September 28th 2020
Today the Speaker is Sandy McPhee, The assistant Head of the Scottish Government office in Dublin
Forthcoming Speakers and Events
Oct 05th “Bordeaux Vintage Wine and the Irish, Wild Geese:” Hechem Cherif.
Oct 12th “Glencree Reconciliation Centre” Barbara Walshe, Chair of the Board.
Oct 19th “75 anniversary of the United Nations” Lalini Veerassamy.
Oct 26th Public Holiday
Nov 2nd John Murphy (from France) The Challenge of leading a team remotely during Covid 19
Nov 16th “Prisoner Liaison Project:” Barry Owens of IASIO.
Rotary Rangers Walks
Sept 29th St. Annes Park, Coast Road Raheny.
Social distancing rules will apply. More details are available from PP Brian George.
Hon Sec Tony McCourt gave apologies from Patrick White; Paul Loughlan; Alexander Kopf; Rana Al Damin; Derek Byrne and Tony Murray
At last week’s virtual meeting there were 18 attendees.
Alan said he was looking forward to being able to induct our new member Hesham Cherif, a French friend of Rosella. The question was where. Would they meet up in the garden of the Sandymount Hotel or have to do it on-line? Anyhow, Hesham will be giving us a talk about wine in a couple of weeks so we’ll all get a chance to hear him and begin to get to know him.
Our monthly outdoor meeting would take place the following Wednesday, 12 noon at the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin.
Members wishing to speak
Brian George noted with regret that we hadn’t seen our esteemed member Patrick White at any of our on-line meetings and did he need any technological assistance?
Frank Bannister said the good Caroline Bernardo was also not a regular on-line and he had been in contact with her. She is going in for treatment to the Blackrock Clinic for back pain. She cannot easily go on-line from her shop so Frank suggested that she might enjoy visiting other clubs virtually at times that were more convenient for her.
Alan said the latest news was that Caroline was just out of hospital and relieved that her treatment did not require surgery.
Secretary Tony suggested we watch a Scottish Rotary club which was going on-line this evening where the topic was fund-raising methods in these days of Covid-19.
Tony Keegan bemoaned the fact that as a Wicklow resident he was now not legally permitted to cross in and and out of Dublin county to walk with the Rangers, nor could they stray into Co. Wicklow!
Alan said he has to do a risk assessment on every Rotary activity and wondered if the Howth cliff walk posed a challenge to someone like himself who admits to suffering from Acrophobia, a fear of heights.
Jono Pym gave us the latest news from Alice Leahy who has reopened her clinic and who he was able to visit. They are glad to have their doors open again but can not accommodate more than 4 people in there at a time. They don’t need any clothes at the moment. Alice expressed her thanks to us for being made an honorary member for another year and has written a letter to this effect.
Bernadette said we south-siders would be welcome north-side this coming Wednesday to stroll around the Botanic Gardens. They have a good coffee shop which is only doing takeaways for the moment but there are many delightful places to sit. See you there.
Mary O took up Fank’s suggestion of visiting the New York Rotary last Wednesday and heard a fascinating talk by the Hon. Consul of Turkministan. She had been surprised that the New York club didn’t have any more attendees than we have normally. Highly recommends we visit other clubs virtually.
Last Week’s Speaker
Kenneth Carroll, chairman of the Community and Vocational Committee, introduced our own Dermot Knight to tell us how they are planning to address the ‘Ask Rotary Initiative’, but before passing the baton to Dermot he asked us all to please respond to the questionnaire he had sent out regarding what to do with this year’s Remembrance Tree collection in Dundrum Shopping Centre.
Dermot started by comparing the beginnings of Rotary with its idea of ‘bolstering’ each other’s businesses and Alan’s thought for the day which highlighted the value of the 4-Way Rotary test. We were a giving and helping organisation. He showed us a graph of how high up Rotary International was on the list of world donors in the area of health.
There were 3 important principles
1. If there is a problem you can solve – you should try and solve it. Like the Peace Pipe rotarians writing all those letters.
2. Acting together - Together we can achieve so much. Look at polio plus.
3. We should do something that adds value – as Paul Martin pointed out at a meeting earlier this year.
In brief: Action – inspires change
Action together – delivers change
Targeting an action – a useful change.
We used to be able to meet up freely and exchange ideas and advice. Now that’s much more difficult and we have to come up with a new way to operate under Covid restrictions. Our most valuable asset is our membership. How can we make an impact?
• What will our community need post Covid?
• What support can we give?
We do not want to keep asking people for money but maybe many of us would be happy to give of their time to help solve an issue. There is a difference between doing the work and unlocking the potential of those concerned. We can maybe help people to help themselves – getting over a barrier or coming up with a marketing plan. Asking some for advice at a meeting is all very well but what if you could put the question out there on an ‘Ask Rotary’ platform? With all our contacts and experience you could reach far more people. The idea is that a person asks the website. We then find the best person to ask about this and we email that person and ask if they can or can’t help. Instead of asking people to be available at a fixed time and place the volunteer is free to help at a time and place of their choosing. Many people are interested in volunteering and Rotary should tap into this well of goodwill. Dermot’s experience at Accenture was that when staff had a day off for charitable work they often ended up painting the local school for a day. Is there a chance they could have done something more powerful and productive? The International Rotary President’s motto for this year is ‘Rotary Opens Opportunities’ and maybe Covid 19 is giving us the opportunity to not just make a difference but to make a bigger difference. We could increase our number of volunteers and we could thus grow our club and be more relevant in the 21st century. If the wider community identifies the problems it has we are not just doing our own thing in a vacuum. It gives people a new way to help others and they can contribute whenever they want.
At this stage we are just laying out the road map. At the beginning we are thinking of putting together a very basic version and later automating it. We’ll be learning as we go along. An initial pilot stage will lead to changes being implemented and finally it could be fully automated so specific enquiries are quickly referred to willing and suitable volunteers. We are requesting your feedback. Can we unlock opportunities for service?
President Alan thanked Dermot and Kenneth for putting that together and thanked Dermot for explain it so clearly and graphically. The question is how we will be able to integrate that into what we are doing already. Brian George thinks that using Facebook more to highlight what we do would be a good start. Rotary does such a lot of good things and then doesn’t tell anyone about them. Alan said it matches well with one of his own pet projects – that of tapping into the high tech giants around us in Dublin. Could some of their staff become ‘friends of Rotary’? Can anyone see any drawbacks?
Frank said we have a wealth of experience but should we be cautious about offering advice and then getting sued when it doesn’t turn out well? Dermot said we should make it clear that we are only offering vocational advice. We’re not replacing the experts. Mary O thanked our speakers and said it was a great idea but how to we reach those who really need it? Delma agreed it was an excellent and stimulating idea. It broadened our role as Rotary members. When we do volunteering could we do it under the banner of rotary and so help to let more people know what Rotary is about?
Kenneth stressed that the idea was to offer social advice, not a consultancy service. He and Dermot were going on projects with the prison service and there were things we could do to support prisoners get back into society. We’ll be learning all the time.
THE Extraordinary General Meeting
Sec Tony called to order an EGM in follow up to the announcement issued on Sept 11th that on 21st of Sept an EGM would consider Brian Taylor as an Honorary member. The motion was proposed by President Alan and seconded by PP Tony Keegan. Alan said Brian was a giant of the club and had given so many years of wonderful service to Rotary. Tony Keegan said that Brian had joined Rotary when he was 32, in Drogheda in 1964. Three years later he transferred to Dublin but was not able to become as fully involved as he would have liked until he retired in the mid-1990s. From 2002 he held the position of Hon.Secretary for 5 years when he was an invaluable help to Tony in his presidential year which was our club’s centenary. He was Hon Secretary again from 2011 – 2013 and steered the club through some difficult times with diligence, good humour and a scrupulous attention to our Constitution and Bye-laws. He has given 56 years of loyal service to Rotary.
The motion was passed unanimously and President Alan asked our Hon Secretary Tony to inform Brian of the happy decision.
Following Michael Heney’s presentation at our meeting two weeks ago, Frank Bannister reviews his book, The Arms Crisis of 1970 – The Plot that Never Was (published by Head of Zeus Press).
On the 5th of May, 1970, Liam Cosgrave, then leader of Fine Gael and of the opposition requested an urgent meeting with the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch. At the meeting Cosgrave confronted Lynch with an anonymous leaked document, on Garda notepaper, that claimed that cabinet members had been involved in a conspiracy to import arms illegally into Ireland for onward transmission to the North. At 2.00 a.m. the following morning, Lynch fired Neil Blaney and Charles Haughey, two of his most senior ministers, from the cabinet. Later that day, pressures that had long been building below the radar of public awareness finally burst into the open. The arms crisis of 1970, the greatest political crisis in Ireland since the end of the civil war, exploded.
Much ink has been split over exactly what happened in the nine months between the outbreak of riots in Derry in August 1969, through Lynch’s dismissal of Blaney and Haughey and the subsequent trial and acquittal first of Blaney and later of Haughey, army captain James Kelly, northern activist John Kelly and Belgian arms dealer Albert Luykx. From this, a standard narrative, with a few variations, subsequently emerged. This held that,, notwithstanding the acquittals, Blaney and Haughey were involved in an unofficial plot to import arms to aid the increasingly embattled northern nationalist community. The central figure in this scheme was an army intelligence officer, James Kelly, whose job it was to procure the weapons. Seemingly, this project had progressed to almost the point of importation without the knowledge of Lynch or the rest of the cabinet. Some believed that these weapons were intended to re-arm the IRA, others that they would be controlled by the Irish army. There were theories about planned heaves, even coups, within a Fianna Fail that was split on its policy towards the North. Most importantly, so the story goes, the affable, pipe-smoking Lynch suddenly showed a hitherto undetected spine of steel and acted to save the country for democracy and from a potential chaotic spill over of violence into the South from a looming civil war in the North.
In the 30 years following the trials, piecing together the true story of these events had been been well-nigh impossible. A number of the key players lied leading Justice Henchy to declare at one point that either Jim Gibbons, then minister for Defence and a key prosecution witness, or Charles Haughey were perjuring themselves, but he could not say which. Many critical conversations were never recorded. Even the transcripts of the trial were mislaid. The release of the state papers (although somewhat redacted) in 2001, therefore, raised the possibility of new insights into the murk and Michael Heney, a retired RTE journalist, thought that this would be a good topic for a PhD under Professor Dermot Ferriter at UCD.
This book is the fruit of Heney’s many years of painstaking research. History is often like a jig-saw puzzle, trying to put together bits and piece of information from a variety of sources to establish, as best one can, what actually happened and why. It is a job for patience, persistence and attention to detail not to mention an ability to join the dots and these are all skills that Heney brings to the job, picking his way through the often conflicting evidence and trying to discern fact from fiction, fable and falsehood.
The result is a book that is somewhat nerdish, but for those interested in this story, gripping reading. Heney sets out to demolish several myths and theories, perhaps most importantly the myth of ‘honest Jack’, arguing that the evidence suggests that Lynch knew about much of what was going on and that the Fianna Fail government were running a sub rosa northern policy where its public statements did not align with its behind the scenes manoeuvring. Heney claims that there are at least thirty occasions where Lynch made provably false statements to Dáil Eireann. His take on many of the other players is also highly critical. Some of the public servants, including the army officers Kelly and his boss Michael Heffernon as well as Peter Berry, the prickly Secretary of the Department of Justice, come out reasonably well. Blaney and Haughey were not on a solo run, but were acting in line with unstated government policy. The person who comes out worse in Heney’s account is Jim Gibbons, at the outset minister for Defence, later promoted to Agriculture, who, Heney suggests, played the role of mudguard for Lynch. Heney is damning of Gibbons, describing him as a stranger to the truth.
Heney is also critical of some of his fellow historians and commentators, notably Michael McDowell, who later played a part as Attorney General when the 2001 papers were released taking the view that “there is nothing new here”. So far, none of these have come out with a public rebuttal of Heney’s claims. It will be interesting to see what they say if and when they do.
This is a book that requires serious reading. Heney writes well. In places he is repetitive, though sometimes justifiably so. However, to follow him as he threads his way through the records, trying to differential the truth through the miasma of deceptions and evasions requires close attention though the effort required is well rewarded.
All of that said, it seems unlikely that this will be the last word on the events of 1970. Another book, Deception and Lies, by David Burke on the arms crisis has since been published and in a recent interview on RTE’s Liveline, Jim Gibbons’ daughter Elizabeth stoutly defended her father and revealed that he had left voluminous personal notes and reflections – probably intended for a memoir giving his side of the story that he never got to write. The family expects to provide its own version of events in the next few years. It seems that the arms crisis of 1970 is a subject on which we are far from having heard the last word.