Irish Republican News · January 3, 2015
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Review of the archive papers
Review of the archive papers

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A round-up of the stories emerging from the declassified papers released over the New Year.

 

GARDA COLLABORATION

A secret British military report in 1985 said that its forces enjoyed “excellent relations” with the 26 County gardai, with significantly more “co-operation” than was known even to the Dublin government of the day.

The security report, drawn up by the British in May 1985, said successive Dublin governments had encouraged co-operation with RUC Special Branch and MI5, but were sensitive to charges of collaboration.

An official wrote: “We believe that even those Irish ministers who are aware of it in general terms may be unaware of its extent”. He said Britain’s Special Branch and MI5 had “excellent relations” with garda intelligence, and “benefit from a degree of co-operation and from a flow of intelligence which we believe to be at a greater level than is suspected by at least some Irish ministers.

“A small number of garda officers ... are... prepared to be extremely helpful”, he said, and their co-operation had made “a major contribution” to the British war effort in Ireland.

 

EU MEMBERSHIP FLAWED

Ireland’s historic entry into the European Union technically remains open to question because of a back room blunder, secret files suggest.

According to newly declassified government files, the accession papers to the EU (then the EEC) were found at the last minute to be contrary to the Irish constitution, and needed to be hurriedly re-written.

An internal memo in the Taoiseach’s department complains that the international agreement only arrived at the office five minutes before the publicised signing ceremony. “This meant, in fact, that there was not sufficient time in the ordinary course for the instruments to be sealed (by the President),” it says.

 

HAUGHEY FEARED

British officials strongly preferred dealing with Fine Gael leader Garret FitzGerald as Taoiseach over Fianna Fail leader Charlie Haughey.

“I do not think Mr Haughey would prove easy to do business with, and I believe it is in our own interests to do what we can to sustain Dr FitzGerald in power,” said Alan Goodison, the British ambassador in Dublin in the run-up to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

He described Haughey as unconstructive, unhelpful and wallowing in negativity, and noted that Haughey believed British strategists did not see Ireland as significant.

While he would be very much opposed to any Anglo-Irish Agreement, Goodison said that if he came to power with it in place, Haughey would possibly try to renegotiate it to show that he could do better than Mr FitzGerald.

“Whether we succeed in achieving one or fail he will certainly relish the opportunity of attempting to destroy Dr (Garret) FitzGerald,” he warned.

 

‘SUSPECT’ JOURNALISTS

Margaret Thatcher’s staff wanted to severely limit her access to the press in Ireland in the early 1980s as the media there were judged too aggressive and uncooperative.

One well-known journalist and commentator, Eamonn Mallie, was said to be “suspect” according to Bernard Ingham, the prime minister’s press secretary at the time.

In a series of notes to the prime minister, Ingham advises her that her previous willingness to be door-stepped instead of holding a press conference had angered the print media.

“The effect of this has been to give maximum offence to the writing press and to provide a platform for some pretty suspect people like Malley (sic) of Downtown Radio, who gets close to choking you with his microphone,” he wrote.

 

DUP ‘NUTCASE’

DUP councillor George Seawright, who once called for “Catholics and their priests to be burned”, caused problems for the British government in 1985.

At a time when the British government refused to have normal contacts with Sinn Fein due to its support for violence, Seawright’s presence on unionist deputations posed problems for its Northern Ireland Office.

One official wrote: “Mr Seawright is a maverick and, some would say, a nutcase, but he is not a subversive in the Sinn Fein sense and to treat him on a par with Sinn Fein and refuse to see him as part of a delegation might only seem to enhance his standing in some quarters.”

In the end, secretary of state Tom King decided that “on balance, Ministers should seek to avoid Mr Seawright’s company”.

 

WATER FOR OIL

The possibility of selling water to the Gulf states was under consideration in 1984, according to archived documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Irish National Petroleum Corporation, then a State-owned oil company, presented proposals to the government to sell drinking water to the Gulf states. It was to be transported from Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay, Co Cork, using oil tankers.

A background note prepared in March 1984 for then minister for foreign affairs Peter Barry said contact had been made “at a high level in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States”.

The previous year, then minister for industry and energy John Bruton had discussed the subject while visiting Riyadh.

The note pointed out there had been many international proposals to supply water to “arid zone oil-producing states” including by tanker, pipeline from major rivers and “through towing icebergs”.

However, the plan did not succeed. “The general position appears to be that the Gulf States prefer to rely on their own sources of water . . . rather than becoming dependent on water supplies imported from abroad,” Mr Barry admitted.

 

UNENVIRONMENTAL EXTREMISTS

The Dublin government’s desire to see the demolition of the high-rise Divis Flats in West Belfast is highlighted in the declassified files for 1986.

From 1969 the flats had become a symbol of the conflict. In a note on the file dated 6 May 1986, a British official informed colleagues that he had learned from Michael Lillis of the 26 County Department of Foreign Affairs that the Dublin government intended to raise the question of Divis Flats under the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

There were approximately 300 dwellings in the Divis complex. The tenants believed the structural flaws were beyond repair and that the best solution would be the demolition of the complex and its replacement by conventional housing.

The Dublin Government stated: ‘We believe the living conditions of Divis have allowed extremists to obtain an influence in the area that can and should be ended through the replacement of the complex. The basic reason for the extremist influence lies in the alienation of the residents from their environment.’

They argued that a decision in favour of demolition “would send a message of hope throughout West Belfast and do much to increase confidence in constitutional politics. Divis had become a symbol of alienation”.

However, British officials said the demolition would not hurt Sinn Fein. Responding to the proposal on March 7, 1986, Ronnie Spence of the Stormont Central Secretariat wrote: ‘the Irish belief that the demolition of the complex would reduce the influence of Sinn Fein is a little naive. Sinn Fein have been campaigning for demolition and would no doubt claim credit for it.’

 

VICTORIA TOO BIG

A museum in England declined the Dublin government’s offer to send it a giant statue of Queen Victoria that once stood in the grounds of the Leinster House parliament.

The bronze statue with three attendants, depicting Hibernia at War, Hibernia at Peace, and Fame, was designed by Irish sculptor John Hughes and sat at the Kildare Street entrance from 1908 to 1949. It was removed by the coalition government of John A Costello.

At 33ft high, including its pedestal, the statue was stored at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham and then in Daingean, Co Offaly.

In a letter on the Taoiseach’s file, dated August 1984, from Ted Nealon, then minister of state at the Department of the Taoiseach, he suggested giving the statue to the Beamish North of England Open Air Museum.

But by December the plan had failed. In a confidential letter to Mr Nealon, the English museum’s director Frank Atkinson said he had heard “unofficially” the government were thinking of offering the statue.

“I am told that this particular statue is enormous, and what we are seeking is a small one (life-sized figure at the largest),” he wrote.

In the end, the statue was transported to Sydney in 1987 and now stands outside the Queen Victoria Building in the city.

 

REAGAN TREATMENT

Guests at the 1984 State banquet in Dublin in honour of US president Ronald Reagan were treated to roast beef and turtle soup, but only the top table was served the best wine, files from the National Archives show.

Copies of the menus for the banquet in the State Apartments in Dublin Castle on June 3rd, 1984 are included in a file from the Department of the Taoiseach.

They show the top table was served Chablis Grand Cru Les Vaudesirs 1981 and Chateau Lynch-Bages 1978 with dinner, while other tables were served a Petit Chablis 1982 and Chateau Cantenac-Brown 1980.

The five-course menu included Dublin Bay prawns, turtle soup and fillet of prime Irish beef with carrots and Parisian potatoes. Dinner finished with cheese and fresh strawberries.

The menu was approved by Joan FitzGerald, wife of taoiseach Garret FitzGerald.

Mr Reagan, a note recorded, was not to be served “too much butter” with his prawns.

Guests were invited from the Oireachtas, the judiciary, the public service, semi-State bodies, the churches, the business world, arts and academia, and the media.

Preparations for the visit involved refurbishing the Taoiseach’s office “in a style suitable for a tete-a-tete”, including the provision of “two high-backed Queen Anne type chairs”, the documents show.

Dr FitzGerald visited the National Gallery of Ireland to borrow paintings to hang on the walls. Silver was borrowed from the National Museum to decorate the banquet table.

The Reagan visit, from June 1st to June 4th, 1984, included his address to a joint session of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

 

CABARET ‘BLARNEY’

Former Taoisigh were discouraged from endorsing the Jury’s cabaret as a means of promoting Ireland’s image overseas, with officials warning “the entertainment is very much of the ‘blarney’ variety”.

A newly released file on “Ireland’s image abroad” records correspondence in the Department of the Taoiseach stretching back to the early 1970s on mainly cultural promotions.

Jury’s cabaret persuaded Sean Lemass and Jack Lynch to provide photographs and messages of endorsement that could be used to promote the show’s US tour. This was despite reservations from officials, who questioned the appropriateness of being tied to a commercial enterprise.

In 1979, when the cabaret looked for a further message of endorsement from Mr Lynch for its tour programme, officials expressed concern at the “artistic level of the cabaret”. One official noted the tune How Are Things in Glocca Morra from Finan’s Rainbow was “listed as one of ‘Ireland’s most beautiful songs’!”

Mr Lynch took the advice on board and sent a toned-down message of goodwill to the cabaret, saying: “Your light-hearted entertainment will bring pleasure to our friends in North America.”

 

FISHERMEN DISOWNED

Newly released documents show the Dublin government had ‘no intention’ to get involved in the case of an Irish fishing boat which was sunk by a British submarine.

In April 1982 a Clogherhead fishing boat, the Sheralga, was trawling for prawns in the Irish Sea. Raymond McEvoy was skippering the 70ft vessel about 30 miles off the Dublin coast when near disaster struck. It was dragged for about two miles before it sunk and all five crew had to be rescued by other trawlers.

At first, Britain denied any involvement in what happened but a number of weeks later admitted that the sinking had been caused by one of their subs. The incident happened at the height of the Falklands War and it later transpired that the the Sheralga’s nets had been caught by HMS Porpoise which was looking for Soviet submarine activity in the Irish Sea.

The sinking caused a major diplomatic incident between Ireland and the UK with demands that submarine activity be stopped in the Irish Sea. The crewmen wanted compensation, both for the loss of the boat and their livelihoods and also for what they saw as the risk to their lives.

A confidential Dublin government document published under the 30-year rule demonstrates that there was no appetite to “become party to the dispute” between the men and the United Kingdom.

In the end, the men did go to court and four years later the crew received compensation, but the amount was less than half the value of the boat.

© 2015 Irish Republican News