James Kelly, former Irish Army intelligence officer who is found not guilty, along with two former Irish government ministers, of attempting to illegally import arms for the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the Arms Crisis of 1970, dies on July 16, 2003.
Kelly is a central figure in the Arms Crisis, having traveled to Hamburg to arrange the purchase of arms. It emerges later that Neil Blaney had ordered him to do so outside normal legal channels, but before the weapons arrive the Gards Special Detective Unit hears of the plan and informs the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, aborting the importation and resulting in criminal charges for the plotters. Although in his summation the judge says it is no defence for Kelly to say that he believes that the government authorised the importation of arms, Kelly is acquitted.
Despite his acquittal, Kelly suffers financially because he had felt compelled to resign from the Army even before the prosecution was brought. He prints and publishes a personal memoir in paperback format called Orders for the Captain? in 1971.
Kelly never denies his involvement in extra-legal arms purchase talks, but contends that he had been ordered to do so by some ministers. A typical version of the events is found in a 1993 hostile biography of Charles Haughey, claiming: “As early as October 1969, to the certain knowledge of Charles Haughey, James Gibbons, the Department of Justice, the Special Branch and Army Intelligence, there were meetings with leading members of the IRA, when they were promised money and arms. The critical encounter took place in Bailieborough, County Cavan, on Saturday, 4 October 1969. It had been arranged by Captain James Kelly, an army intelligence officer, and Cathal Goulding. Kelly, at that stage, was already the subject of several security reports to the Secretary of the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, from the Special Branch, implicating Kelly with subversives and with promises of money and of arms.” Kelly never objected to such versions of the events of 1969.
Kelly is elected vice-chairman of Aontacht Éireann. Aontacht Éireann meets with little success at the polls and by 1980 he has joined Fianna Fáil, becoming a member of its national executive. Following the first applications of the 1987 Extradition (European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism) Act, he resigns from the party in 1989 in opposition to the extradition of Provisional IRA prisoners to the United Kingdom. He also serves twice as President of the 1916-1921 Club. He launches a successful defamation case against Garret FitzGerald over an article in The Irish Times.