Friday 23 March 2018

Scale of murder crisis caught our holidaying politicians off guard

Lynch did not learn of death of Mountbatten until several hours after bomb on boat, writes Ronan Fanning

I GOT a shock when I opened the Taoiseach's Department file titled Lord Mountbatten -- Assassination, August 1979 (2009/135/754) because the first name I saw on the top page was my own in a telexed report from the Irish Embassy in Washington quoting an article in The Washington Post.

"'This is tribal warfare,' said Irish historian Ronan Fanning. 'Mountbatten was one of their revered tribal chiefs. That's what made it so different from the killings of soldiers or even of the British Ambassador here (in 1976)'." Thirty years later, I stand over that assessment, not least because the files for 1979 make such scant mention of what happened on the same day at Warrenpoint when the Provisional IRA killed 18 British soldiers.

Why then was the first reaction of the Irish government so muted? Largely because the news broke at the height of the holiday season. The Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, and his wife were on holiday in Portugal. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Michael O'Kennedy, was also on holiday. So, too, was Dermot Nally, the assistant secretary and the key official in regard to British-Irish relations in the Taoiseach's Department from 1973 until his retirement, and of whose sudden death last week I learnt with great personal regret.

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