Wednesday, 27 March 1974
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Meaney: I thank you for giving me the opportunity of discussing this matter. I shall try to bring to your notice and explain to the House the tragic events in regard to the actions of the Minister for Defence in the past week.
We all know that there have been searches of ships for arms. I know that the Minister will say that the Government are all for law and order. So are we. So am I. What I am worried about is the insecurity of the security of this State and the fact that there seems to be no co-ordination or communication between the Minister for Defence, Deputy Donegan, and the Minister for Justice, Deputy Cooney, in regard to the security of the State. It is only right and proper that if there are attempts illegally to import arms the Army and the Garda Síochána should get every backing to see that they do not arrive. The Minister did not give this to the Defence Forces. He was either telling an untruth or he knew something and did not pass on the information. I am trying to highlight his general behaviour in the time available to me. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I should like to compliment our Defence Forces and our Garda Síochána for the exemplary way in which they carry out their duties.
We all know that ships have been searched within the past few days but I should like to make reference to two specific searches—one at Greenore and one at Cork. The general opinion in the country is that there seems to be no collective responsibility as far as this Government are concerned, that the right hand does not seem to know what the left hand is doing and that the Minister for Defence is not willing to pass on to  the Defence Forces information he has and that when he goes to places looking for publicity, as he went to Greenore, he is only hindering the Defence Forces in the carrying out of their duties.
On Saturday night, March 24th, 1974, gardaí and troops moved into Greenore as the 1,500-ton general cargo vessel, the Owen Kersten, registered at Hamburg, arrived from Rotterdam having been watched by security forces for a couple of days. On Sunday last, the 25th, the 1,500-ton freighter, the Vaterland, docked at Cork at 11.10 after sailing from Antwerp. This ship was supposed to contain illegal arms. After a police search in the glare of international publicity it was found to contain arms and ammunition but they were, in fact, for the Defence Forces and, for the record, it was blank ammunition.
This raises many questions regarding security. The Vaterland docked in Cork on Sunday at 11.10. There was no guard mounted on it from the time it entered Irish territorial waters. There was no guard on it as it sailed up through Cork harbour. I am definite that there was no guard, either from the Army or from the Navy, on it until 4 o'clock on Monday evening. The whole country is asking why it was that unarmed gardaí had to guard the ship from 11.10 on Sunday morning, the 24th, until 4 o'clock on Monday evening, 25th March. It was quite easy for anybody or any organisation, if they wanted to take away the arms that were on it, to do so. It was quite easy for them to stop the ship as it came up through Cork harbour.
The Minister, when questioned on this, made several statements, He said that he was well aware that legally commissioned arms were on the Vaterland and that it was due to dock in Cork. If he was so aware why did he not communicate with the armed forces, with the Garda authorities and with senior Army officers and tell them that? It is definite in Cork that it was the gardaí who first informed the Army that the arms were on the ship and  that was on Monday evening at 4 o'clock. The Minister has made statements to the newspapers, on the radio, everywhere. I should like to quote from the Evening Press of Tuesday, March 26th. The Minister said that:
The security forces were aware that there were arms for the army on board one of the ships. The ship involved had 89 other items. The army arms was only one item and they were interested in the others.
That is grand and I would wish that there should be absolute security. Where was the security when that ship entered Irish territorial waters? There was no guard mounted on it as it sailed up into Cork city through Cork harbour. The harbour is not that wide. It would have been quite easy for any group of armed men—I do not care who they were or what their purpose—to stop that ship, board it and take off the cargo. There was no security and the Army were not sent to guard it until Monday evening, 27 hours after it had docked. There were unarmed gardaí carrying out a search on that ship and doing their duty. Why did the Minister not make sure that this was not allowed to occur? It was, indeed, inviting trouble. It is well known that we never had such inaction in the country as we have at the moment. Since this Government took office there has been insecurity in the State, there have been jailbreaks, helicopter liftings from prisons and now the greatest muddle of all which, thank God, had no serious consequences.
I hope what I have said here tonight will bring the Minister to his senses and make him realise that as his Leader said the other day, the time for the fun is over, the time for the buffoonery is over, the time for the gallery and the publicity is over. The Minister must do his duty to ensure that the security of the State is properly maintained.
I want the Minister to explain how  it is that a ham radio operator was able to pick up a security message on Saturday, 23rd March, and because he could listen in to two sources he was able to say to the world at large that arms were consigned for Ireland and were on a certain ship. I read this in the papers but outside of that I was told that this ham radio operator was able to pick up this message. How can we have security if an ordinary ham radio operator, living not far from Cork, can pick up a top security message and relay it to the world at large? Suppose I was a man out for destruction and a member of an organisation that wanted to get at one of those ships for the arms it would be easy to get a man in that position and get all that information.
I also want the Minister to state definitely when the arms were commissioned, when they were loaded, at what port and when they were due to arrive in this country. He talked about the security of this cargo. There is great security on it now as it is being transferred by road from Cork to Dublin. The very fact that the Army had to convey it and mount guard on it, as is right and proper, shows that if they knew what was happening on last Sunday and Monday they would have done their job. They were willing to do their job but the message was not relayed to them. It was held back on purpose by the Minister for Defence.
The boat docked at Greenore and was searched by the armed forces, which they were quite entitled to do if they had any suspicions. What I object to is the Minister for Defence, an ordinary layman like myself, going to the area in the full glare of publicity and taking complete command. What qualifications has he for directing such an operation? What experience or expertise has he to do this? There was one other incident in which the Minister became involved which left a very bad taste because he interfered with the course of justice and separated nationals from non-nationals. The non-nationals were let flee from the country when they should have been before our courts.
Mr. Meaney: The Minister's action was resented by the officers and the Army in general. They are willing and able to do their job but they are being hindered by the Minister in the way he is looking for full publicity in the Press and on television.
Mr. Meaney: I have several complaints but I cannot give the names. However, I can assure the Deputy the men were only too glad to give their names. They want to be rid of the Minister. I was looking at television last night when the Minister was questioned on this matter and I thought he made the most derogatory remarks about our Defence Forces. He said it was a routine search at Greenore and that he just came to thank them. As a matter of fact, he said, “I came to thank the Garda fellow and the soldier fellow”. This is typical of the way the squire spoke to his servants. The fact that the Minister is a member, or at least is associated with the squirearchy may account for this attitude.
As long as he is Minister I hope he will never interfere again with the Army when they are doing their duty, as they were at Greenore until he arrived. The Minister also said on television last night that probably he should not talk at all. I wish he lived by that rule because it would be the greatest blessing to us. However, any man who is looking for publicity is bound to keep blathering.
When discussing the arms searches the Minister had a good swipe at the Press. He said that when the Press were deprived of a scoop it was like a lioness losing her cubs. The Minister has not given satisfactory answers to the questions put to him. I wish to know if there are other arms on  the high seas, legally commissioned by the Government? If so, what guarantee has this House and the nation that the Minister knows when they are arriving? Will he transfer them to the Defence Forces who, no doubt, will mount a proper security guard?
Mr. Meaney: We should learn a lesson from the past week, otherwise we will be a complete laughing-stock. We are bad enough with what has happened already to our security system but we would have been the laugh of the country if some of these ships had been hijacked and the arms taken. It is all right to say that there was only blank ammunition but there could also have been live ammunition.
I hope the Minister will deal fully with events from 11.10 a.m. last Sunday until 4 p.m. on Monday, that he will stand by the statement that he knew all about the arms. I hope he will tell us why he did not give that information to the Defence Forces who would have taken action had they been kept in the picture. At that time the Minister was on his way to Greenore to take over from the senior Army officers. This was dangerous and was resented by the Army authorities.
There must be collective responsibility in the Government and there must be liaison and co-ordination between the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Justice. It did not happen in this case and the fact that the Minister did not inform the Defence Forces meant the Garda had to mount guard on a ship in Cork where they were exposed to the danger of an attack by an armed gang. They were unarmed and had to guard the ship for 27 hours. That was unfair. It should not have happened and it must not recur.
If the Minister knew the arms were on board the Vaterland, why did he not inform the Defence Forces? Can one imagine a Minister for Defence saying a few days later that he knew the arms were there all the time, while  the Army were kept out of the area and unarmed gardaí had to take over? The Minister must answer that question. There is only one course open to him: he should resign for the sake of the security of the country and I say that in all honesty.
Mr. Meaney: Because of his actions in the past week many people have come to the conclusion that the Minister did not know, that he is now covering up by telling untruths, blaming the Press and side-tracking. If this is so the Minister should resign because he is incompetent to hold his post. Is he aware he is the laughing-stock of the country? He has only to read today's Irish Independent to see what they think of him. For the sake of the office he holds, which was occupied by some of the most outstanding men of our time, the onus is on him to resign. He should do this for the sake of the security of the nation.
Mr. Lemass: I should like to inquire about something which has been suggested in the papers and which I have heard talked about in ordinary working circles. It is with regard to the boat at Greenore. It is said that evidence was found on the boat that there may have been arms on board but they were taken off before the boat actually docked. I should like the Minister to confirm or deny if these rumours have any substance.
Minister for Defence (Mr. Donegan): The allegation that I went to Greenore to take complete command of the armed forces is quite ridiculous. I knew the search was about to commence, or that the guard on the boat was about to commence. Greenore is about 30 to 35 minutes from my home and I knew that those fellows——
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Meaney was allowed to make his contribution for 20 minutes. The Chair sought to ensure the best of order and secured it for him. The Minister must be allowed to make his reply for ten minutes without interruption.
Mr. Donegan: I went, as I have done on many occasions, to a place where the Army were working to thank them for their work. I never pass an Army man engaged in this kind of duty, whether on the Border on elsewhere, without going over to thank him. I went there and I remained there for five to ten minutes and I was very courteously shown the boat by both the Army and the Garda personnel and I got quite a good insight into the problem confronting them in their search. Then I went home. That is what happened at Greenore.
I described it as a routine search and that is how the military described  it to me. It was under the control of the Garda. In all these searches there is a certain performance of duties and a certain attention to detail. That is what I understand by a routine search.
With regard to Deputy Lemass's query, this matter is so serious I really think we should look at everything that could possibly be thrown up. Deputy Lemass made the point that there might have been arms on board which might have been got rid of by being dumped overboard. I take the Deputy's point and I want to inform the House now that on the day in question there were reconnaissance flights by Irish aircraft and one naval vessel was also on the job. We have, as Deputies are aware, very few naval vessels and not that many aeroplanes either, but Deputies may take it that every possible effort that could be made was made and every action that could be taken was taken.
When I am asked specifically if I had information, my answer is that I will now read what I am allowed to read from the relevant Army documents relating to the matter—in other words, that which is not a security risk. Reliable information was received that one of several ships sailing from Rotterdam might be carrying arms. Because of that information the necessity arose to search these ships. In addition, as I have already informed Deputy Lemass, there was a reconnaissance by Irish aircraft and there was the presence of a naval vessel. That was as much as could physically be done.
I leave the opinion of the Army on me to the Army. I do not need Deputy Meaney, or anybody else, to enlighten me on that. It is for the Army to say whether I am good for them or bad for them, whether I am a good Minister for Defence or a bad Minister for Defence. That is the position I adopt and accept totally and completely.
As to the necessity for this sort of search, I would refer first of all to the leading article in The Cork Examiner. Indeed, a large proportion of Deputy Meaney's contribution here tonight was secondhand. He  apparently borrowed certain lines of approach from this particular leading article. The article says:
We do not know what communication there was amongst the security services as regards this operation, but we do know that the Army and the Naval Service denied all knowledge of any ship bringing arms over the weekend.
Mr. Donegan: When I accepted the portfolio of office the situation was that I became responsible for the Defence Forces of the country and, as both Deputy O'Kennedy and Deputy O'Malley know full well, even the resignation of an officer and, in certain cases, other matters appertaining to the Defence Forces require Cabinet decisions and have to be brought before the Cabinet. One of the most important things is the holding of a commission in the Army.
Mr. Donegan: There is just no such thing as fair play where Fianna Fáil are concerned. Lest some Opposition Deputies may feel sympathetic because there may have been some degree, be it great or small, of inconvenience caused to various  people, whoever they may be, or because the security measures adopted may have caused some speculation, then I say to them: “Realise what the position is”.
We have a duty to search and we will search. It is quite clear that in an operation like this we will not succeed on every occasion. If one is contending with or operating against a subversive organisation one is aware that the tactic adopted is that of tying up the legitimate forces of the State in different places so that these subversive forces may then cause mischief and misery in an area where the legitimate forces of the State are not immediately available. At all times we will do our utmost to combat subversive organisations and our very best has been, is being and will be done.
Let us come now to the kernel of this whole matter. I have here the report from the secretariat of my Department. According to that report on 19th March, information was received from the shipping agents and the manufacturers' agents that a quantity of defensive equipment was being shipped on the Vaterland due to arrive in Dublin on the 27th of this month. On the Saturday, 23rd March, information was received that one of some six ships sailing from a continental port might be carrying arms. The ships concerned did not include the Vaterland. The necessary security arrangements were initiated.
At 1.30 p.m. troops were called out in aid of the civil power in connection with the search of the Owen Kirsten at Greenore. At about the same time word was received from two sources that a ship carrying arms was seen off the south coast. This was apparently  the Vaterland, a sister ship of one of the suspect vessels. The Vaterland moored off Whitegate about midnight.
Word was conveyed to the gardaí at Cork, to Detective-Sergeant Thorne of Union Quay station, at his home, by the command duty officer that there were stores for the Defence Forces on the Vaterland and the military authorities advised that a full search of the Vaterland should be undertaken, and quite rightly so.
A military party was requested from Collins Barracks, Cork, at 9.30 a.m. and provided at 10.30 a.m. So much for Deputy Meaney's allegation that there was only a party of unarmed gardaí on duty for a period of 24 hours, and no Army until 4 p.m. on Monday, 25th March.
The search was the responsibility of the Garda and under their direction and control. The military were assisting the Garda. In each case the Minister for Defence was concerned to the extent that the military were involved in these searches, but they did not have responsibility for decisions to search or for the conduct of the searches. That was a matter entirely for the Garda.
But I was deeply interested. I wanted to ensure the searches were done and I wanted to back up the Army. I was there in Greenore for ten minutes and, please God, I will be there again should circumstances demand it.
The search of the German ship Vaterland was not occasioned by any lack of information on the part of the Garda that the military stores the vessel was carrying were for the Defence Forces. The reasons for searching  the vessel are a matter for the Garda.
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