In 1985, the Dublin government’s Minister of Defence and military chiefs believed it was illegal for the 26 County Army to operate north of the border even for humanitarian reasons, historical papers have revealed.
The opinion is contained in a memo drafted by military officials in 1985 in response to the prospect of calls for a deployment across the border to deal with disturbances in the North.
The week before the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed, the memo warned of possible unrest in response to the deal.
In documents released from the Taoiseach’s office under the 30-year rule, military advisers said the likeliest reaction to the agreement would be increased confrontation and “intercommunal fighting”.
But any possibility of a cross-border operation was rejected by defence chiefs in Dublin who argued Irish soldiers could legally only serve “overseas” with the United Nations. They also complained that the army’s size and equipment was “hopelessly inadequate” to carry out any operation in the North.
This came despite a warning about possible upheaval in the North and widespread attacks on nationalist communities.
“Depending on its scale and intensity [this] could lead to pressure for intervention by the Defence Forces either by request from beleaguered nationalist communities or by request from the British government if it thought its forces were unable to cope, or if it wished to involve the Republic for political reasons.
“Depending on the scale of the fighting there could also be political pressure in the [26 Counties] for intervention on the basis of ‘we cannot stand idly by’” -- a reference to the previous failure of the government to intervene in the aftermath of the Battle of the Bogside in Derry in 1969.
The defence minister at the time, Fine Gael’s Paddy Cooney (pictured), received the advice after summoning the Council of Defence - made up of the chief of staff, adjutant general, quarter-master general, a junior minister and his department secretary - on August 28 1985.
He later warned of the possibility of “fatal casualties” if soldiers from the 26 County Army were sent north, and ultimately rejected any possibility of an assignment due to the need for a reform of the law, which he said would “certainly raise apprehensions” on both sides of the border.