Derry Journal


Friday 20th August 2004

A former IRA leader in Derry has broken a 35 year silence to reveal full details of an explosive 1969 meeting at which an Irish Army intelligence officer allegedly offered the paramilitary group £50,000, weapons, ammunition and training in return for the 'elimination' of six members of the IRA's national leadership.

Johnny White, OC of the IRA's Derry brigade in 1969, says the meeting was attended by James Kelly - a captain in the Irish Army - and other senior IRA men from Derry.

In an interview in the latest edition of the 'Starry Plough', the official newspaper of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), Mr. White and another former IRA man who attended the 1969 meeting in Derry, say they viewed Captain Kelly's proposal as an attempt to "split and divide" the republican movement.

Captain Kelly, who died last year, was a central figure in the Dublin Arms Trial of 1970 and is widely regarded as having been scapegoated by the then government for plotting to pass guns to northern nationalists at the beginning of the Troubles.

Although the trial acquitted Captain Kelly, and three others, his army career and reputation were irreparably damaged.

The Captain Kelly Justice Campaign was set up earlier this year "to clear his name of any wrongdoing".

A leading member of the Campaign is Derry-born Fionnbarra O"Dochartaigh, a founding member of the North's Civil Rights Association.

Mr. White initially referred to the "offer" last month at a news conference to officially launch the campaign.

Mr. White's remarks sparked angry scenes with Captain Kelly's widow, Sheila - who attended the event - branding the claim "absolutely ludicrous".

The claim was also strongly denied by former Sinn Fein MLA John Kelly who was also accused in the arms trial.

Fionnbarra O'Dochartaigh, who says he was close to the republican leadership in the city at the time, rubbished Mr. White's claim as "ridiculous."

However, in the 'Starry Plough" interview, Johnny White and Peter Collins, the Derry Brigade's intelligence officer in 1969 who also attended the meeting, insist their version of events is true.

They say they only spoke out "so incensed were they that someone who they have intimate knowledge of attempting to split the republican movement in 1969 should be lauded as an innocent victim of injustice."

Messrs. White and Collins believe that, at the time, the Irish government wanted to "eliminate those from within the [IRA] leadership who would have been considered Socialist or Communist." "This would then have laid the groundwork for the formation of a right wing and Catholic leadership that would have been prepared to dance to the tune of the Dublin regime," they say.

Turning to exact details of the 1969 meeting in Derry, the two former IRA men - who are, in fact, the only two surviving people who attended the gathering - claim Capt. Kelly told them he had "authority" to speak on behalf of the Irish government.

"The meeting lasted only a few minutes," the men tell the "Starry Plough". "Kelly, after explaining his role, offered those present arms, training and money (£50,000).

"When those present asked Kelly what the government wanted in return, Kelly said, ' a guarantee that the struggle would be contained within the Six Counties'." "The OC then pointed out to Kelly that he knew as well as him that such a situation was already guaranteed as the standing orders of the IRA prevented any attacks within the 26 counties.

"At this point, the OC then demanded to know exactly what Kelly wanted in return for these weapons and money and aggressively demanded, while pointing his finger towards Kelly, that he give him a straight answer.

"Kelly then said: 'the elimination of certain members of the leadership of the republican movement'."

The 'Starry Plough' report says that, at this stage, the two other IRA men at the meeting joined into the conversation.

One of them asked Kelly how many IRA men were to be eliminated, to which he replied: "Six".

The article continues: "Kelly was then told, in no uncertain terms, to f**k off. The meeting then ended."

Immediately, say the two former IRA men, they made contact with their leadership in Dublin, explaining the situation and seeking an urgent meeting.

The following day, a meeting took place in South Derry at which details of the Kelly meeting were revealed.

The men reveal: "The Chief of Staff told the Derry Brigade OC that he should have got the £50,000 first and then told Kelly to 'f**k off'."

The Derry members were the told the leadership would "take care of it from then on."

According to Messrs. White and Collins, over the years nothing was said about the events, other than to very few prominent republicans and former civil rights campaigners.

The two men say they believe the reason Kelly, on behalf of the Irish government, offered the 1969 deal was because "they feared less an armed struggle contained within the Six Counties than an armed struggle throughout the 32 counties.

"They feared a scenario where tens of thousands of working class men and women would take to the streets and challenge their authority and attempt to change their system into one that put working class people first.

"As the republican movement was to the forefront of that struggle, it would have been important to divide the movement and form an organisation that would have been prepared to pay lip service to the Free State Government."

Both men say that, if they had been listened to at last month's Captain Kelly Justice Campaign meeting, it may actually have helped the Kelly family "find the justice they are looking for."

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