British, Irish officials advise against donations to Noraid
New York — This sixth and final article on the IRA's American connection presents the views of a number of high government officials on the organization's activities. ``Money given to Noraid doesn't go to help widows and orphans, it goes to create them.''
The phrase has almost become a clich'e among a steady stream of Irish and British officials who in recent years have spoken out in various pleas to Irish-Americans not to contribute funds to the Irish Northern Aid Committee (Noraid). The officials have said that Noraid funds, raised for relief purposes, actually help support the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland.
The thinking of some officials in Dublin, Belfast, and London is that it may be easier to persuade Americans not to contribute to Noraid than to organize the kind of massive, multinational security effort necessary to stem the flow of money and other support from America to the IRA. Some say it is impossible to police the flow as it exists now.
Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald traveled to the United States last spring with a plea for Irish-Americans not to support the IRA.
In a speech to a joint session of the US Congress, Mr. FitzGerald called for a ``rejection of -- revulsion against -- the very idea of aid by way of money, or by way of weapons, or by way of moral support, to any of those who are engaged in the act of horrific violence.''
``We condemn very strongly . . . money given to Noraid,'' British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said in the House of Commons in December 1983. ``It is given to those who reject democracy and pursue their ends by violence, and death, and destruction of innocent people.'' Mrs. Thatcher made the statement shortly after an IRA car bomb exploded outside Harrods department store in London, killing five people including an American.
Peter Barry, Ireland's minister for foreign affairs, came to New York last September with words of condemnation for Noraid. He said, ``The activities of members of [Noraid] in this country have succeeded in doing nothing else except promote the campaign of violence and open wounds in a horribly tense and fragile situation.''
Ireland's ambassador to the US, Tadg O'Sullivan, said in an interview in Boston, ``The IRA is, in our view, an enemy of the Irish people, north and south. Any funds sent to Ireland to assist the IRA do not contribute in any way to bringing about peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Our belief is that activities of that kind, the use of force, murder and destruction, these activities put off the day of unity, put off the day of reconciliation between the Irish people.''
President Reagan has condemned as ``tragically misguided'' the support of some Americans ``for terrorist elements in Northern Ireland.''
``Let me assure you,'' the President told Prime Minister FitzGerald during his Washington visit last March, ``that the vast majority of Irish Americans join you today in condemning support for those who preach hatred and practice violence in Ireland.''
Irish-American politicians and the Roman Catholic Church have also taken positions concerning raising funds in America to support the IRA.
The Catholic Church's position has long been that it does not support the use of violence to achieve political ends.
In Ireland last fall, four American bishops, including Archbishop John J. O'Connor of New York, said they would make an effort to determine which US-based groups raising funds in the US for Ireland were contributing money for guns. They called such contributions ``reprehensible.''
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York said Archbishop O'Connor is not expected to make a formal statement about Irish-American fund raising until after a report is made to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the spring.
US Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York, and US House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill (D) of Massachusetts have been outspoken critics of Irish-American efforts to aid the IRA. They are founders of a congressional group called the Friends of Ireland which has pushed for a peaceful, constitutional settlement to the troubles in Northern Ireland. Included in the group's St. Patrick's Day message last year was an ``urgent appeal'' to ``all Americans to renounce the path of the bomb and the bullet and to reject the pleas of those who seek by word or deed or dollar to promote or condone the cause of violence.''
To Michael Flannery, founder and director of Noraid, such condemnation frequently means that contributions will soon be on the rise. He says that efforts in the past to put Noraid out of business have often boomeranged, resulting in a new influx of funds to his group. And Joe Cahill, former Belfast commander of the Provisional IRA, who is today a trustee of An Cumman Cabhrach, the group in Dublin that receives Noraid funds, says: ``We often benefit from things that seem to be set up to do us harm.''
``We're never without something to excite the people here,'' says Flannery. ``When the hunger strike was over, it started up again with the St. Patrick's Day Parade.'' He ticks off a list of controversial events beginning with the 1981 fatal hunger strike of Bobby Sands and nine other Republican prisoners in Northern Ireland. His list ends with the September death of a Belfast man who had been shot by Northern Ireland security forces with a plastic bullet. The man was killed as police attempted to arrest Noraid publicity director Martin Galvin. Mr. Galvin appeared at a pro-IRA political rally in Belfast, though Northern Ireland officials had forbidden him to enter the country. ``All this excites the people. Right away they rally,'' Flannery says. ``During the hunger strike, for instance, we took in more money in two months than we did for a whole year before. It was almost $300,000 taken in.''
There have been indications, according to Irish and British government officials, that as IRA military operations in Northern Ireland and England have fallen off, funds contributed to Noraid in the US have fallen off as well. The reverse may also be true. In certain extremist Irish-American circles in the US the IRA's bombing last October of a Brighton, England, hotel where Prime Minister Thatcher and most of her Cabinet were meeting was seen as a victory for the IRA and as a potential boost to pro-IRA fund-raising efforts in America. It was seen as a demonstration of the IRA's ability to carry out sophisticated bombing attacks in England at the very heart of the British establishment. Such high-visibility bombings keep the IRA's struggle against Britain in the American public eye through widespread press coverage. It is seen in part as helping keep potential American contributors and supporters aware that the IRA's struggle continues. This is the public-relations dimension of guerrilla warfare.
``Every operation is planned for a specific purpose in mind, it is not just mindless bombing for bombing's sake,'' said Cahill during an interview in Dublin.
But what about the deaths of civilians -- women and children -- in IRA bomb blasts? Doesn't that turn IRA supporters off in the US? ``I say you do turn people off for a time, maybe not for good. But people will say that was a horrible accident,'' Cahill says. ``There's no reason to kill civilians and there is no deliberate planning to kill civilians.''
``It must be very noticeable to the world that the type of operations carried out by the IRA have been more sophisticated. There are very few car bombs today. There are no concentrated [simultaneous] bombing attacks now,'' he says, emphasizing that these types of attacks have in the past been a ``terrible danger to civilians.''
In the past 15 years, IRA attacks in Northern Ireland have resulted in the killing of 1,327 people -- 605 of them civilians. Cahill likens civilian deaths in IRA operations to a foul being committed by a boxer in the ring. He says fans rooting for the boxer don't like it that a foul is committed, but they continue to support and cheer for their boxer anyway. So it is with American support for the IRA, he says. ``The people in America who support the IRA -- it is very difficult for people to support war, particularly guerrilla war,'' Cahill says. ``If the country is at war, people can say, `It's my country.' But in guerrilla warfare it's a different thing. You don't have a government. A guerrilla movement in any country is always a minority.''
There are no accurate statistics on how many IRA supporters there are in the United States. Estimates range from a few thousand to a few million. American supporters include those who occasionally drop a dollar or two into a Noraid collection plate in a neighborhood pub, regular contributors, men and women willing to picket or stage protests at the British Embassy, and those willing to collect and smuggle weapons to the IRA.
Maureen Murphy, an Irish historian who teaches at Hofstra University on Long Island, says there are probably only a ``few thousand'' Americans who support the IRA's use of force, as opposed to relying on legal, political means to resolve the problems in Northern Ireland.
Calling them ``armchair revolutionaries,'' she says, ``It is very easy 5,000 miles away to send a check over and not deal with the consequences.''
``The dollars trickling into the Irish pubs and bars in the Bronx [New York] are basically lethal weapons as much as the Armalite [rifles] and the bombs,'' says an Irish security source in Dublin. ``It is immaterial whether or not the money is going for the support of relatives of prisoners, it is still part of what the Provisional IRA calls its war machine.''
Irish, British, and American officials say that part of the success of Noraid and others in the Republican movement seeking support among Irish-Americans is due to donors' nostalgia for the old days of the 1916 Easter Rising and the 1920s when the IRA was fighting Britain to gain independence for all of Ireland.
Fund-raisers tell romantic tales of IRA fighters of that time (Michael Flannery is an IRA veteran of the 1920s) and sing revolutionary Irish ballads.
One American law-enforcement official says that the IRA is looked upon by naive Irish-Americans as a Robin Hood organization protecting the Catholics in the North and continuing the battle against British colonialism.
``They live with their own view of Ireland, which isn't a terribly accurate one,'' says a security official in Northern Ireland.
``If we could set up a couple of whistlers and a ballad singer in a pub in the US, our `PR' would be pretty effective, too,'' says an official with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland's police force, which the IRA and Noraid say is one of the causes of the unrest in Northern Ireland.
What if Irish and British officials succeeded in putting Noraid out of business? Would that help solve the troubles in Northern Ireland? Probably not, say US law-enforcement officials. ``If we put them out of business, that doesn't mean the money isn't going to be collected,'' says Donald J. McGorty of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York. ``Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.''
Being put out of business is apparently a contingency Noraid has already considered. According to a Noraid statement printed last March in The Irish People, a Republican Irish-ethnic newspaper, ``Even if sanctions were imposed against our committee, our efforts would be carried on by our kindred organizations.''
Irish and British government officials suspect that a replacement for Noraid has already been established. They say it is the Irish American Fenian Society of South Orange, N.J. The group, incorporated in July 1982, raises funds through direct-mail solicitation, testimonial dinners, and the sale of merchandise. It sends its funds to An Cumman Cabhrach in Dublin, the same organization Noraid sends its funds to. There are no public reports or accounts of the society's fund-raising efforts. It is not a recognized tax-exempt organization. Nor is the group registered as a charity in New Jersey as is required by state law.
Hal Erbe, a spokesman for the Fenian Society, said in a telephone interview that the group raised less than $5,000 last year. He said the society intends to apply for tax-exempt status, but hasn't yet. Mr. Erbe says the Fenian Society supports the IRA's armed struggle in Northern Ireland. But he noted that the group also is interested in promoting Irish culture in the US. Both Erbe and Flannery say the Fenian Society is not meant as a replacement for Noraid. They say it is just another Irish-American group intent on raising funds to help the families of political prisoners in Northern Ireland. Chart: Northern Ireland charities that give aid impartially There are a number of charitable groups in the United States which distribute aid in Northern Ireland without taking sides. Five of the best-known ones are listed below. Contributors to these organization can be sure their money will not be used to finance violence. Cape Irish Children's Program PO Box 46 Centerville, Mass. 02632 Co-operation Ireland Grace Plaza 1114 Avenue of the Americas New York, N.Y. 10036 Irish Children's Fund C/O Robert N. O'Connor 5602 Hillcrest Road Downers Grove, Ill. 60510 Fund for Peace and Justice in Ireland St. Patrick's Cathedral 460 Madison Ave. New York, N.Y., 10022 The Ireland Fund 100 Federal Street 29th Floor Boston, Mass. 02110