The 30th anniversary of the Falklands War is also the 30th anniversary of the most prescient article of my career. It began: "'Exocet' and 'Super Etendard': these are the two names that are about to earn themselves an indelibly terrible reputation in the history of the Royal Navy."
No other journalist in Ireland or Britain had identified the threat posed by the Argentinian anti-shipping missiles. The editor of 'The Irish Times', Douglas Gageby, emerged from his office and told me that he wanted to drop the entire opening paragraph, it was far too pro-British. He suggested that my article begin with the second paragraph, about the end of the British Empire, and should conclude with a new ending, that the islands would, regardless, one day be called the Malvinas.
Now, I had a clear policy in any disagreements with Gageby, a man who combined a mesmerising charisma with a knee-buckling ire. I now stuck to that policy unwaveringly. I capitulated. Thus the most premonitory paragraph I have ever written never appeared. Yet I was perversely glad it didn't, such was the ugly Brit-bashing atmosphere in Dublin at the time. Some journalists had even started calling the Falklands "Las Malvinas", having overnight become experts. The term "Argentine" was even deemed as somehow racist.
The fundamental issue seemed simple to me: a fascist regime that had murdered thousands of its own people had invaded some sleepy islands of fishermen and sheep farmers that were as far from Argentina's shores as the Faroes are from ours. The question of who had possessed the islands in the 1830s was as relevant as who had owned the Dakotas. However, the public tone in Ireland was set by Charles Haughey, the fine fellow who had burnt a British flag outside Trinity College on VE Day in 1945, and 25 years later helped set up the Provisional IRA. Yet despite this, the Northern Protestant Douglas Gageby generally backed Haughey. Perhaps having trousered £400,000 of 'Irish Times' money the day before the introduction of capital gains tax in 1974, and being a similarly passionate Anglophobe, Gageby felt he and Haughey had much in common.
So the Haugeby axis helped make any pro-British sentiments deeply unpopular, which was why I largely stayed silent, even -- ignominiously -- when a colleague yodelled joyfully that an Argentinian Exocet had just sunk 'HMS Sheffield'. Needless to say, this tragedy was precisely as foreseen in the deleted sentences in my article. Not long afterwards, an 'Irish Press' journalist raised a toast to celebrate the death of Colonel H Jones. And news of the deaths in the Falklands of two Irish SAS men -- Patrick O'Connor (Tipperary) and William Begley (Donegal) -- was greeted with sullen disdain. No: this was not Ireland's finest hour.
The current 'Dublin Review of Books' contains a quite brilliant essay on the government failings during the crisis by Michael Lillis, then the rising star of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I will not attempt a summary -- to reduce it would be to traduce it: pray read it yourself at www.drb.ie. To be sure, the sinking of the Belgrano -- which provided the exquisitely welcome pretext for Haughey to indulge his atavistic Anglophobia -- was a perfectly dreadful affair. But I have spent many, many hours weighing up the defensive responsibilities of the Royal Navy towards the task force, and reluctantly cannot see any other course of action but for the British to put a torpedo into what was an enemy warship. Knowing now of the appalling fate of the hundreds of poor Argentinian conscripts dying of hypothermia in the Antarctic waters, I can declare with airy certainty that standing orders should have been to incapacitate, not sink. But such retrospective hair-splitting in wartime is a perverted luxury; and to condemn military decisions when there can be no mortal consequence to one's words is meaningless moralising.
The outcome of the war? Fascist-led forces were ejected from the islands, and the regime of torturers and murderers overthrown in Argentina. What would South America be like today if the junta had triumphed? On the other hand, British appetites for foreign adventure were tragically and lethally whetted. Tony Blair duly wanted his own Falklands War: hence the shameful debacle that was Basra, and today, two ludicrous new aircraft carriers that will either sink the Royal Navy or go straight from the slipway to the breakers' yard.
But for us, the Falklands War was primarily a reminder of the fragility of Hiberno-British relations. One of the last and greatest deeds of Haughey's father-in-law Sean Lemass, as Taoiseach, was to create a new era of underst-anding between Ireland and Britain, including a free-trade agreement and visits between Ireland's two prime ministers. Archipelagic benignity reign-ed. Yet four years later, the Provisional IRA was born, with Charles Haughey its mid-wife. Twelve years on in 1982, and now as Taoiseach, Haugh-ey effectively aligned this dem-ocratic Republic with Argen- tina's fascist junta. So now, one year after the royal visit that ushered in yet another new and permanent era of friendship, we should always remember how impermanent permanence suddenly becomes when bathed in the pathogenic plankton that seemingly abound in St George's Channel.