Northern Ireland

Haughey did not want IRA bodies in Dublin

Charles Haughey
Image caption Charles Haughey's views are outlined in previously confidential state papers

A Former Irish taoiseach did not want the bodies of three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar to be taken home through the Republic of Ireland, newly disclosed British papers reveal.

The reaction of Charles Haughey to the killings in March 1988, and his appeal to the British to avoid the return of their bodies to Dublin, is revealed in previously confidential State Papers released on Friday in Belfast.

Three unarmed IRA members on active service - Sean Savage, Daniel McCann and Mairead Farrell - were shot dead at point-blank range by the SAS in the British territory on 6 March, 1988.

Mr Haughey's views are the subject of a confidential despatch to the Foreign Office by the British Ambassador to Ireland, Sir Nicholas Fenn, dated 11 March, 1988.

Mr Fenn reported on a "sombre" hour-long meeting with Mr Haughey: "He is suspicious, resentful and hyper-cautious on devolution [in Northern Ireland] but he seems still to be looking for a way forward. He stresses his high personal regard for the Prime Minister [Margaret Thatcher].'

The ambassador explained to Mr Haughey why it had been "impossible" for the British government to respond to his demands over the Stalker/Sampson report [into allegations of a "shoot-to-kill" policy in the RUC killing of six men in County Armagh in 1982] and the rejection of the Birmingham Six appeal by the Court of Appeal.

On the killing of the three IRA suspects at Gibraltar by the SAS on 6 March, the Ambassador noted, Mr Haughey was "impressed by the magnitude of the bomb and understood the fear that it might be detonated", wrote Sir Nicholas.

"He wasted no sympathy on the terrorists, but made the point that if ever it was allowed to appear that the security forces have sunk to the level of the terrorist, then the IRA have won that round."

In conclusion, Mr Haughey asked the ambassador not to make an official report of their discussion.

"He wanted to think aloud with me... This meant that he wanted to air his grievances," wrote the diplomat. "He is suspicious and distrustful but... seems still to be casting about for salvaging a relationship he knows he needs."

Mr Haughey's hostility to any return of the remains of the so-called Gibraltar Three to the Republic of Ireland was the subject of correspondence between Charles Powell, private secretary to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and R N Culshaw, his opposite number in the Foreign Office.

Writing to Mr Powell on 10 March 1988, Mr Culshaw revealed that Mr Haughey had that afternoon "implored us personally through HM Ambassador in Dublin to ensure that the bodies of the three PIRA terrorists, shot in Gibraltar, were kept out of the Republic at all costs".

"He made it clear that he would not admit to this request in public."

The taoiseach's first idea, the official revealed, was that, rather than the charter firm with which the victims' families were negotiating, the RAF might fly the bodies direct to Belfast.

"This proposal is clearly designed to solve a problem confronting Mr Haughey," quipped Mr Culshaw.

In response, Mr Powell felt that, for the British, Mr Haughey's proposal had the attraction of scuppering the relatives' plans.

The three families wished the bodies of their loved ones to be taken to Dublin by chartered aircraft "in order that they might secure the maximum political advantage for Sinn Fein".

Moreover, once the bodies were in the Republic of Ireland, the families might secure a second post-mortem and, perhaps, induce the Irish authorities to instigate an inquest which could become a separate inquiry into the events at Gibraltar.

However, both officials recognised it as "inconceivable" that the services of the RAF could be used.

In a brief response, Mr Culshaw ruled out the use of the RAF to fly the bodies home.

"The problem with how to manage any issues in the Republic of Ireland must be for Mr Haughey himself; after all, he has done a good deal to create them."

The official added that he had discussed the matter with Mrs Thatcher "who entirely agrees".

'Union was finished'

Among the file releases in Belfast from 1991 is a confidential report by an official on his meeting with Peter Robinson, DUP deputy leader, in October 1991.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) official, Danny McNeill, in a "Note for the Record", dated 15 October 1991, said that Mr Robinson saw no immediate prospect of his leader, Rev Ian Paisley, engaging in political talks.

In Mr Robinson's view, Mr Paisley was now convinced that he had taken too great a risk in "agreeing to Charlie Haughey or any other Irish Minister coming to Belfast for Strand Two [the North-South element of any talks] and... that Paisley is now convinced that he could not sell that idea to his supporters ...".

Mr Robinson declared himself "very depressed about the political scene".

Image caption One NIO official said Peter Robinson saw no prospect of Ian Paisley (above) engaging in political talks

Looking to the longer term, he said that people in the Protestant community were increasingly focused on independence.

Mr Robinson did not see an "independent Ulster" as a solution to the ongoing violence and thought that there might be "a major explosion" of violence.

However, he told the official, "that all British governments and any potential governments had made it clear that the Union was finished and that most Protestants to whom he spoke knew that ... the only alternative which they could see was independence".

On the issue of loyalist paramilitary violence, Mr Robinson's views may have startled the NIO man: "Robinson saw the recent rise in Protestant paramilitary violence as due to Protestants' frustration at the fact that, politically, they can achieve little.

"The Anglo-Irish Agreement is still in place; their elected politicians can't effect change; HMG [the British government] is selling out the union. He said that he was now hearing justification of these killings from normally moralistic people' and saw 'no early let-up in this type of killing'."

Search for a cardinal

The British government's efforts to influence the Vatican's choice of a new Archbishop of Armagh following the sudden death of Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich in May 1990 also features in the previously confidential files declassified by the Public Record Office.

In a memo to the then NI Minister of State, Dr Brian Mawhinney and officials, dated 5 June, 1990, Brian Blackwell, a senior NIO official, raised the issue of approaching the Holy See on the matter.

He recalled a meeting on 9 May, 1990, attended by the NI Secretary Peter Brooke, Sir John Chilcot (head of the NIO) and Sir Ken Bloomfield (head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service) at which the NIO was asked to advise on "the modalities of transmitting an appropriate message to the Vatican".

Their aim was "to register our interest in an element of consultation over the appointment of a successor to Cardinal Ó Fiaich".

Coincidentally, the British Ambassador to the Holy See was scheduled to meet Archbishop Emmanuel Gerada, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, in Rome on 21 May,1990.

Mr Blackwell informed officials: "During that discussion it seemed the archbishop, without any prompting from the ambassador, launched straight into the question of the search for a new cardinal."

The Nuncio assured the ambassador "that the three names ... he was required to put forward [for nomination as all-Ireland Primate] would all be people he knew were well regarded by us".

To the ambassador's surprise, Mr Gerada mentioned the names of Bishop Edward Daly and Bishop Cahal Daly in this context.

They were fortunate, Mr Blackwell commented, that the present Nuncio to Ireland took a keen interest in Northern affairs and "obviously takes on board the views of the more moderate leaders of the Catholic community".

'Deep green Haughey'

According to a senior NIO official in 1988, the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Charles Haughey was guided by "a set of vague, deep-green principles", regarded Northern Ireland as "a failed political entity" who both admired and feared British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Alan Whysall offered these views after a serious deterioration in Anglo-Irish relations in the early months of 1988 due to the Stalker/Sampson affair, the failure of the Birmingham Six appeal and the 'Gibraltar Three' killings.

He told officials that there were clear parallels between the Taoiseach's policies in 1982, during the Falklands War, and 1988.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Another NIO official said Charles Haughey admired and feared Margaret Thatcher (above)

He informed colleagues: "In 1982 Mr Haughey took control of policy and shut himself off from DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] advice. So it has been this time."

He added that, in 1982, when Mr Haughey "felt himself ignored or, worse still, expected to fall in unquestionably with British policy, the more difficult he became" and the more his suspicion of British motives grew.

This pattern had recurred in his vehement reaction to the Stalker/Sampson announcement (that there would be no prosecution of RUC officers involved in controversial 'shoot to kill' killings in County Armagh) and recent developments in Northern Ireland.

The NIO official told his colleagues: "Many of Mr Haughey's reactions seem to have a large emotional element, they are not just calculating. He appears to cherish a set of vague, deep green principles, centred around the need for a unitary Irish state, the failure of Northern Ireland as a political entity and so forth."

In the official's view, Mr Haughey's recent utterances on devolution in Northern Ireland had sent out the message that "he was altogether against devolution". This was "very serious".

Under Mr Haughey's watch, Mr Whysall felt that the Anglo-Irish Agreement, as it presently operated, did not enable the two governments to understand each other's thinking as perfectly as they might.

In Mr Whysall's view, however, "the person who potentially has by far the most influence with Mr Haughey…is the prime minister".

He added: "He clearly admires and also fears her (and the Irish people, we should not omit to tell her, admire no-one more, save the Pope and Mother Teresa). If he thought she was listening and at least trying to understand Ireland and the problems he faced, there would surely be great benefits to relations."

He suggested more regular meetings between the two leaders.

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