We publish a round-up of the state papers declassified at the turn of the year by the Dublin and London governments, dating from 1988 and 1994. Please note that, as usual, some papers have not been released for reasons of ‘state security’.
Papers released in Dublin and London show that discussions between Thatcher and Haughey in 1988 focussed on the repeated demands by Thatcher for increasingly oppressive policing measures against republicans and the rapid extradition of “terrorists”.
In turn, Haughey raised British injustices. A request by him for clemency for the Birmingham Six was rebuffed immediately by Thatcher. Three years before the convictions were quashed -- leading to compensation for the six men -- Thatcher told Haughey she was “totally convinced” by a 1988 court ruling rejecting their grounds for appeal.
During another meeting, Thatcher descended into a racist rant, brought on by Mr Haughey’s arguments in favour of a united Ireland.
“You talk of unity and I ask would that be better? I say no, there would be the worst civil war in history, she said.
“And it would spread to the mainland. Your people come over to us. I wish they wouldn’t. They come looking for housing and services. If there was a vote tomorrow they would vote to stay with us. They have better conditions in Northern Ireland and in England.”
A press release dated after the meeting said that “a great deal of useful work had been done”.
Haughey even suspected the Thatcher government was working with the opposition in Dublin, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats, to undermine his political position.
The British ambassador took exception to the suggestion.
“I have not spoken to [PD leader Des] O’Malley. I exchanged two sentences with Mr [Alan] Dukes [then leader of Fine Gael] on the margin of a rugby match. Please don’t entertain that suspicion,” he said.
A declassified state paper claimed that Danny Morrison, former Sinn Fein publicity director, met the 26 County government’s “usual contact” in April 1988 and told them that tensions over IRA funerals had been “a godsend” for Gerry Adams’s re-election efforts, and that Sinn Fein was happy to see confrontations with the RUC at funerals continue.
The paper also claims that Morrison alleged that “Martin McGuinness had been personally involved in the planning and execution” of a high-profile incident in Derry the previous year, in which a final salute was fired over the coffin of IRA Volunteer Gerard Logue outside a church.
The identity of the alleged “contact” remains unknown. In a response this week, Morrison has said he is “seriously sceptical about the truthfulness of this report”.
A confidential note, entitled “mood at Westminster”, was written by Irish Embassy official Richard Ryan after he spoke to some 20 MPs of “all shades” days after a particularly violent period in March 1988 which began with then SAS ambush in Gibraltar and ending with the deaths of two British soldiers at the hands of the IRA after they drove into a republican funeral in west Belfast.
The diplomat said many MPs who did not take an active interest in Irish affairs became “puffed with outrage and conviction” about doing something. He said suggestions ranged from demands for a tougher and revised policy of policing funerals to a demand for internment throughout Ireland and, in “more cases than previously”, to a demand to setting a date for withdrawal from Ireland “in order to let the Irish get on with butchering each other”.
The UVF held secret talks with the IRA army council in 1988 to discuss the prospect of a federal Ireland, state papers in Dublin have claimed. The meetings were facilitated by Father John Murphy, a chaplain in the Long Kesh.
One memo, to the Taoiseach’s office in November 1988, said that Fr Murphy was anxious to keep the meetings secret and listed the three opponents as “the NIO, the RUC and the DUP”.
“Fr Murphy was frankly surprised at the speed with which events had moved and was particularly surprised at the signs of apparent flexibility being shown by the UVF in this exercise where they demonstrated a willingness to at least talk about a wide range of possible future arrangements for Ireland, not excluding concepts like a federal Ireland,” Brendan Mahon, of the Anglo Irish Division wrote.
Mr Mahon said Fr Murphy’s understanding of the concept of a federal Ireland was “based on the four provinces including a nine-county Ulster with a separate province-type arrangement for Dublin similar to the District of Columbia in the US”.
The US administration in 1994 voiced concern at reports of a pact between Conservatives and Ulster Unionists at Westminster, fearing any such deal would impact negatively on the North of Ireland.
American ambassador to London Ray Seit said that “considerable suspicion would exist in Ireland and nationalist circles that [the British government] had done some deal incompatible with the objectives of the peace process”.
Then British Direct Ruler Patrick Mayhew insisted that no deal had been done. The ambassador had accepted this but observed “that there would be considerable interest in Irish-American circles and that anything that was bugging Boston would soon be conveyed to the White House”.
An announcement that former taoiseach Albert Reynolds was to start a lecture tour in the US after he left office in December 1994 was met with “deep gloom” by British diplomats who wanted him stopped.
Roderic Lyne, then private secretary to prime minister John Major, expressed alarm at the possibility that Reynolds might make revealing statements to an American audience.
“I think that we should keep a careful eye on Reynolds’ movements. If he showed signs of heading for America sooner than March or April, we should at least consider whether there is anything we might do to mitigate the likely damage.
“The range of options could include a direct appeal to Reynolds to be statesmanlike, either by HMG [her majesty’s government] or by an Irish intermediary (both probably in the realm of wishful thinking); and some steps to shadow the Reynolds tour and try to counteract its influence on gullible American opinion.”
In 1994, Ian Paisley junior wanted a devolved Stormont government which could negotiate with the 26 Counties, including possible changes to the border, according to files declassified in London.
Mr Paisley jnr, then a 27-year-old aide to his DUP leader father, told diplomat Larry Robinson that the DUP would be happy to re-enter peace talks at Stormont provided that Sinn Fein was kept out and the Dublin government committed to a referendum on removing the articles of the constitution which made a territorial claim on the north.
The record noted Mr Paisley’s hope that a “devolved government in Northern Ireland would have full powers to negotiate any agreement with the Republic including (I gather Mr Paisley swallowed at this point) border adjustments”.
Ireland has a “moral claim” to a priceless trove of impressionist paintings, including world-famous works by Renoir, Monet and Manet, its British keepers admitted.
Previously secret files show top-level negotiators from the National Gallery in London “verbally” agreed Dublin’s right to the 39 works at the centre of a 100-year-old row as far back as four decades ago.
Cork-born art collector Hugh Lane, who died on board the Lusitania when it was sunk by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland in 1915, originally left the collection to London.
It was later discovered that he had written a codicil, or amendment, to his will shortly before his death, stating that he had changed his mind and instead bequeathed the paintings to Dublin.
The legality of the codicil was challenged by the National Gallery in London, who were allowed to retain possession of the paintings.