support for the 1954 Reunification Pact. In response, John Lynch tells RTE in a televised interview: "The PM is either a bald-faced liar or a deluded fool...either way, he should be turned out of office without delay." Lynch concludes the interview by stating he will call for a no confidence vote on the Lemass administration the next day.
Making good on his promise of the previous day, John Lynch takes the floor of the Dáil Éireann to demand a no confidence vote on the Lemass government; Lemass narrowly survives the no confidence motion, but the scandal generated by the preliminary results of the independent inquiry into suspected ties between the FUA and certain members of his cabinet has already done serious damage to his political reputation, and by early December his government will be on the verge of collapse. Shortly after the no confidence motion is defeated, momentum starts to gather for a movement to draft Lynch as a candidate to replace Lemass as prime minister of Ireland.
FUA general secretary Liam Delaney is wounded in an assassination attempt near his Belfast office. Although the thwarted would-be assassin is never caught, Delaney is convinced the gunman was in the employ of Reverend Ian Paisley; the next day, from his bed at Belfast’s largest hospital, he dictates a special editorial for the People’s Defender angrily accusing Rev. Paisley and Paisley’s supporters of masterminding the assassination attempt. Paisley, in return, charges that Delaney faked the shooting in a blatant attempt to win sympathy for himself and his movement.
In its first public mass gathering following Liam Delaney’s release from the hospital, the Free Ulster Alliance stages a rally in Armagh calling for the arrest and indictment of Rev. Paisley on charges of conspiracy to murder.
The Cork Examiner becomes the first major Irish newspaper to publicly call for Sean Lemass to step down as prime minister.
The Irish Times takes up the call for Prime Minister Lemass’ resignation.
Supporters of Reverend Paisley publish a manifesto calling for Ulster to be returned to British rule and Liam Delaney to be put on trial for what are vaguely described as "crimes against the best interests of our people".
The UNOBMISUL headquarters in Belfast is bombed by right-wing extremists, killing 14 people and injuring 68; at least half of the UN personnel killed or hurt in the blast are from India. Fearful for the safety of his surviving fellow countrymen with the UN peacekeeping force, India’s prime minister orders all Indian personnel attached to UNOBMISUL recalled immediately; given that a third of the original UNOBMISUL contingent was provided by the Indian army, this decision effectively means the end of the UN presence in Ulster.
The Lemass cabinet minister who was the focal point of the BBC’s original investigation into suspected ties between the FUA and the Lemass government abruptly tenders his resignation. Two days later, he is found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
The Dublin Examiner becomes the fourth newspaper to call for Sean Lemass to step down at Irish prime minister. That same day liberals from among both the Catholic and Protestant sections of Belfast hold a rally to announce the formation of the Irish Unity Party of Ulster, a political group dedicated to preserving the 1954 Reunification Pact and keeping Ulster as part of Ireland.
The Catholic Archbishop of Shannon joins the growing chorus of public figures calling for Lemass to resign as prime minister. In an article printed by Ireland’s largest Catholic newspaper, the archbishop prophetically states: "For the present administration in Dublin to continue in office even one more day may set this nation irrevocably down the path to a new civil war."
In a desperate final attempt to salvage the UN peacekeeping mission in Ulster, the Irish ambassador to India meets with the Indian foreign minister and defense minister in New Delhi hoping to persuade India’s government to halt its withdrawal of troops from northern Ireland. But with the majority of the Indian public demanding the return of India’s surviving soldiers from Ulster and India facing a security crisis of its own along its border with Pakistan2, the ambassador’s efforts go for naught.
200,000 anti-Lemass demonstrators stage a rally in the heart of Dublin calling for a general election to be held to determine a new prime minister for Ireland. The rally’s keynote speaker, a World War II veteran and former partisan with an Irish Communist volunteer unit that served with the Red Army on the Eastern Front in the war’s final months, warns that "the flames of anger will burn this country" if Lemass does not resign as PM; his comments are interpreted in some quarters as a threat by the radical left in Ireland to start a rebellion.
The day after the rally, the CPI issues a statement disavowing any plans for an armed revolt against Lemass; in the same breath, however, the statement also declares that the party favors the installation of a new prime minister and urges party members to use all political means open to them to get a successor elected.
The independent panel investigating suspected ties between the Free Ulster Alliance and the Lemass cabinet submits its final report to the Dáil Éireann. The report’s findings further damage Lemass’ already badly battered political position; on the heels of its publication, three of his cabinet ministers tender their resignations in disgust over his conduct during the inquiry.
Acceding to the wishes of his supporters, John Lynch formally declares himself as a candidate for the office of prime minister of Ireland.
With the last Indian troops evacuated from northern Ireland, the other personnel contingents formerly comprising UNOBMISUL start making preparations to withdraw from the country. That same day a fourth Lemass cabinet minister resigns his position and puts his support behind Lynch’s candidacy for prime minister.
Two Irish regular army divisions are sent to Ulster to bolster the existing Irish army contingent in that region and take over some of the peacekeeping duties formerly handled by UNOBMISUL.
A general election is held in Ireland; Sean Lemass is voted out of office as Irish prime minister and John Lynch elected as his successor. In his first speech as PM, Lynch pledges to make every effort to prevent civil war from breaking out in Ireland and to oppose the FUA’s separatist agenda.
Another airline hijacking plot by pro-FUA gunmen is foiled, this time at Shannon Airport. On the heels of this arrest, Irish prime minister John Lynch orders a top-to-bottom review of the security measures at all of Ireland’s major commercial airports.
FUA general secretary Liam Delaney vehemently disputes charges that his party had a hand in the thwarted Shannon Airport hijack plot.
To Be Continued
 Seamus Murphy(1906-1985) was a lifelong friend of Liam Delaney and one of Delaney’s earliest recruits for the FUA when the party was established. Murphy would eventually succeed Delaney as FUA general secretary and flee to political asylum in Cuba after the Free Ulster Alliance collapsed in the final months of the Ulster Rebellion.
 That crisis would later escalate into the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war.