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Saturday 21 July 2018

Thatcher feared IRA attack on royals would wreck peace process

Margaret Thatcher subjected Charles Haughey to a furious tirade in Denmark in December 1987
Margaret Thatcher subjected Charles Haughey to a furious tirade in Denmark in December 1987

Irish diplomats warned Taoiseach Charles Haughey that UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher's fear was an IRA assassination of a member of the royal family would derail the Northern Ireland peace process.

In a secret assessment of British political priorities following Ms Thatcher's 1987 general election victory, Irish Embassy officials warned Mr Haughey and foreign affairs minister Brian Lenihan that Ireland would not be the priority for the new UK government.

The briefing was so secret it had to be hand-delivered by special courier to Dublin.

Compiled on June 18, one week after Ms Thatcher's thumping general election triumph on June 11 over Neil Kinnock's Labour Party, the briefing highlighted security concerns as the greatest threat to Anglo-Irish relations.

It acknowledged that Ms Thatcher was acutely conscious of the potential consequences if the IRA succeeded in killing a royal.

British security officials were already aware that the IRA had sourced powerful new weapons - including the Czech-made plastic explosive Semtex - from Col Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

"The continued operational success of the IRA - and we might bear in mind her anger at restrictions imposed on her movements during her election campaign - and the fear of an assassination of royalty or a cabinet secretary remain a source of great concern for the prime minister," it advised.

Later that year, Ms Thatcher subjected Mr Haughey to a furious tirade at a Christmas meeting in Denmark where she said she was "upset" and "very angry" over Irish moves on extradition.

Speaking just weeks after the Enniskillen bombing, Ms Thatcher warned the Taoiseach her feelings "go deeper than anger" over an extradition stand-off which, she claimed, seemed to put Anglo-Irish relations back decades to the era of the Black and Tans.

A top-secret summary of the December 4/5 meeting in Copenhagen, on the fringes of an EU summit, revealed the Conservative leader was so enraged over the extradition controversy she reminded the Taoiseach she did not have to sign the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement but agreed to do so because she wanted to help resolve the Northern Ireland situation.

"I am extremely upset by your moves on extradition. I am very angry about all of this. My feelings go deeper than anger.

"I know now from what you told me that you have extreme difficulties with your people but where are they living?

"They are going back to the Black and Tans - or is it 400 years ago? The way they act shows the way an Irish court would behave with our attorney general [Patrick Mayhew].

"I did not have to sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement - I could have got by without it. The only thing it has brought me is criticism and bad blood with the unionists.

"I had thought that if we operated it for a time, we could calm their fears - that has not come about. The nationalists are quite glad about it. I thought we could build on all that.

"Why do I even try? I worked very hard at the Anglo-Irish Agreement - we thought we were getting better security."

Irish Independent

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