The British government considered banning Irish immigration and stripping the Irish community in Britain of social security and voting rights after eight plain-clothes SAS men were arrested in the 26-Counties on active service.
The confidential British documents, released under the 30-year rule, raise questions on Dublin’s acquiescence to the activities of undercover British units operating in the South.
The eight heavily armed soldiers, dressed in civilian clothing, had been arrested 700 yards over the border on May 5 1976.
They claimed to have been test-driving a car and had strayed across the border by ‘misreading’ a map. It is thought they may have been involved in a mission to attack Irish citizens in possible collusion with unionist paramilitaries.
The eight were charged with possession of machine guns, hand guns, a pump-action shotgun and a dagger with intent to endanger life and were brought before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.
James Callaghan’s Labour government immediately warned the Dublin government of a “strong and violent reaction by loyalist paramilitaries”. It also threatened a trade embargo against Irish goods, an end to Irish immigration, withdrawal of social security benefits and voting rights to Irish citizens in Britain.
Callaghan demanded a guarantee that then Irish president Patrick Hilary would issue a free pardon or full remission for the SAS men in advance of their trial.
It also considered mounting a “sustained campaign” in the media against Irish “failures” in security matters, suspending north-south ministerial contacts and refusing training facilities to the 26-County security forces
The papers also discussed how Dublin ministers could be used to put ‘covert persuasion’ or ‘lean’ on the director of public prosecutions to drop the charges against the SAS soldiers.
The eight soldiers were eventually let off with a fine.
County Louth Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan said the new information on the arrests and release of the SAS raised “fundamental questions” about the incident.
“At this time at least four people were murdered in mysterious circumstances in the border area, including Seamus Ludlow and Peter Clancy in Louth,” he said.
“Nobody was ever charged with these killings, although loyalists or elements of the British state were always suspected.”
Mr Morgan said that he was alarmed at the apparent attempts to secure cooperation from the Fine Gael-Labour Irish government of the time to influence the case.
“I believe that these revelations will be the tip of the iceberg,” he said.