The 1983 papers


A review of the other main stories which emerged from this year’s release of previously classified papers under the 30-year rule.



The British Direct Ruler in 1983, James Prior, described unionist hardliner Ian Paisley as a ‘schizophrenic’ who was ready to turn against Britain rather than contemplate any compromise with the nationalist community.

His views on Mr Paisley were recorded in Dublin’s files following a meeting with Minister for Foreign Affairs Peter Barry at Hillsborough in October 1983.

He told officials: “The DUP were loyalists only so long as they got their own way and would as a last resort get the “Brits out” and go it alone rather than seek accommodation with the minority.”

The remarks were made in a wide-ranging discussion. Mr Prior also told Mr Barry that both the Dublin and London governments were up against right-wing Tories such as Sir John Biggs-Davison and “an MP called Murphy” whom Prior described as a “despicable twirp”.


A visiting surgeon at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital was moved to write to then British PM Margaret Thatcher in 1983 about injuries to children caused by plastic bullets fired by the British Crown forces. Dr C M Bannister told her that she had recently visited the RVH and was taken on a tour of the wards, and was shocked by the impact of these injuries on relatives and medical staff alike.

After describing in graphic detail the impact of plastic bullets on the skulls and brains of children, she told Mrs Thatcher: “It goes without saying that the relatives of these children are greatly distressed but it seems to me that the medical and nursing staff were also deeply affected and were extremely depressed by the presence of so many severely injured and pathetically young patients in their wards.”

She concluded: “I cannot believe that it is beyond the ingenuity of the security forces to devise a less dangerous means of deterring these youngsters.”

In a personal reply on June 5 1984 Mrs Thatcher stated that she shared Dr Bannister’s concern at the injuries sustained, particularly since the young victims were “rarely the instigators of the disturbances”. However, she went on to defend their use by the Crown forces in Ireland as a policy of “minimum force”.


In notes marked “especially confidential”, then Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald suggested a new relationship with Britain over the north of Ireland could be one way to get around Irish people being “emotionally” attached to Irish neutrality, in order to advance the European project.

Fitzgerald was speaking to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn on increased military integration in Europe. He said the Irish people were reluctant to enter NATO because that organisation protected existing borders and “Irish people, with their country divided and occupied by another NATO member, could not serve in an organisation with this objective in its chapter”.

Ireland, he said, wanted to be “part of the whole movement forward enthusiastically”, but the nation did not want to “trip over this particular obstacle” [partition].

Bizarrely, the German chancellor responded by telling the Taoiseach that conscription of young people might make it possible to change Irish people’s minds on neutrality. Conscription have given the German people a very practical understanding and positive personal experience of serving their country, he declared.


Diplomats worried about allowing Iran to open an embassy in Dublin because of its ‘backing’ for the IRA, 26-County State files have revealed.

Papers released in the National Archives show Iranian officials in Tehran in 1981 approached Ireland’s Charge d’Affaires in Tehran about the possibility of opening an embassy.

One of Dublin’s main causes of concern, according to the documents, was Iranian support for the IRA, particularly in the aftermath of the hunger strikers in Long Kesh prison.

“The championing by Iran of Bobby Sands comes to mind here as does the reported contact in the aftermath of the revolution between a PIRA member and the then foreign minister Ghotbzadeh,” the report states.

But the Irish diplomat suggests this potential problem could be “brought under control” fairly quickly.

“The present stance is as much due to ignorance, or use of a convenient outlet for anti-Britishness, as it is to zeal for the Provo cause,” the official wrote.


The use of the Irish language in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh jail caused a major headache for British officials in the early 1980s.

On June 15 1982, Brendan O Cathaoir, an Irish Times journalist wrote to the Six-County Minister for Prisons, Alexander ‘Lord Gowrie’ Ruthven, to protest against a move by prison warders to suddenly terminate a meeting with a PoW which was being conducted through Irish.

“This gratuitous insult to the Irish identity of these prisoners serves no other purpose than the perpetration of hatred and violence in Ireland,” he wrote.

The matter was also raised by John Hume, MP and SDLP leader, in a letter to the Minister questioning the legal basis for such a policy.

In a reply, Ruthven said he was sorry that the journalist had had his visit terminated but the instructions to governors was quite explicit that visits to prisoners should be “in sight and hearing of the prison staff”.


Politicians rejected plans to honour Nelson Mandela with the freedom of Dublin just five years before he was eventually awarded the accolade.

Although the late South African leader was conferred a Freeman of Dublin in 1988 - the first capital city in the world to do so - councillors dismissed the idea during behind-the-scenes meetings in 1983.

The documents do not reveal why agreement could be not be made on conferring the freedom of the city, or which councillors were for or against the idea.

Notable members of the council at the time included right-wing figures such as Bertie Ahern, Gay Mitchell, Ben Briscoe, Michael Keating and Alice Glenn.


The Dublin government tried to get then US President George H. Bush more involved in tackling the conflict in the North by warning that Russia might try to exploit growing IRA support.

State papers have revealed that ahead of a one day visit to Dublin in 1983, officials said the Taoiseach should use the Soviet threat as a way of getting support from the then US vice-president, but White house aides were more preoccupied with arrangements for a televised “spontaneous meet-the-people” stop for Mr Bush in a pub.

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