State papers round-up



Despite heavy pro-establishment spin by government officials in the release of ‘declassified’ state papers in Dublin and Belfast, and complete censorship in London, some other interesting details did emerge.


British officials wrongly believed in 1993 that a voting majority for Catholics in the North would not happen until after 2050 because their higher fertility rate was gradually falling to the average levels.

According to a declassified note to their Irish counterparts during a 1993 briefing, a “large” British delegation which turned up at a meeting in Belfast confirmed the seriousness with which the British viewed census estimates which put the Catholic population at around 42%.

Edgar Jardine, who later went on to become the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, miscalculated demographic change in the North saying “it was likely to be 50 years” before the number of Catholics would match Protestants.

That landmark was reached in the 2021 census, first results of which were released last year.


In May 1997, the British government’s most senior official in the North, John Chilcot, referred to “the nationalist community’s inability to come to terms with the events of Bloody Sunday and the findings of the Widgery tribunal about them”.

Fourteen Irish nationalist civil rights demonstrators died as a resul of an infamous massacre carried out by British soldiers in January 1972.

The Widgery Tribunal set up later that year was exposed as a whitewash to absolve the British Army and government and blame protestors by falsely depicting them as militants and bomb-throwers.

Successive British Prime Ministers and Direct Rule Ministers strongly opposed setting up a new inquiry into Bloody Sunday, as late as six weeks before it was finally announced in 1998.

British PM Tony Blair and Direct Ruler Mo Mowlam were among those who pushed instead for a ‘review’ of the massacre to be followed by a ‘statement of regret’, with no possibility of criminal prosecutions of British soldiers.

Years of campaigning by relatives of the dead brought about the Saville Inquiry, which reported in 2010 that the killings were “unjustified” and “unjustifiable” and led to a public apology from then British PM David Cameron.


US officials criticised an attempt by the then RUC police to entice the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “to lend respectability” to a bogus investigation into the assassination of Irish nationalist human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson, according to papers released in Dublin.

British state involvement has always been suspected in the 1999 killing by unionist paramilitaries of Rosemary Nelson, who represented prominent nationalists, including Robert Hamill, the Catholic man kicked to death by a loyalist mob in front an RUC patrol in 1997. Mrs Nelson had previously received death threats and endured a campaign of harassment at the hands of the RUC.

The decision by RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan to ask an FBI team to assist its investigation into the murder was seen as cynical and tokenistic by 26 County officials, who suggested the purpose was to give the investigation the perception of independence and credibility among the public.

An FBI team arrived but left after only four weeks, prompting a British rationale which was “defensive in tone and weak on detail”, according to documents released in Dublin.


In 1997, the Dublin government was forced to argue that the Great Hunger, or Famine, should be included alongside other genocides, such as the Nazi Holocaust and massacres of Armenians, in US educational courses and curricula.

The row was triggered by an article in The Washington Post. Some US officials and academics had disputed whether the Great Hunger of 1845 to 1852 should be included in course work designed to deal with genocides.

A special briefing note was prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs on issues surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Great Hunger.

It advised: “Given that some 44 million Americans claim some Irish ancestry, it is important that their children be aware of the circumstances that brought many of their ancestors here.. The Irish government’s view is that the famine was a great historical wrong. The situation would not have been as disastrous if the British authorities had adequately responded.

“It was not the lack of potatoes but rather the lack of substitute food, allied to an inadequate response by the authorities of the day which resulted in starvation, famine, destitution and emigration.”


Britain attempted to claim State immunity in an attempt to recover equipment from a Royal Navy attack submarine which wrecked and almost destroyed an Irish fishing trawler.

The fishing boat was dragged backwards for 1.6km by the British vessel before breaking free east of Dublin. An examination of its nets revealed a buoy suspected to be British military in origin.

A towed sonar array unit was subsequently transferred to an Irish military barracks for safekeeping.

However, the following year Irish officials were made aware that Britain had obtained private advice that they could claim “state immunity” – which would prevent salvage being claimed and would force the return of the sonar array.

Irish officials did not respond to the claim and noted the legal concept had never arisen in Irish law.


Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wanted Irish nationalists to “go to hell”.

Mr Johnson, who became PM in 2019, claimed in 1994 that the Provisional IRA were close to defeat and that the British would “beat them eventually”, according to a confidential Dublin government document. Mr Johnson was at the time deputy editor of the hardline unionist Daily Telegraph newspaper.


Melting down weapons from all sides in the conflict to create a peace sculpture was considered in 1999 as a possible solution to overcome the impasse over demilitarisation.

The idea ame from an interview with Sinn Féin negotiator Mitchel McLaughlin in a newspaper article in which he suggested the creation of a statue for the North which had echoes in other conflict zones.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s special adviser on the Six Counties, Martin Mansergh, wrote a note in November 1998 supporting the idea which he described as “a way around the decommissioning obstacle.”


Irish embassy officials in the US expressed surprise that John F Kennedy Jr attended the funeral of a former republican prisoner in County Laois in June 1997.

Patrick ‘Paddy’ Kelly died in jail from cancer at the age of 49 after being refused treatment for his skin cancer by British prison authorities.

The attendance by the son of former President John F Kennedy at the funeral of PIRA Vol. Kelly as widely supported in Ireland but was denounced by unionists and the pro-British media at the time.

The DUP’s Ian Paisley Jr expressed outrage over Mr Kennedy’s attendance at the funeral.

“It shows yet again the Kennedy clan are just gullible Americans when they involve themselves in a very complex and dangerous situation for their romanticised ideals,” said Mr Paisley.


A decision of the Dublin government to lift censorship restrictions on Sinn Féin in 1994 caused tension between Dublin and London.

The ban, first introduced in 1971 and strengthened in 1977, prohibited all Irish broadcasters from transmitting spoken interviews with Sinn Féin.

Known as Section 31, the ban was lifted by the future president, then Arts Minister Michael D Higgins, in January 1994.

During an Anglo-Irish intergovernmental conference held in Dublin on January 28th 1994, the then British Direct ruler Patrick Mayhew said he was “concerned and disappointed” and that this had “sent the wrong signals to the terrorist organisations”.


Irish officials were warned in 1996 by loyalist leader and UVF commander David Ervine about links between the paramilitary Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) and the DUP party, then led by Ian Paisley.

The LVF, whose commander was Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright, became known for a string of brutal sectarian murders.

Mr Ervine believed some hardline DUP members were working with LVF officials to stoke tensions. His concerns were recorded in papers released in Dublin.


Dublin government files revealed it incorrectly suspected IRA involvement in the attempted murder of notorious loyalist paramilitary leader Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair at a rock concert in Belfast. However, the attack which left Adair seriously injured was later linked to a loyalist feud, in a memo which said: “...the person who shot Adair was a drug dealer well known on the E Tab scene in Ulster who has been an associate in the past of drugs godfathers like Brendan ‘Speedy’ Fegan and Liam ‘Fat Boy’ Mooney”.

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