IN 1991 then-taoiseach Charles Haughey privately warned British Prime Minister John Major that Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi “was mad”.
The warning came as a secret Garda file noted the vast scale of Libyan support for the Provisional IRA through six major arms shipments and financial aid totalling more than $12milllion (some €40m today).
Incredibly, the Libyans had sent, via six shipments, more than 1.5 million rounds of 9mm, 7.62mm and 12.7mm ammunition to the IRA.
Secret papers released as part of the State Papers revealed Dublin only learned of the true scale of Libyan arms supplies to the IRA via British sources when Tripoli officials were desperate to appease western governments following the Lockerbie bombing and the 1991 Gulf War.
Irish officials were astounded at the level of financial support offered by the Libyans to the IRA for more than a decade.
One document revealed the Libyans had given the IRA cash including $12m, ST£36,361, DM250,000, Swiss francs 395,000 and French francs 295,000.
No bank accounts were ever used.
British Prime Minister Major – in a meeting with Taoiseach Charles Haughey at Government Buildings in Dublin on December 4, 1991 – said it was clear Libya was behind the Lockerbie bombing of a PanAm flight in December 1988 in which 270 people died.
“The detective work on the blowing up of the PanAm flight at Lockerbie has been absolutely staggering,” Mr Major said.
“There is no doubt that Libya is responsible for the blowing up of the PanAm flight and also for the bombing of the French plane.
“The thing is, what do we do? Libya is a terrorist state.”
Mr Haughey replied that Ireland would support whatever UN or G7 action was taken even if it hurt the Irish economy.
“But we have had to punish ourselves on this. We have a major outlet to cattle which was very valuable to us in the past especially because it comes at a critical time of the year and helps to keep up factory prices. Libya was an important outlet for our live cattle,” the Fianna Fáil leader said.
Mr Haughey said that while Ireland was forgoing the Libyan live cattle trade, other countries were stepping in and “most (EU) member states are happily trading with the Libyans”. The Taoiseach acknowledged that the problem was the Libyan leader.
“The trouble is that Ghadaffi (sic) is mad,” he warned.
UK officials said Egypt had tried to “bring him around” but didn’t get anywhere with Col Gaddafi.
In a top-secret Garda memo to the Department of Justice on June 12, 1992, details of the arms shipments from Libya to Ireland were outlined between March 1973 and October 1987.
The shipments included MV Claudia (1973), MV Casamara (1985 x 2), MV Kula (1986/former MV Casamara), MV Villa (1986) and MV Eksund (1987).
Included in the inventory of weapons shipped by the Libyans to the PIRA were Kalashnikov rifles, DShK heavy machine guns, SAM-7 missiles, RPG rocket launchers, grenades, ammunition and the deadly Czech-made Semtex plastic explosive.
Greatest concern was focused on the plastic explosives, anti-tank mines and the surface-to-air missiles which the IRA intended to use against British helicopters in border areas.
In total, the shipments contained more than 560 Kalashnikov assault rifles, heavy machine guns capable of piercing armour and more than 100 anti-tank mines.
The list also included sniper rifles, handguns and military support equipment – all of Soviet bloc origin.
In a handwritten note on the top-secret memo, a Garda official noted that there is “a significant difference” in the weight of Semtex actually supplied to the PIRA.
“Over 3,000kg are outstanding,” the memo notes.
Libyan officials were so desperate to win favour in the West that they supplied details of their PIRA contacts to the UK authorities at a meeting in Geneva on June 9, 1992.
“The Libyans had supplied a number of names of PIRA members who had received training in Libya,” it noted.
“Apart from the names of (X – deceased) all of the others supplied would appear to be nom de plumes which were assumed by PIRA personnel to disguise their travels to Libya. This aspect of the information is the subject of current investigation by the Garda Síochána.
“The munitions shipments detailed correspond quite accurately to our latest assessment as the result of intelligence.”