Extraordinary plans to redraw the partition of Ireland, including the possibility of west Belfast being governed by the 26-County state, were considered by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, according to previously classified state papers released today.
A briefing paper prepared by British officials, based on a repartition plan put forward by an academic, suggested reintegrating almost half the Six Counties now under British rule into an enlarged 26-County state.
The radical proposals also suggested ceding most of Derry city to the South. It mentioned establishing an area in west Belfast as an Irish exclave within a redefined British-ruled region -- despite fears it might create “a walled ghetto”.
Officials revisited the border question in response to research by Paul Compton, a prominent academic from Queen’s University Belfast. Dr Compton described the original partition of 1920 as “flawed by the messy way in which it was executed”.
He suggested three options for repartition, including a much more modest version, ceding parts of Fermanagh, south Armagh and most of Derry city. In that scenario, a population of 130,000 would pass from British to Irish rule.
The plans allowed for the compensation of unionists in areas ceded to the South.
However, in line with the policy of successive Dublin governments to oppose any plans which might affect its own jurisdiction, the suggestion was denounced by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, and Margaret Thatcher rejected the idea.
DUP CHILD ABUSE?
Further details to emerge from the release of historical papers this year include revelations of a possible child sex scandal affecting Ian Paisley’s DUP.
A man said by government documents to have held a position within the DUP in the early 1970s wrongly escaped conviction on charges linked to the Kincora paedophile scandal, according to a newly-declassified file.
The file, released at the Public Record Office in Belfast, also contains an allegation that he might have had evidence about one of Belfast’s most gruesome child murders of the last century.
The allegations emerge in a file about Kincora, the boys home in east Belfast where boys were sexually assaulted in the 1970s and which police and the authorities responsible for the home failed to investigate until it was revealed by a Dublin newspaper.
The case has been the subject of numerous inquiries and ongoing claims that the British Crown forces had a role in covering up what went on because William McGrath, the housemaster of the home, was an agent.
A confidential two-page memo contained in the file just released contains details of a 1982 meeting between the then British Direct Ruler, Jim Prior, and Britain’s Lord Chancellor, about Kincora.
The minute records concerns by the Director for Public Prosecutions (DPP) of a possible cover with the then Lord Chancellor (and senior Cabinet member), Lord Hailsham.
The memo states: “The DPP had told him he had learned earlier that day that the RUC were continuing investigations into three aspects of the affair.
“The first concerned a man named Campbell, whom the Attorney General understood to have been secretary of the DUP and who in 1972 was falsely acquitted on the basis of perjured evidence; the file in his case had subsequently been destroyed by a bomb.
“Second, the allegations that a DHSS file [presumably a health department file relating to Kincora] had been mutilated in 1977.”
The final allegation referred to by the Lords Chancellor related to the murder of ten-year-old Brian McDermott in 1973.
After going missing in Ormeau Park and extensive police searches, the River Lagan was lowered and a sack containing the child’s torso, arm and charred remains was found. There were suggestions of a sectarian, paedophile or even witchcraft motive.
The note of the February 16, 1982 meeting said that “the RUC were looking again at the murder of Brian McDermott in the mid-1970s; his death was thought at the time to have been sectarian but it was now believed possible that there were homosexual aspects and that Campbell and others might have information to offer.”
Previously confidential British government files also confirm the secret dumping of radioactive waste in Belfast and Derry in the early 1980s.
A memo in the file revealed that solid radioactive waste had been buried at two local authority disposal sites during the period 1977-82. These were at Duncrue Street in north Belfast and at Culmore Point outside Derry.
At Duncrue Street, the memo noted, “a number of controlled burials of hospital/university waste of short half-life together with small amounts of industrial waste were arranged”.
The total activity disposed of was approximately 180 millicuries, of which the bulk comprised radioactive iodine with a half-life of less than two months. At Culmore Point, two consignments of hospital waste had been disposed of by “controlled burial”.
They also show the issue of radioactive discharges from the Windscale [later known as Sellafield] nuclear plant in Cumbria generated concern among Six-County officials 30 years ago, but were dismissed following the testing of seaweed samples.
Information was also released confirming that the mass IRA escape from Long Kesh in September 1983 was followed almost immediately by reports that prisoners were subjected to brutality at the hands of prison staff on the night of the escape.
The relevant file has been partially censored, but it reveals that at least 11 prisoners told the prison medical officer that they were bitten by dogs in H-Block 7 - the scene of the mass escape - on the night of September 25 1983. One prison warder was shot in the escape (a separate file links Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly to his death).
In a memo a governor at the jail said the staff had denied the incident -- but also placed the attacks in the context of the “tensions” in the immediate aftermath of the escape.