Five men charged with conspiring to export arms to the Irish Republican Army were acquitted in Federal Court in Brooklyn, NY, apparently because a jury believed defence contentions that the Central Intelligence Agency had sanctioned their gun-running operation.
No evidence directly linking the CIA to the operation was offered at the seven-week trial, and denials of involvement by the agency were entered repeatedly by the prosecutor and in direct testimony by a CIA lawyer.
However, two jurors later said they had been convinced that the CIA had been involved. They said that the jury, which deliberated for two and a half days, had leaned toward acquittal from the start. Prosecutors declined to comment on the verdict, but one said he feared it might lend legitimacy to a frivolous defence.
Pandemonium erupted among 100 supporters of the defendants when the verdict was read. The supporters, many of whom had been at the trial daily, cheered, clapped, waved flags and chanted slogans in a demonstration that spilled from the sixth-floor courtroom into the corridors of the United States Courthouse on Cadman Plaza East. ‘Up the Provos!’
“Up the Provos,” shouted George Harrison, a 67-year-old retired armoured-car guard, who, with the other defendants, had been charged with plotting from December 1980 to June 1981 to ship to the IRA’s militant Provisional wing a cache of weapons including a 20-millimeter cannon, a flame thrower, 47 machine guns and 11 automatic rifles.
Besides Mr. Harrison, the defendants, all residents of the New York area, were Michael Flannery, 80, a director of the Irish Northern Aid Committee; Thomas Falvey, 64, a construction worker; Patrick Mullin, 45, a telephone company employee, and Daniel Gormley, 33, a stationary engineer. All American citizens, though several were born in Ireland.
From the start of the trial, the defendants had conceded that they had bought arms from a convicted arms smuggler working as an undercover agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Citing patriotic motives, they also acknowledged they had intended to send the arms to the IRA. Mr. Harrison said he had been sending arms to the IRA for 20 years.
The Irish Northern Aid Committee, in a statement afterward, called the verdict “a grave embarrassment to the British,” whose “pressure initiated this trial.” Noraid, as the committee is called, has been accused by the Justice Department of being an important source of money and guns for the IRA, but the group contends its fund-raising efforts in the United States are strictly for charitable purposes.
Born in 1902 in Co Tipperary into a staunchly Republican family with a long history of opposition to the British occupation of Ireland, Mike Flannery, was forced to flee his home at the age of 14, to avoid being arrested by the RIC who had begun a campaign of incarcerating family members of Republican activists at the behest of the British. After evading capture, Mike joined the North Tipperary Brigade of the IRA. Before his 15th birthday he took an oath of allegiance to the Irish Republic and fought in the Irish War of Independence.
Mike immigrated to America in 1927. During his early years in America he met and married his wife Margaret “Pearl” Eagan who was also involved in the fight for Irish freedom. Throughout the decades, Mike assisted Republican activists who sought refuge in America, including, Ernie O’Malley in the late 20s, Andy Cooney in the early 50s and others in the 70s and 80s.
Throughout his life, Mike sent aid and encouragement to those refusing to accept the British occupation of Ireland or acknowledge the legitimacy of two sectarian states, the products of partition. Not only did Mike rebuff those who abandoned Republican principles in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 60s; he, together with George Harrison, characterised the ‘Provos’ abandonment of Republican principles in 1986 as the “same old departure”. After returning from a visit to Ireland in 1987, Mike along with George Harrison and Joe Stynes founded Cumann na Saoirse Naisiunta – The National Irish Freedom Committee to carry the torch of Irish Republicanism in America.
Mike passed away on 29 September 1994. He was a true son of Ireland and a worthy citizen of his adopted country, the United States of America. Mike’s legacy lives on and the torch of Irish Freedom that he carried throughout his entire life continues to burn brightly.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Photo: Grave of Michael Flannery, Mount St Mary’s Cemetery, Flushing, NY