Tuesday 13 November 2018

How British were keen to counter IRA propaganda in America

THE importance of countering IRA propaganda was discussed by the NIO Information Policy Committee at a meeting in Stormont Castle in January 1975. A memo by an official, T M Roberts, noted that Fred Corbett who oversaw the NIO's Foreign Desk had concerns that "IRA propaganda is on the increase, particularly in America". Part of the reason for the increase, according to Mr Robe

THE importance of countering IRA propaganda was discussed by the NIO Information Policy Committee at a meeting in Stormont Castle in January 1975. A memo by an official, T M Roberts, noted that Fred Corbett who oversaw the NIO's Foreign Desk had concerns that "IRA propaganda is on the increase, particularly in America". Part of the reason for the increase, according to Mr Roberts, was to counter "strong criticism of those who supply funds to the IRA and its American front organisations (notably Noraid) by Dublin ministers such as Garret FitzGerald".

"Since then, we have had a visit [to the US] by Seamus Loughran [a prominent Belfast Republican]." Mr Roberts felt that the British government "should now take republican propaganda in the United States seriously and launch a concerted counter-attack". While the British national interest could be damaged by IRA allegations, "there is a unique emotive element to be considered in America: the strong, active Irish strain which is recognised at the highest level as a formidable pressure group and is deeply entrenched in Congress."

Exploit

The memo continued: "Unhappily few of them have any concept of what life is really like in Ireland, north or south. They have never lived here and guilelessly feed on the myths of their forefathers, myths which the IRA exploit."

Meanwhile, the role of the former Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, in efforts to reach a political agreement in 1975 are highlighted in this year's Stormont releases.

In a memo prepared for the use of Convention officials on 30 September 1975, Professor Bernard Crick, the eminent political scientist, explained that he had been approached over the summer by the UUUC Convention party to advise on committee systems.

"At first I took no notice - since the invitation was vague and eccentric. But at the beginning of September David Trimble wrote me sensibly and at some length and William Craig phoned me and explained the situation. I agreed to go out to discuss with them a document on minority participation." He stated that he reserved his right to talk to people he knew in the SDLP.

"Far from this being an obstacle," said Professor Crick, "it became clear that Craig was anxious that I should talk to SDLP leaders and others. And I returned and had long talks with Craig, Trimble, Fitt, Hume, Devlin and others."

Coalition

He also spoke to the Convention chairman, Sir Robert Lowry, and his advisers.

Professor Crick stated that he had talked to Harry West and Ian Paisley during the week before Craig's voluntary coalition motion was voted down by the 'Unionist coalition'.

He was convinced that the Convention was 'worth while' and that even now an agreement might emerge, given the right tactics.

However, "rumours or fears of British withdrawal" were working against an agreed settlement. He had formed the impression that the SDLP leaders were able to trust Craig and would accept his "emergency coalition formula".

They had also gone "very far in allaying old Unionist fears about Irish unity and Craig appreciated this".

He concluded: "Power-sharing does stick in the Unionist gullet, coalition not. The SDLP are getting wise to this, but Hume is still a bit mystical about power-sharing."

The SDLP's major difficulty was in "carrying home to their people a prize big enough to cut away tolerance of the IRA".

Fears of British pull-out dominated the Unionist mind, according to Crick.

"Everywhere I was asked, 'does the British government intend to pull out?', I replied that I thought most people in Britain wished the whole of Ireland would sink under the waves, but that a pull-out before an acceptable government had been created was inconceivable."

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