When the credits roll after any blockbuster production the audience is left wondering: what happened next? Thankfully, this is a documentary so you don't have to agonise over the fate of the four men who stood trial - Charles Haughey, Captain Kelly, John Kelly, and Albert Luykx.
To conclude this nine-part audio maze of conspiracy theories, government corruption, and violence the creators will unpack life after this national firestorm. In the words of Captain Kelly "It's only starting now".
And life after the Arms Crisis was just as eventful, erratic, and tragic as the actions that preceded it. The men who stood trial would see their careers disintegrate, families sullied and their bodies become punching bags (literally) for a dissatisfied public. The Arms Crisis would haunt them up until their final breaths.
But there was one man who wouldn’t merely survive this catastrophe but would thrive. I wonder who that might be….
To accommodate popular demand there will be four appendix bonus episodes to partner with the long-form series. These final morsels will include all of the trial tapes the documentary crew managed to locate.
But for now please prepare yourself for a final week of GunPlot spoilers.
Famous Last Words:
When the Arms Trial not guilty verdicts were announced on the 23rd of October 1970 supporters of Charles Haughey broke into rebel songs. At last, justice had been served but it would leave a bitter aftertaste.
Former Minister Neil Blaney while not on trial said "they have vindicated all those who have been smeared and blackguarded by the powers-that-be ''. But Captain Kelly was more reserved and remarked, "excited and glad that it has turned out the way that it has and I have a not guilty verdict."
As for Charles Haughey, he wasn’t outside the Four Courts to meet with throngs of supporters. He had bigger plans for both his first post-trial public appearance and his career.
Mr. Haughey immediately held a formal press conference and took aim at Taoiseach Jack Lynch. He questioned the Taoiseach’s effectiveness as a leader and uttered the following veiled statement: "I think that those who are responsible for the debacle have no alternative now but to take the honourable course which is open to them."
Men At War:
The feud between Mr. Haughey and Taoiseach Jack Lynch would incinerate the lives of everyman associated with the Arms Crisis. Although exonerated by the Courts the Taoiseach who was in New York during the trial announced that "nobody can deny that there was an attempt to import arms illegally."
Once again the word "illegal" rears its head, but this time it was weaponized. The Taoiseach had been challenged publicly by Mr. Haughey and he had no intention of retreat. The courts may have cleared the four men, but with one interview he resolved that the State would not.
This declaration achieved three things: It accepted Mr. Haughey’s leadership contest, it undercut the judicial process, and it fueled speculation around the innocence of the "Gun Runners".
Fight Or Flight:
Following his dramatic statement, the Taoiseach flew back to Dublin. But like all airport scenes in this podcast, his arrival would be filled with tension.
The Taoiseach’s homecoming was to be a public event, but if members of the Fianna Fáil party failed to make an appearance it would indicate their allegiance was to Mr. Haughey. However, when the plane hit the tarmac the runway was lined with politicians ready to smile for the cameras.
Mr. Haughey and former Minister Neil Blaney were flabbergasted by this result. They were no longer rising political stars, but outsiders. Would they continue to undermine the Taoiseach until his crown came loose? Or would they regroup?
In this case, two roads diverged and both men took different paths. While Mr. Haughey retreated, Mr. Blaney doubled down and by 1972 he was officially expelled from the Fianna Fáil party.
The Winners Circle:
Although all four men who stood trial were vindicated, their lives were forever tainted by the Arms Crisis.
The daughter of Belfast Republican John Kelly, Bronagh Mulholland said that after the trial her family couldn’t return home. "It was a sentence in many ways because it certainly changed the path of our lives. It just meant that a new life had to be forged out and it turned out it was in Dublin" John Kelly was considered to be a gunrunner, a man who wanted to overturn the government in Northern Ireland. If he crossed the border he was liable to be charged with treason.
The Arms Crisis gave birth to a decade's long debate in Irish society over the gun and the ballot box. When the free state was founded there was disagreement over how to rid the nation of British influence. The country was split over whether to choose physical force or peaceful negotiation. To put it succinctly, those who supported Republican ideology and those who did not.
After conflict broke out in the North this age-old argument came to the fore. And anyone associated with armed violence was labelled a Republican. Therefore, Ireland in 1970 could be a particularly hostile place for the winning side of the Arms Trial.
Money Makes The World Go Round:
After the Arms Crisis rumours swirled around what became of the 100,000 pounds allocated to Mr. Haughey for Northern relief. The Taoiseach was bombarded with questions about this sizable sum, but there was never a straightforward answer. He said that if funds had been "misappropriated" then they would be retrieved.
A public accounts committee investigation was launched, but all it did according to Colonel Herfferon’s son Colm was "destroy the reputations of the major players". In the end, it yielded little fruit, but what happened to that wad of cash?
Well, there was one member of the Arms Crisis who benefited from the ordeal: Otto Schlüter. He managed to hold onto his guns and the Irish government's down payment. The State tried to sue him, but once again he outfoxed them.
However, most people linked to the Arms Crisis were drained of financial resources. Captain Kelly, a father of six was stripped of his army pensions. It was eventually reinstated after his wife Sheila picketed outside the Dail. But he was still 41 years old and unable to secure a job. "I was on the dole for six months, because I hadn’t a ha'penny to support my family. And I looked for jobs from the road sweeper up and I wouldn’t get them".
Colonel Hefferon was never on trial for his part in the Arms scandal, but his refusal to toe the government's line poisoned his reputation. After the trial, he was dismissed from his new job in publishing. Why? The publisher had government contracts and like Captain Kelly, he was now an enemy of the State.
As for Albert Luykx his business crumbled due to the loss of government contracts. He died of a heart attack aged 61.
The Court Of Public Opinion:
For a decade following the trial captain Kelly received death threats. He opened all parcels delivered to his home outside in case they contained a bomb.
The families of the accused were vilified in equal measure. The children of the Arms Crisis remembered their phones being tapped by the Garda Special Branch. The offspring of former Minister Neil Blaney would converse with the authorities once they heard the clicks on the line. "We’d sell them many, a bum steer, many a bum steer. Just to wind them up" recalled his son Eamonn.
When Captain Kelly’s daughter Sheila was in California she heard a voice cry out "here she is the gunrunner's daughter". It seemed that even the Atlantic ocean couldn’t separate her from the ghosts of 1970.
The Comeback Kid:
Taoiseach Jack Lynch won the leadership battle against Charles Haughey, but he would lose the war.
Mr. Haughey waited patiently to crawl back up the political ranks and by 1979 achieved the highest seat in office. How did he transform from political exile to commander in chief? Silence. He would refuse to speak about the events of 1970 even with his family. He once quipped that he would write his own account of history.
But one man's gain is another man's loss, and in this tale, that man was Minister Jim Gibbons. He was banished from Fianna Fáil when Mr. Haughey re-entered the political arena. But the rise of Mr. Haughey impacted more than Minister Gibbon’s job security. He was attacked one day while leaving the Dáil by "Charlie's Angels" according to his son. The next day he had a heart attack.
Put Not Your Trust In Princes:
The men who served as fodder for the greatest political scandal in Irish history are long deceased.
On his deathbed in 2003 Captain Kelly asked "have they come yet?" referring to a State apology. In the end, his daughter Suzanne claimed it had, but it wasn’t until after his death that the then sitting Taoiseach Bertie Ahern exonerated him. His wife chose a quote by Machiavelli for his headstone - "Put not you trust in Princes".
As for his comrades, Jim Gibbons suffered multiple strokes and heart attacks and died in 1997. Albert Luyxx, died in 1978, as did Peter Berry. Colonel Hefferon left this earth in 1985, and a decade later Neil Blaney followed. As for Jack Lynch, he died in 1999 at the age of 82. Both Charles Haughey and John Kelly survived into the early 2000s.
But no death notice was found by the series creators for Otto Schlüter. Perhaps, our German maverick (who would be over a hundred years old) is still surviving off the Irish Government's misfortune.
If you want to delve deeper into the world of Gun Plot tune in next week for four bonus episodes or devour RTE Documentary On One’s specially curated reading list - just click the link!
Now, why are you still reading? Hit play (replay) on Episode Nine of GunPlot.