Irish Examiner View: The Arms Crisis half a century ago - A dividing line in our history

Irish Examiner View: The Arms Crisis half a century ago - A dividing line in our history
A rare meeting between Charles Haughey (left) and Jack Lynch.

Imagine if Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stood in the Dáil tomorrow and announced that he had sacked Paschal Donohoe and Michael Creed over a plot to import arms for the IRA; imagine if Regina Doherty resigned in sympathy and — there’s a lot more — imagine if Varadkar’s hand had been forced by, say, Mary Lou McDonald, because she had been made aware, as Varadkar had been weeks earlier, by the Special Branch, of a plot involving government ministers to import arms. Imagine, then, that there was a trial in which charges against one minister were dropped, another was found not guilty, but that official evidence had been doctored.

Unimaginable as that may seem to people of a certain age, that scenario played out 50 years ago this week, when Jack Lynch sacked Charlie Haughey and Neil Blaney, and Kevin Boland resigned, in one of the greatest scandals in our modern history.

Even at this remove, the Arms Trial remains a defining line in how our history is viewed.

Boland resigned because he believed, like many others, that Lynch and many in his cabinet knew about the plan.

The affair was a Rubicon, dividing those who, finally, turned their back on physical force nationalism and those who imagined, or at least insisted they imagined, a democratic future.

Could it happen again? Maybe, but teaching history honestly may be the best way to ensure that the wall standing between peaceful democracy and paramilitarism endures.

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