Irish Republican News · January 6, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
1981 archive papers

A round-up of the revelations from the historical papers, mostly pertaining to 1981, which were released over the New Year period.


Secret Irish contingency plans to immediately cede sovereignty to Britain and NATO in the event of a major conflict has featured in the documents declassified in Dublin at the New Year.

The files disclose plans for an immediate pact with the British in the event of a threatened war. It declared more than half a million Irish people would be fit to fight on Britain’s behalf.

The four-page document, from February 23rd, 1981, states the North of Ireland would be “essential” to Britain’s security but access to the rest of Ireland would “significantly enhance” Britain’s war effort.

Stamped “SECRET” and titled “The Strategic Importance of Ireland to the UK in Times of War”, it reveals that the government’s military advisers utterly ignored Ireland’s constitutional neutrality.

The document outlines potential help to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), particularly Britain, “bearing in mind that one of the guiding principles of nuclear warfare is the dispersal of forces and facilities so as to present as small a target as possible to the enemy”.

In a pact, Ireland could offer “over 500,000 of its citizens fit for military service”, sites for missiles, 38 airfields, six major and 38 minor ports, a potential supply of oil and a staging post for reinforcements, the report stated.

Siting radar sites along the west and south coasts could help detect an imminent strike on Britain and allow it to be intercepted further out in the Atlantic.

Furthermore, the use of ports in the South would improve protection of the English Channel and communication with Europe, while boosting supply routes for military reinforcements, food and fuel. Such help would allow Britain to “face east in the confidence that the west flank is more secure”.

The document remarkably contained no references to Irish sovereignty, neutrality or to Irish national interests in the event of the breakout of war.


The archives also reveal a typically neurotic and hostile reaction by the Fianna Fail government to increased support for the IRA in the north of Ireland.

Taoiseach Charles Haughey feared the population of Fermanagh was “completely under the control of the Provisionals” after the victory of hunger strikers Bobby Sands in a Westminster by-election.

He was also concerned that “Provisional sympathisers” could hold the balance of power in the Dublin parliament following a general election.

Papers released on London also show Haughey sent advice to the British government on how to defeat the hunger strikers.

Britain’s Ambassador in Dublin, Leonard Figg, revealed that the former Taoiseach had “made clear that he did not think we were using sufficient cunning and dexterity in seeming to make concessions without actually doing so and thereby heading off the strike”.


Haughey ordered a crate of expensive wine five days before leaving office in 1981, the Dublin papers show.

The infamously corrupt Fianna Fail leader, who had delivered his infamous speech warning citizens of living “way beyond our means” a year earlier, also requested alcohol to the value of more than 260 pounds (330 euro) on the day of the general election, June 11th.

Drinks ordered on the day of the election included five bottles of Martini, 13 bottles of various whiskeys, gin, vodka, Bacardi and brandy. Documents show Haughey ordered the alcohol for “official entertainment”.

And after losing the election and five days before he left office, expenses documents show Haughey ordered the dozen bottles of Château Rauzan-Ségla Margaux 1971 from wine and spirit merchants Bagots Group, based at the North Wall, worth almost 90 pounds.

At the time the average weekly industrial wage was 112 pounds.


US Senator Ted Kennedy feared US-built helicopters might be used by the British government to suppress resistance by the nationalist population in the North of Ireland, newly released state files reveal.

The late Irish-American had become concerned after being informed that Britain’s Ministry of Defence had sealed a deal with an American company for 12airborne gunships which were to be possibly used by the British military during growing unrest over the hunger strikes.

Ireland’s embassy in Washington made enquiries on his behalf, but mainly sought to ensure the issue did not appear in the media as it “could be used as propaganda in the US for IRA support”. It also directed that the source of the rumour not be disclosed.

The helicopters in question, Chinooks, were subsequently deployed by the British Army in the North as military support and troop carriers, and without any media fanfare.


Current DUP leader Peter Robinson warned of “war before Christmas” and urged the British government to seal the border as conflict escalated in 1981.

Robinson’s spoke of unionists launching a civil war and told the British, in regard to taking on the IRA, that unless the border was sealed off, “the Protestant people would go and do the job for them,”

DUP secretary William Beattie also said loyalists were prepared to “burn down west Belfast” if the IRA was not destroyed.

Meanwhile, Ian Paisley was considered such a violent individual that a key British government advisor suggested if he were to disappear overnight, a majorobstacle to peace and reconciliation would be removed.

1981 saw the DUP leader’s hillside rally known as ‘Carson’s trail’ and there were concerns about a potentialPaisleyite army known as the ‘Third Force’.

The British ultimately decided “to allow Paisley to make trouble until we judge his antics too destructive”, according to one document.


Diplomats in Dublin struggled with the tone and content of messages sent to the various Popes since 1948.

A file released to the National Archives contains messages of congratulations on the anniversary of the popes inauguration. It also showed that on three occasions, in 1948, 1951 and 1954, messages of “homage” were also sent to the pope on the formation of governments.

A breach of protocol in 1981 meant Pope John Paul II was sent both a birthday and an anniversary message from the Haughey government.

The tone of the messages changed over the years, with de Valera offering “filial loyalty and devotion” to Pope Pius XII, while Haughey offered “sincere felicitations and best wishes” to John Paul II. A temporary blip in the tone occurred in 1976, when then Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave offered “profound homage” and “fervent prayer” to Pope Paul VI. After a flurry of messages within the department, this was corrected and in 1977 the message simply offered “congratulations and best wishes”.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, a message of congratulations is still sent from Ireland to the pope every year on the anniversary of his inauguration.


The question of whether the 26-County President should attend the British royal wedding caused confusion and doubt among Dublin government officials, 1981 files from the Taoiseach’s department show.

The government decided not to send President Patrick Hillery to the July 29th wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer after the president indicated that he did not wish to attend.

Some in the Taoiseach’s office, including assistant secretary Richard Stokes, had advised in favour of forcing the president to attend, as staying away would “make a nonsense” of “progress” in Anglo-Irish relations.


The Minister for Finance in 1981, Michael O’Kennedy, went to unusual lengths to increase his ministerial pension entitlements.

When, in March 1981, he took up the lucrative position of European Commissioner, O’Kennedy found himself just short of five years’ ministerial service for another rung on the pension scale. But he convinced the government to give him an extra day because “1980 was a leap year”.

The move gained O’Kennedy an extra 500 pounds a year, was just two days after he delivered one of the harshest budgets of the era.

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