Plans for a drastic escalation of the war in 1973, including the shooting of unarmed civilians, have been revealed in secret papers released in London.
The proposed ``Operation Folklore'' anticipated a scenario in which the British authorities would impose control on the North of Ireland through an intensive military assault.
The operation would have included explicitly permitting British soldiers to shoot unarmed Irish citizens.
Military exemption from due process was to be extended to cover opening fire on any person who failed to halt when challenged during a curfew, or on any person who failed to halt when challenged in an area designated as ``special'' by the British Army chiefs -- presumably nationalist areas.
A hand-written note by a British official commented: ``We would just have to ignore protestations from the Republic.''
Plans for Operation Folklore were laid in the wake of Operation Motorman which secured the British Army's occupation of republican areas in Belfast and Derry in 1972.
The hardline policy is thought to have had its first outing in Derry in January 1972 with the Bloody Sunday massacre. Last year's release of documents revealed that the British government had also anticipated a massive slaughter in Operation Motorman, which miraculously claimed only two lives.
``We feel strongly that in the wholly abnormal situation envisaged, it would be essential for a soldier to be able to open fire without fear of legal penalty in certain circumstances,'' Mr Anthony Stephens, of the British Ministry of Defence, wrote.
Indemnifying British soldiers from prosecution had been under consideration for some time. But for the purposes of Operation Folklore, an Act of Indemnity was deemed insufficient.
A drastic extension of existing powers of arrest, search and detention was also envisaged and all necessary measures would, be introduced ``whatever the attitude of the government of the Republic''.
A memorandum by an official at the Foreign Office from December 1973 underlines the British government's determination: ``Our overriding concern would have to be to safeguard the security of the realm, even if in so doing some susceptibilities in the Republic had to be disregarded.''