British fury over IRA attacks
British fury over IRA attacks

British diplomats complained bitterly in secret about the lack of security provided by the 26-County authorities for British admiral, ‘Lord’ Mountbatten, following his assassination by the IRA, historical papers have revealed.

Later the same day, 18 British soldiers - including 16 members of the Parachute Regiment - were killed in an IRA ambush at Warrenpoint.

In a telegram to Foreign Secretary Peter Carrington - just released by the British National Archives under the 30-year rule - it emerged that the IRA attacked on the first occasion that Mountbatten’s boat did not have a police guard on it.

“In the absence of an official report, it would be unwise to go into detail, but I must say I find it extraordinary that the boat was apparently not searched by the Garda before it sailed,” the then British ambassador in Dublin, Robin Haydon, said.

“It is even more extraordinary that, to my knowledge, no questions have been asked by the Irish media about the level and adequacy of Garda security for the Mountbatten family.”

At the time, the mainstream Irish media portrayed Mountbatten as an “easy target”.

Margaret Thatcher’s British government swiftly considered the introduction of severe measures to tackle the IRA following the double attack.

Measures considered including “more vigorous use of the SAS”, the “closing of Border roads” and even “reintroduction of executive detention [internment]”.

State papers released in London also reveal that Margaret Thatcher warned Jack Lynch that Irish citizens living in Britain might face “repercussions” unless the Dublin government took measures to improve security co-operation.

The day after the attacks, Thatcher convened a special meeting at Downing Street with the aim of “stiffening Irish government policies towards the terrorists”.

However, so long as Ireland had the EEC (EU) presidency, it was felt that it had “cards they could play against the UK”. The British also discussed the possibility of making the rest of the world “more aware of the shortcomings” of the 26-County government against the IRA.

Another suggestion was that the British might be able to exert some pressure by stepping up “administrative action against Irish immigrants to the UK, on the lines of the steps already being taken at UK channel ports against Algerians and Turks”.

Some foreign office officials had also suggested the freezing of Irish sterling balances in the Bank of England.

For the moment, the British government was agreed that an attempt would be made to secure greater co-operation from Lynch, considered to be a relatively weak character, before the “more confrontational policy” was adopted.

Tensions were extremely high when a 26-County government delegation met with Thatcher on September 5th, following Mountbatten’s funeral.

Thatcher had a private meeting with Lynch, with only two other officials in the room. She put forward a shopping list of demands for better security co-operation, including extradition of IRA suspects to England, permission for British army helicopters to fly over 26-County territory in the Border area, and a suggestion that RUC officers be present at Garda interrogations of suspects.

Lynch observed that “all these would raise difficulties for the Irish government”.

Thatcher then stressed that she would be “unable to restrain public opinion in this country if, having agreed on the threat, she and Mr Lynch were unable to point to anything new that would be done”. She asked “whether the Irish side were prepared “to get down to brass tacks”.

In the following weeks, Lynch agreed a new “security” package. The full details were not released to avoid a public backlash over the erosion of Irish sovereignty.

However, a document in the British archives reveals that the new measures included the establishment of a new RUC-Garda panel to co-ordinate the activities of a specialist Garda unit on the Border (which was also strengthened), the granting of permission for British helicopters to cross the Border within a 5km range, the centralisation of Garda criminal intelligence machinery at Monaghan, and even greater liaison between the RUC and the Gardai.

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