State papers round-up

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A summary of some of the information contained in declassified state papers which were released by officials over the Christmas break in Dublin, Belfast and London.

 

Files released in Belfast for March 1991 recorded shocking complaints which had been logged against the RUC and UDR.

One man told how an RUC officer threatened to shoot him in front of his young children after his car was stopped by an RUC unit near Maghery, County Armagh, on February 19, 1991.

As one of the RUC men pointed his gun into the car, one of the man’s two young children asked: “Daddy, are they going to shoot you?”

The RUC officer put his head into the car and said: “I am going to shoot your f***ing daddy dead if I get him up this road some dark night”.

Another Catholic man from Blackwatertown, Co Armagh, said a British Army patrol told him as they were were searching his car, one said: “You’re going to get what your four mates got in Cappagh the other night (a reference to a UVF sectarian mass murder in 1991)”, adding “I love blood sports”.

Another soldier said: “Does your car always smell like this or is it because a Fenian has just got out of it?”

 

Protestants were beginning to thank God for unionist paramilitaries who were seen to be killing “the right people”, Ian Paisley privately told a British government minister.

According to a file declassified by the Public Record Office in Belfast today, the then DUP leader made the comment to British minister Brian Mawhinney at a meeting in 1992.

During the same meeting, Paisley said he believed Catholic churches should be searched to seize the “huge numbers of arms and explosives” hidden there by the IRA, and that west Belfast should be searched in its entirety.

“He said that if the (unionist paramilitary) UFF or the UVF had been carrying out the attacks in the city centre, east Belfast would have been filled with police. It was getting to the stage were [sic] the Protestant people were beginning to say ‘thank God’ for the paramilitaries.”

 

The British government paid particular and continuing attention to Gerry Adams’s attitude to the armed struggle, with Catholic church figures providing regular feedback to officials based in Belfast. Cardinal Cahal Daly told a British minister in 1993 that Gerry Adams had been “shocked and horrified” and when nine civilians and an IRA Volunteer died when a bomb exploded prematurely on the Shankill Road in October of that year -- for reasons which remain the subject of controversy -- and that Mr Adams “could deliver the Provisional IRA”. The Provisional IRA declared a ceasefire ten months later.

The former leader of the Alliance Party, John Alderdice also considered Martin McGuinness an “evil man”, but believed that Sinn Féin’s former head of its US office, Rita O’Hare, had “put her past behind her”. He claimed that she “had apologised to him in tears” for Sinn Féin’s failure to agree to a unionist veto, also known as the principle of consent, at the Forum on Peace and Reconciliation, a talks body set up by the Dublin government in October 1994.

 

Former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble claimed a decision to allow Ian Paisley to include his name on the ballot papers for elections to a precursor of the Stormont Assembly. “was a deliberate attempt by the Catholic electoral officer to arrange things so that the SDLP would come top of the polls”.

Mr Trimble expressed his disappointment at his party’s poor showing, and warned British officials there was a danger that Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly “could be the next MP in North Belfast” which was, at the time, the UUP’s Cecil Walker before Nigel Dodds won the seat for the DUP in 2001.

This was, he claimed, partly the fault of British officials because of ‘their blatantly discriminatory policy on the distribution of financial assistance for businesses and schools’.

 

A meeting on community relations heard how the policing of a rerouted sectarian parade in Portadown in 1996, which saw a nationalist protest beaten off the road to make way for the Drumcree Orange Order march, had brought nationalist confidence in police plummeting to an “all-time low”, and lowered business activity between the two communities.

In Newtownstewart, County Tyrone, 30 people transferred their bank accounts because they had seen their bank manager at Drumcree, according to one file. One woman in Castlederg, County Tyrone, saw her pharmacist taking part in a loyalist road blockage as she went to get her insulin supply. She subsequently changed her chemist.

 

Margaret Thatcher described a decision not to extradite a priest accused of IRA involvement to British jurisdiction as a “major setback” in a letter sent to Taoiseach Charles Haughey in 1989.

Patrick Ryan, a former priest from County Tipperary, was accused of being an IRA quartermaster active in Belgium and of being involved in several IRA campaigns. He was demonised by the British media who described him as the ‘Provo priest’.

When Ryan was later repatriated from Belgium to Dublin, however, the 26 County authorities failed to arrest him, to the annoyance of British authorities.

State papers showed that the Attorney General warned that media coverage in British meant that were Ryan to be extradited, “it would not be possible for a jury to approach the issue of his guilt or innocence free from bias”.

“That being so, the Attorney General is of the opinion that it would be improper, and an abuse of the process of the courts, to initiate extradition proceedings in this case.

In a letter, Thatcher said she strongly disagreed with this stance. Haughey responded that the decision had been in “full accord with the obligation of the Attorney”.

 

The US feared Russians could be plotting an undercover Cold War spy base in a disused Cork dockyard. Files released in Dublin show a senior diplomat at the American embassy there raised Washington’s concerns about the possibility of the Soviets using Verolme docks for “military purposes”. Talks had taken place about using the disused shipyard for commercial fishing and ship repairs in May 1989.

In a document, marked “Seen by Taoiseach”, an official reported that during a conversation one US diplomat, he said that it was well established that the Russian ‘fishing’ fleet in the North Atlantic and elsewhere indulged in many activities which could not be described, by the widest stretch of the imagination, as ‘fishing’.”

 

Margaret Thatcher revealed in a meeting with the Dublin government that she did not want the unification of Germany, because she believed any increased German economic strength would pose a competitive challenge to Britain.

In a 1989 meeting with former Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey, he said: “With unity, it could be bigger than France, Italy, Spain together. I am sorry for (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev. He doesn’t want German unity. Neither do I.

“Even as things are, Germany has a balance of trade surplus with every country in the Community.”

A similar logic was used in Britain’s decision to partition Ireland a century ago. However, there was no record of a response to Thatcher from the Irish officials present.

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