Did Gery Lawless "sign out" of the Curragh? Was he a member of "Maria Duce"? Footnote to the story of Republicanism in the 1950s

Submitted by dalcassian on 11 May, 2009 - 5:38 Author: Sean Matgamna

Nollaig: A while back, you questioned a number of things which I wrote in passing about Gery Lawless. (See:Appendix: The Irish Workers' Group, IS and the "Trotskyist Tendency")


To download the relevant ECHR documents as pdf, click on the links:


I had expected to get to writing a proper account of the Irish Workers Group before now. Since I haven't managed to, yet, it's a shame to keep you waiting any longer for an answer. It would also be a shame to leave the waters muddied by your quibbling. So here I will answer you on the points you raised about Lawless' "signing out" of internment, and, more briefly, his relationship with the clerical fascist grouping, "Maria Duce."

You are not the only one confused by Lawless'irrepressible boasting and lying and telling tall tales about himself. I once heard the late Liam Daltun, who had known him in the Republican Movement and then in the London Irish left, refer to him as “Paddy Munchausen”, after the fictitious German spinner of tall tales. Liam knew what – and who – he was talking about!

I wrote: "Lawless had been a member of the IRA and then of a splinter group, [the "Cristle Group"] and was interned for five months before December 1957, when he secured his release by promising to be of “good conduct” (what in Republican circles was condemned as “signing out”)...

I wrote: "He had belonged to a clerical-fascistic current within the Republican movement, an ultra-Catholic group called Maria Duce (Maria, the mother of Jesus; Duce, as in Mussolini, leader). Its inspirer, Fr Denis Fahey, a professor at an Irish clerical college, had published a version of the notorious Tsarist police forgery and handbook of 20th century anti-semitism, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," under the title "Waters Flowing Eastward."

I wrote: "[Lawless] had been chosen by Sean McBride in 1957 to bring a pioneering case against the Irish government at the European Court of Human Rights and thereby was quite well known in Irish political circles."

You responded: "This is not historically accurate as the extract below from a detailed study of the Lawless case in the 1950s shows:

As an internee, there were two routes open to Lawless if he wished to be released. The first and most effective way of securing his liberty was to give the undertaking to respect the Constitution required by the government. Paradoxically, few republicans availed themselves of this option, as it was felt that ‘signing out’ was unprincipled.58

Unsurprisingly, Lawless refused to take this alternative, opting for the second route, which was to apply to the Detention Commission to have his case reviewed.

What are the historical sources for this claim that Lawless was a supporter of Maria Duce ?

Michael O'Riordan once told me that Lawless admitted it in his European court case. Lawless's defence was that while he had made claims to that effect at the court, he only did so to ingratiate himself with the judges whom he knew to have extreme right wing views!!... Surely substantial evidence is needed to make such a damning claim?"

Alright — let's look at some of the evidence.

“SIGNING OUT”:

On December 11th and 12th, 1957, all 3 Dublin morning papers carried an important piece of news about the internee on whose behalf the Irish State was being brought before the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg — Lawless, who was a member of a republican splinter group. It was a test case for the International legality of 26 Counties internment, before the European Court of Human Rights. which Sean MacBride and other eminent lawyers were bringing against the Dublin Government.

Under the rules of the system brought in with Internment in July that year (1957) by the De Valera Government, any internee could. “sign out” — that is give his word, or his “parole”, to the Government that his IRA days were over. Republicans thought it unprincipled and dishonourable to give such an undertaking or make such a declaration — and especially dishonourable to give it and not mean to keep it.

Lawless might have secured his release from internment at any time in his 5 months of captivity, had he been willing to make such a declaration. Now, "unexpectly", he made it. The erstwhile member of a sub-group impatient for “action”, who had left the main Republican movement six months before the IRA launched its military campaign on the Border, had agreed to cease all “action”.

The newspapers were greatly interested in the case. Overnight the 21 year old Lawless had become the best-known of the 100 odd internees. Because of the Strasbourg case the Government was very keen to let him out. His release might have meant the abandonment of the test case at the ECHR, and if not, the fact that he was no longer interned could not fail to remove for the ECHR the urgency of hearing the test case, as indeed it did: it was years before the case was heard, years during which many young republicans remained in the internment camp.

You are right that he signed nothing —but that is an inconsequential detail.

Before witnesses, he make an agreed formal solemn declaration, “undertaking”, to the Detention Commission, which was reviewing his case, that in future he would not do anything that was illegal under the “Offences Against the State” Acts. I knew he had given a non-written “undertaking”, which is why I put it in the roundabout way I did.

The government wanted an “undertaking” from internees as a condition of their release, and Lawless gave the Government the “undertaking” it demanded about his behaviour in future if they set him free. They took it as the same thing as signing a document to the same effect; which is what it was: he gave them a formal undertaking before eminent witnesses.Then they let him out.

There is no meaningful legal, political or moral distinction between what he did and “signing out”. As we will see, all the Irish newspapers reported the case and they all state that he gave his “undertaking”.

(The Irish Times called him Gerard Lawless, the Irish Press and the Irish Independent, Georoid O'Laighleis, his name in Irish,)

At the top left side of page 1, the Irish Times headlined the “unexpected” news with just the one key word, in big type: “UNDERTAKING”. Beneath that was a smaller headline about what would follow Lawless' “undertaking” — “Attorney General to Recommend release.”

The appeal to the ECHR had made the “Lawless Case” a matter of first rank concern to the Government. A number of high state dignitaries were therefore at the hearing. “It was the first time for many years that an Attorney General had appeared in court in a state case.”

"It was learned last night that at the hearing in camera [behind closed doors] before the Detention Commission at the Curragh yesterday of the application by Gerard Lawless, 21 year old labourer, of Teach Lorcan [Lawrence House] North Strand Road, Dublin of his release from the Curragh Internment Camp, the Attorney General, Mr O'Keefe, said that he would recommend to the Minister of Justice that Lawless should be released immediately if he gave a certain undertaking. Lawless then gave the undertaking that he would not engage in activities which were illegal under the Offences Against the State Acts.

The undertaking was given in the presence of the Detention Commission, Judge Barra O'Briain, District Justice Eamon O'Riain and Colonel John V Joyce .

It is understood that the Attorney General left the court-martial room in Connolly Barracks, where the Commission was sitting, to get in touch with members of the Government.”

He failed to contact the Minister of Justice or the Taoiseach, so Lawless had to spend a last night in captivity.

Under a single word cross head, “UNEXPECTED”, the report continued.

“The unexpected developments in the hearing, which was in its fourth day followed the reading of a sworn affadavit by Mr Sean MacBride, Senior Counsel.... [Equivalent in Britain: QC] In his affidavit, Lawless denied charges said to have been made against him by [Garda] Chief Superintendent Carroll in documents and evidence before the Commission last Friday, when informing them of the grounds of Lawless' detention. The internee denied allegations that he had taken part in an armed raid on the premises of the Imperial Chemical Industries at Moorestown, Co Dublin on January 12th [1957] and stolen a quantity of explosives. He also denied charges that he had taken part in an armed raid on the premises of Messrs Fleming Fireclay Ltd. at the Swan, Athy, Co Kildare, on May 6th, and stolen a quantity of explosives.

The Attorney General said: “I understand that Lawless is prepared to give a certain undertaking. I will on that understanding being given, recommend to the Minister For Justice to release Lawless immediately. Mr. MacBride wishes it to be said that in the light of the affidavit by Lawless and the charges made against him, the whole matter would be re-investigated with a view to satisfying the authorities as to the true position.”

On the same day, December 11, 1957, the Irish Independent carried a story to the same effect, but with more detail, under a headline identical in content and emphasis. The headline: “Internee Gives Undertaking”, and above it a strap-line:” Curragh Case Development.” I read that to mean: decelopment vis a vis the Strasbourg case.

Lawless/Laighleish "was brought into court under the escort of military policemen, who remained through the hearing. Yesterday (10th December) at the Detention Committee. The Attorney General, Mr. O'Caoimh said he would recommend to the Minister For Justice, Mr. Traynor, that Mr O'Laighleis [Lawless] should be released immediately if he gave a certain undertaking.

Mr O'Laighleis then stepped forward and gave a verbal undertaking that he would not engage in activities which were illegal under the Offences Against the State Acts.

The undertaking was given in the presence of the members of the Commission [as above].

The Attorney General then left the court-martial room at Connolly Barracks, where the commission was meeting and said he was about to get in touch with members of the Government.”

He could not contact them, so Mr O'Laighleis spent a last night at the Curragh."

The report goes on:

“It is understood that the unexpected development in the hearing — which was in its fourth day.....[there followed details about the affidavit, exactly as in the IT report, both perhaps based on the same official statement.] The attorney General said, I understand that Leighleis is prepared to give a certain undertaking. I will on that understanding being given...”

On 12th December, 1957, the Irish Independent carried a brief follow-up story, headlined: “Internee Released from Camp”. The Government Information Bureau had announced the release:

“Mr O'Laighleis had given an undertaking not to engage in activities which were illegal under the Offences Against the State Acts.”

The Independent carried the poignant detail that for 15 minutes " on Tuesday night (10th) Mr Laighleis had thought himself a free man, but the Attorney general's failure to reach the Minister for Justice or the Taoiseach, ment that he had to return to the Curragh for the night."

On 12 December, 1957, The Irish Press, the paper of the constitutional republican Party, Fianna Fail — which had brought in internment in July, shortly after returning to power — reported, under the headline: “Detained Man Released”: Geroid O'Laighleis'... “release follows an undertaking to the Detention Commission that he would not engage in activities illegal under the Offences Against the State Acts.”

The unsigned article explained that when introducing Internment in July 1957, De Valera had told the Dail that “no one would be kept in detention who undertook to respect the Constitution and the law, and who refrained from being a member of or assisting any unlawful organisation.

O'Laighleis therefore could have been released at any time since his detention if he had given such an undertaking.

Yesterday Messrs PC Moore and MR C McAnally, solicitor, stated on behalf of Mr O'Laighleis that before he gave an undertaking, the Attorney General gave him an assurance that certain allegations which he (Mr. O'Laighleis) led said to his detention, and which were untrue, would be investigated.”

Lawless' solicitor announced that their case at the ECHR would continue, even though Laighleis was no longer detained.

There is not a great deal to say in addition to the facts I have set out above.

Having agreed to be the test case, Lawless, after five months imprisonment at the Curragh Camp had in the fourth day of a hearing before the Detention Commission, “unexpectedly” (as the papers put it) — agreed to give the Government his undertaking to keep within their laws, and on that basis secured his release.

Not for Lawless to wait in captivity for the European Court of Human Rights to exert pressure for his release, and the release of the other internees. He was separating his fate from that of the other internees, most of whom had ostracised him as a member of a breakaway group.

There is no evidence that Lawless ever did anything very much in the way of military action (He was in jail when his comrades did the most significant thing they attempted — set fire to custom huts along the border, in November 1956, a month before the mainstream Republican Border Campaign began).

Now, never myself having spent more than a few hours in a police cell, I am not inclined to be lavish with indignation against a 21 year old faced with indefinite imprisonment, who took the only way out — giving the government the "undertaking" it demanded as the condition for his release. If it is "damning" to Lawless now, it is because he has spent half a century telling lies and boasting about his "record". I recorded the facts, but I didn't choose to dwell on it — you did, Nollaig/Gery, or whoever you are.

MARIA DUCE.

A decade ago I wrote in a footnote to an article I did on the IRA of the 1950s, (Workers' Liberty 58, October 1999) which Martin Thomas posted as a reply to your "queries":

"One of the Faheyites, Gerard Lawless, is considered by "experts", who aren't, to be the founder of modern Irish Trotskyism - for example in Robert Alexander's enormous book on world Trotskyism, which takes its account from the second-hand-tale-spinning adoptive Irish nationalist Rayner Lysaght.

Lawless, a member of an IRA splinter group led by Joe Crystal and Sean Geraghty, was interned for almost five months in 1957 before securing his release by promising to be "of good hehaviour". Sean MacBride chose Lawless to test the legality of internment without trial in the European Court of Human Rights.

Where Alexander, following Lysaght, has Lawless become a Trotskyist while interned in the Curragh (in 1957) as a result of reading James P Cannon, the court records have him in 1960 explaining his politics in terms of the influence of Father Fahey and record that he deposited a copy of the Maria Duce paper Fiat to explain his position (ECHR Series B 1960-1 p.165 and p.167-8).

He became a sort of Trotskyist in London in the early 1960s. He was still an anti-semite in 1967-8 conducting an anti-semitic witch-hunt thinly disguised as "anti-Zionism" in the quasi-Trotskyist organisation the Irish Workers' Group."

The relevant quotations are these:

Appearing before the sub-committee in April 1959, Lawless, denying membership in the IRA or a splinter group in 1957, said: "....His membership of the IRA had been for idealistic and patriotic rerasons...he had ceased to be a member [because] it was not getting sufficient support from the Irish people in order to achieve its aim and also that the ending of Partition was first and foremost a job for the government..." (ECHR Series B 1960-61 p.164)

He gave the following account of himself in response to questions put to him by the 26 County Attorney General, appearing for the Government: " (a) That he first objected to the Irish Constitution on religious grounds in the spring of 1954. This was the result of lectures by Professor Father Fahy which criticised Article 44 of the Constitution..." (ECHR Series B 1960-61 p.165)

(Fahy's, and Lawless', objection to Article 44, which recognised the special position of the Catholic Church in Irish society, is summed up thus by John Maguire in the Journal of the Oxford University History Society (Michaelmas 2004: "Internment, the IRA and the Lawless Case in Ireland: 1957-61"): was that " [it] also recognised the position of other churches, including the Protestant denominations and the Jewish faith. Lawless' objection stemmed from the fact that this article did not put the Catholic Church in a state of pre-eminence over all the other religions present in Ireland.")

At the end of a session in which Lawless answered questions put to him by his own representative, Sean MacBride, the court record says: "He handed in a copy of a periodical called FIAT which was the journal of a Catholic organisation called 'Maria Duce' and which set out the objections of Catholic social policy to Article 44 of the Constitution." (ECHR Series B 1960-61 p.168)

you wrote, under your own headline:

"Historic records ignored by M the younger"

"The historic research referred to above and the court proceedings both confirm that Lawless did not sign out but appealed to have his sentence reviewed. The European court case was the culmination of this action. M the Younger's version is made-up-history, a stock in trade of the modern day Irish historical revisionists like Foster, Hart, English ...."

Really? There is a limit to what flamming, barefaced lies and plain shamelessness will let you get away with. Give it up Nollaig/Gery!

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