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Cover-up in the Congo? – 30 Oct
30th October 2014 @ 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Dr Kennedy’s recent book Ireland, the UN and the Congo takes a fresh look at Ireland’s part in the UN’s disastrous mission in the Congo in the early 1960s. In summer 1961 Irish diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien was appointed UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold’s Special representative in the breakaway Congolese province of Katanga. In ONUC, its biggest peacekeeping mission to date, the UN had deployed to Congo a year previously to try to stabilise the newly independent African state. The Secretary General and his officials got drawn into the lethal realities of Congolese and Katangese politics.
As a military and diplomatic history it has many strengths, principally its showcasing of original and highly revealing archival material, and an admirable clarity in providing a more robust and honest version of the mission than has been available to date. This is partly due to the book’s joint authorship. Michael Kennedy has long been established as an impressive historian of Irish foreign policy, while his collaborator, Art Magennis, undertook two tours of duty in the Congo. Diarmaid Ferriter, in the Irish TimesMystery still surrounds the events of September 1961 in Katanga where UN peacekeepers, including Irish soldiers, unsuccessfully went to war against the province in an attempt to ends its secession. Peacekeepers, Katangese military and civilians were killed, both sides committed atrocities which were only partially reported, Hammarskjold died in a mysterious plane crash whilst seeking to end the fighting, and some months later O’Brien was forced to resign, ostensibly for reasons related to his private life. With the release of the UN’s own archives on the Congo mission O’Brien’s actions, Hammarskjold’s involvement in authorising the UN’s military action against Katanga, and the UN’s subsequent protestations that the organisation and the Secretary General knew nothing of ONUC’s intentions in Katanga can be examined for the first time. The new records call into question existing accounts of the UN mission in Congo. O’Brien’s account of his UN service, written immediately after his resignation, To Katanga and Back is a classic but with the release of the UN’s archives, the limitations of the works appear.
Fifty years later a major re-evaluation of the UN’s failed military adventure in Katanga is possible, and using material from archives in New York, Stockholm, Dublin and London this talk hopes to provide a greater insight into a hitherto secret and mystifying chapter of the UN’s history.
Dr Michael Kennedy
Dr Kennedy has written widely on British-Irish relations and on cross-border relations in Ireland, including Division and Consensus: the politics of cross-border relations in Ireland 1921-1969 (Dublin, 2000). He has also written extensively on Ireland’s foreign and defence policies, including Ireland and the League of Nations, 1919-46 (Dublin, 1996), Obligations and Responsibilities: Ireland and the United Nations, 1955-2005 (with Deirdre McMahon) (Dublin, 2005), Guarding Neutral Ireland (Dublin, 2008) and The Irish Defence Forces 1940-49: The Chief of Staff’s Reports (Dublin, 2011) (with Commandant Victor Laing). He has recently co-edited, with John Doyle, Ben Tonra and Noel Dorr, the first text book on Ireland’s international relations, Irish Foreign Policy, which was published by Gill and Macmillan earlier this year. Dr Kennedy is a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission and a Research Associate of the Centre for Contemporary Irish History, Trinity College, Dublin.
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