Ireland 'planned to arm the IRA'

THE IRISH government was prepared to send troops into Northern Ireland and to arm the fledgling Provisional IRA in the event of all-out loyalist attack on Catholic areas in 1970, a BBC television programme claims.

The programme re-examines the events leading to the Dublin arms trial of 1970 in which two Irish ministers and others were charged with illegal importation of arms. All were acquitted of the charges. One of the ministers, Charles Haughey, later went on to become Taoiseach.

The programme, Timewatch, is to be broadcast tomorrow night. In it two members of the then Fianna Fail government, Neil Blaney and Kevin Boland, speak of plans to send arms into the north to defend Catholics against attack from extreme Protestants.

In the event no arms were sent but the programme says that some Irish government money was given to the IRA.

Mr Boland says in an interview: 'They (the guns) were to be used in connection with a contingency plan to operate in the contingency of an all-out attack having already occurred on the ghetto areas and other isolated rural areas.

'We were to be ready to give whatever assistance to local groups that we could, and these rifles were held for that purpose.'

Mr Blaney adds: 'It was my view that since we as a government through our army were not prepared to provide protection for the people up there, then anything, including the procurement of arms for themselves to defend themselves, was on.'

Journalists at a Belfast press conference were generally sceptical of the BBC claim that the programme had produced 'extraordinary new evidence' of an episode which was examined in the arms trial and in a subsequent Dail inquiry.

The programme's production team did not reply when asked to justify their statement that 'Irish government policies, combined with British inactivity, led to the emergence of the Provisional IRA'.

Nevertheless, the Irish government may well be embarrassed by the exploration of a generally murky and highly controversial episode. It will be pointed out that almost all of the programme's interviewees were former members of either wing of the IRA, or opponents of Charles Haughey and Fianna Fail, many of whom may be concerned to portray events in as harsh a light as possible.