The 1973 government papers
The 1973 government papers
Some of the highlights from the annual release of government papers from 1973 under the 30-year-rule.


  • Ulster Unionist leader of the day, Brian Faulkner, held top-secret talks on the Sunningdale Agreement -- similar in many aspects to the Good Friday Agreement -- with Irish government officials at his County Down home. Discussions included the setting up a cross-border `Council of Ireland' with executive powers.

    In November 1973, a Six-County Executive was formed and, in December, the ill-fated Agreement was signed amid - according to British cabinet papers - a carefully planned programme of Irish music and toasts which ended ``with hardly a dry eye in the room''.

    Mr Faulkner's support for the Agreement ultimately led to his resignation as party leader in January 1974, days after the Ulster Unionist Council rejected the planned cross-border body.

  • The chairmanship of the main Sunningdale negotiations in 1973 was a point of major contention before the talks. The Irish Taoiseach of the time, Liam Cosgrave wrote to the British Prime Minister Ted Heath to say that ``a settlement reached both on British soil and also under British chairmanship would on that account be likely to give rise to more criticism and controversy than either of us would desire.''

  • The British government's 1973 Green Paper, envisaging cross-community power-sharing in the north and a formal north-south link, drew strong criticism from a senior Stormont official, who said it was wrong to believe that ``moderate or prudent men outnumber the extremists on both sides'', making it feasible to build new political structures on the basis of consensus.

  • There were clandestine contacts between the Irish Ambassador in London and leading northern unionist figures in 1973. Ambassador Dr Donal O'Sullivan informed the Department of Foreign Affairs that he had lunched with a former unionist prime minister of Northern Ireland, Captain Terence O'Neill, who warned of a civil war situation arising after the failure of the then executive to get going.

  • During a meeting with the British Secretary of State at Stormont Castle in December 1972, DUP leader Ian Paisley demanded drastic security measures including military courts, capital punishment and the ``domination'' of nationalist areas by the British army. However, he also seemed open to the creation of a Council of Ireland in return for Dublin recognition of the status of the Six Counties in the North.

  • The secretary of state, William Whitelaw, met senior UDA figures at Stormont at the height of the paramilitary group's assassination campaign against Catholic civilians. He told Orangemen at Stormont that ``he had never equated the UDA with the IRA in the viciousness of their activities''.

  • There were secret visits by the South's minister for foreign affairs, Garret Fitzgerald, to republican and loyalist areas of Belfast in 1973, which the British government attempted to restrict.

  • A British official suggested the assassination of former IRA Chief of Staff Sean Mac Stiofain to a republican sympathiser in 1973. He also described planting stories calculated to sow dissension in the IRA in British newspapers.

  • Almost 10,000 northern refugees fled to the 26 Counties during a two-month period following intense violence in 1972, but a Dublin government memorandum described some of the evacuees as ``very demanding and ungrateful'' and suggested they were only enjoying a holiday.

  • The head of the British Army in Ireland, General Harry Tuzo, was ``delighted'' that a bridge on the Fermanagh-Cavan border, thought to be used by an IRA unit to launch attacks in the north, was blown up after it had been replaced following an earlier explosion.

  • Dublin's then minister of foreign affairs, Brian Lenihan, believed that cross-border cooperation within the EEC (now the European Union) could evolve into Irish unity.

  • The British government of the day were privately warned that the official Widgery inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre would not satisfy critics of the British Army. The British governor in the North, Lord Grey, warned that the report of the Lord Chief Justice Lord Widgery was inadequte on the eve of its publication.

  • The U.S. government feared Glasgow would become a hotbed of sectarian violence following Bloody Sunday and lead to civil war on the streets of mainland Britain. The US believed British cities with large populations of people of Irish descent made them susceptible to conflict, fears which were privately shared by some senior British diplomats.

  • The Dublin government of the day had little aptitude in matters of science and technology. Proposals that one of the abandoned Blasket Islands could become home to a space launching station were taken seriously. The Department of Defence also expressed an interest in buying a ``flying, floating automobile'' from an Austrian inventor in 1966.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News