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The Final Insult

Starry Plough Editorial Collective • Starry Plough, Aug/Sep 04

Johnny White and Peter Collins break their 35-year silence on the events of 1969 after receiving invitations to a press conference for a campaign to clear Capt Kelly's name.

It was 1969 in Derry and the local Officer Commanding of the IRA, Johnny White, got a request to set up a meeting the next day through a member of the IRA in South Derry. During this period Captain James Kelly had been holding meetings throughout the six counties on behalf of the Dublin regime as a result of the Loyalist and RUC attacks on Catholic neighbourhoods and the burning of thousands of Catholic homes. The Dublin regime was coming under increasing pressure to help the beleaguered population in the North who were virtually defenceless. Pleas were made by Catholics for the government to help.

We now understand that Captain Kelly was sent north with a mission, a mission to divide the Republican Movement, and to provide the traditionalists with money and weapons and to isolate the more radical Marxist leadership. The twenty-six county regime was afraid that if the then Dublin leadership stayed in control of a growing and vibrant movement then that was a threat to the state itself.

The day after the initial contact a meeting took place in Derry City attended by Johnny White, Peter Collins, Micky Montgomery and Captain James Kelly of the 'Free State' army. Two of those at the meeting, Captain Kelly and Mickey Montgomery, have since died. The following is an account of the meeting given to the Starry Plough by the two surviving men who attended the meeting.


"The Kelly meeting in 1969 was arranged following a previous meeting in South Derry. Contacts were made with Johnny White (OC) asking for a meeting with the Derry Brigade. The following day Johnny White along with his Adjutant, Mickey Montgomery, and Derry Brigade Intelligence Officer Peter Collins met with a man who introduced himself as Captain James Kelly and said he was an intelligence officer with the Irish Army (Free State). He also said he had the authority to speak on behalf of the Free State regime at the time.


The meeting lasted only a few minutes. 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 situation was guaranteed already as the standing orders within 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.'"


"At this point both Mickey and Peter joined into the conversation in a heated way and Mickey asked 'How many?' to which Kelly answered 'Six.' Kelly was then told in no uncertain terms to 'F*** off!' The meeting then ended.

"Immediately after this the three members of the Derry Brigade made contact with the General Headquarters of the IRA in Dublin and explained that a serious situation had arisen and that they needed a meeting with the leadership as soon as possible. The following day a meeting was held at a venue in South Derry where a report of the previous day's events was relayed to the Chief of Staff of the IRA. The Chief of Staff told the Derry Brigade OC that he should have got the £50,000 first then told Kelly to 'F*** off!'"


"The representatives from Derry were then told that as they had now reported the approach from Kelly to the leadership they should take no further action and the leadership would take care of it from then on. After returning to Derry City both meetings were reported to the local command staff.

"Over the years nothing was said about these events other than to a very few very prominent republicans and former civil rights campaigners. We are not, at this stage however, prepared to name these people but believe that they will come forward in due course."


"We would take this opportunity to urge all republicans to have nothing to do with this campaign to clear the name of this 'Free State' agent whose only legacy was the division and split of the Republican Movement.

"We believe the reason the 'Free State' government was offering this deal was because they feared less an armed struggle contained within the six counties than an armed struggle throughout the thirty-two Counties. They feared a scenario where tens of thousands 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 a organisation that would have been prepared to pay lip service to the Free State government. In order to orchestrate this it would have been necessary to eliminate those from within the 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."


Johnny White and Peter Collins both agree that the final insult to them came when cards dropped through their respective letterboxes inviting them to attend a press conference that was part of the Captain Kelly Justice Campaign. So incensed they were that someone who they had intimate knowledge of attempting to split the Republican Movement in 1969 should be lauded as an innocent victim of injustice that they decided to attend the press conference to finally, after 35 years silence, get this information into the open.

The invitation, printed here, proved to be the final insult to these two veteran republicans. Thirty-five years after meeting Captain James Kelly and being offered £50,000 for the elimination of six leaders of the Republican Movement they now found themselves invited to a campaign press conference that would aim to clear the name of someone they viewed as nothing more than an agent of the Free State regime and whose motives in 1969 were to split and divide the Republican Movement.

Johnny and Peter have both stated categorically that they would not have attended the press conference if it hadn't been for the secretary of the said campaign, Fionnbarra O'Dochartaigh, sending them both personal invitations to attend. But when these invitations landed on their doorsteps it was then, and only then that they decided to attend and reveal the full truth behind Captain Kelly's motivation in 1969. Johnny White commented, "We both took this as a grave insult to every republican who stood up against the 'Free State.' It is ironic that if the 'Free State' apologists who attended the meeting had only listened to what myself and Peter had to say it could have actually helped the Kelly family find the justice that they are looking for. Although from our point of view no such justice was shown to republicans right from the foundation of the state. Right from Ballyseedy, Drumboe, the Curragh, Enda McGee, Martin Bryan, John Morris, Ronan MacLochlainn, the list goes on and on of republicans denied justice by the Free State. These are all prime examples of 'Free State' justice shown towards republicans and republican socialists."

He went on, "We would also, as former leaders of the Republican Movement in Derry, categorically refute claims made by Fionnbarra O'Dochartaigh, that he was a member of the leadership of the Republican Movement in Derry. At no time was this person ever anywhere near leadership level, especially during the period in question. In fact at that time he spent more time in Cork than in Derry."

When asked if they would support Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh's call for a tribunal into these events both Peter Collins and Johnny White said that they would no problem supporting such an inquiry. That view has also been echoed by another prominent veteran Derry republican, Liam O'Comain, who was also prominent at the time. Johnny said, "We would definitely support an inquiry into these events, not just Kelly's court cases but also into Kelly's role in 1969 and into the orders he was given and why?"

© Copyright Starry Plough Publications 2004





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

12 September 2004

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