So fearful was the coalition Fine Gael/Labour government in Dublin of a British withdrawal from Ireland in 1974, it disrupted peace talks between the IRA and the British government.

Papers have confirmed the terror which overcame the coalition government at the prospect of liberation from British rule.

Marked secret, the papers envisaged that a British withdrawal from the North would result in a carve up of the Six Counties with unpredictable and potentially disastrous consequences for the South.

The Dublin government believed the IRA might take over a large part of Ireland and challenge its authority following a withdrawal -- which it described as a “Doomsday” situation.

Dublin’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Garret FitzGerald, suggested appealing to the United Nations in the event of a British withdrawal -- although such support would be to defend and protect the South.

And in the nightmare scenario, Donegal was seen to be a lost cause, set to be overrun by the IRA in a new independent state which could then threaten the dominion of the Pale.

The Cosgrave government also felt that unionist paramilitaries would inevitably control the northeast and set up their own state.

“Our own ability to act effectively in these circumstances is clearly extremely limited,” wrote Fitzgerald, “and might not even be sufficient to prevent the emergence of a de facto independent Protestant state in east Ulster or a de facto independent state controlled by the Provisional IRA in west Ulster.”

Peace talks between republicans and senior Protestant clergymen in 1974 were scuppered by the Dublin government, it has emerged.

The president of Republican Sinn Féin, Ruairi O Bradaigh said the secret talks in the village of Feakle in County Clare led to a six-month IRA ceasefire and discussions about withdrawal of the British government from Ireland.

However, he said the talks were disrupted by the arrival of Gardai at the scene - sent by Dublin.

Papers confirm that the delegation of clergymen included senior members of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Assembly, Methodist Church and other denominations.

The republican side was represented by Mr O Bradaigh, Sinn Féin vice-president Maire Drumm, Ulster organiser Seamus Loughran, and leading republicans Billy McKee, Daithi O Conaill, Seamus Twomey, Kevin Mallon and JB O’Hagan.

“Eventually it came down to defining the republican terms and the wording of the declaration of intent by Britain to leave Ireland,” Mr O Bradaigh said.

However, he said 60 armed Special Branch officers and 120 uniformed Gardai arrived and broke up the negotiations.

“A promising and developing encounter had been disrupted”.

The Dublin government had apparently been enraged by a statement released by the Churchmen praising the republican leadership.

Bishop Arthur Butler, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Connor wrote that the churchmen were “most impressed with the attitude and fair-mindedness” of the IRA Army Council, a comment which provoked fear in Dublin.

A secretary of Liam Cosgrave complained: “The bishop gives a picture of the Provisionals that is hardly helpful to our position.”

The same government document also spoke of the difficult of suppressing the public desire for national unity, which it described as “keeping a lid on things”.

“It is inevitable the public in the south would be caught up in the emotional climate generated by events north of the border,” the document wrote.

In such circumstances, the document stated, “the extent to which it would be possible to ‘keep the lid’ on things here (in the south) is not at all clear.”

The paper anticipated popular demand for the Dublin government to intervene in the North.

If violence were “to spill over to this side the Irish government would find it difficult to avoid getting involved,” the paper warned.

Meanwhile, London was in two minds as to how to deal with the conflict.

The Sunningdale Agreement, which echoes the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 in many ways, had collapsed following the Ulster Workers’ Council strike. A strike by Protestant workers, powered by paramilitary intimidation, brought essential services to a halt.

It was quickly accepted by the British government that Protestants, who dominated almost all employment in the civil service and the trades, controlled the situation. Ironically, this led British Prime Minister Harold Wilson to the opinion that Britain had “responsibility without power” and should liberate itself from the conflict.

In the days directly following the Ulster Workers’ Council strike, Wilson argued the best approach was to negotiate for dominion status for the North, which would put the North at arms length from London.

Wilson envisaged Britain’s financial subsidies gradually tapering off over a three- to five-year period. “After that they would be out on their own,” he wrote.

The example of Newfoundland, was cited as a parallel. Following on from a brief domestic crisis upon receiving dominion status, Newfoundland freely chose to unite with her larger neighbour, the Dominion of Canada.

However, a hand-written note from Wilson indicated his preferred option was unlikely to be accepted by the British civil service and the Northern Ireland policy committee.

Detailed studies of the implications of withdrawing from the North and redrawing the border were undertaken by various officials.

But in the end, Dublin’s hostility to withdrawal was cited as grounds for dropping the plan entirely, and Britain’s focus soon moved to using the peace talks to dividing the IRA and the republican movement.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News