Tuesday 23 October 2018

Hard border mooted by UK in 1980s

30 year release of state papers

Olivia Ryan

Officials from the British government were proposing a physical 'hard' border at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, it was revealed in declassified state papers released last week under the 30 year rule.

Given the current debate over Ireland's post Brexit border arrangements, the papers shed some light on how the border, just a few miles north of Dundalk, has historically been a thorny issue.

The declassified documents revealed how in a 1987 meeting British officials raised the prospect of erecting a physical border along the entire frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

At a meeting between officials of both governments, the British said the idea of erecting a physical border along the lines of that which at the time separated East and West Germany was being considered.

The proposal, which would have seen posts erected across a 500 km distance, was contained in records made public by the National Archives the 30 year rule governing the release of State papers.

The records indicated that Irish officials at the meeting responded strongly against the suggestion urging the British to drop it immediately.

In a memo dated January 20th 1987, Belfast-based Irish official Noel Ryan records a meeting between a Department of Foreign Affairs delegation and a British team headed by Brian Blackwell of the law and order division of the Northern Ireland Office.

The main topic for discussion was cross-border incursions by the British army and the continuing IRA activity along the Border.

'We reminded the other side of the degree of seriousness with which incursions were regarded in the South and their capacity for generating political controversy,' the memo read.

The British responded by saying that incursions were 'always regrettable.'

They argued, however, that 'their best efforts might not be sufficient to reduce significantly the occurrence of incursions, given the nature of the terrorist threat, the intensive security operation required to meet it, and the lack of clear physical delineation along the lengthy border.'

The British went on to say they were toying with two ideas which might impact on the number of incursions, including 'the possibility of physically delineating the Border along its full length.'

Other papers released under the 30 year rule gave some background to Louth beef baron Larry Goodman's dealings with the government at the time.

The beef processing group, which was founded by Mr Goodman in 1961, had become one of Europe's largest beef exporters.

The confidential cabinet papers released revealed that the government had made amendments to legislation which in turn benefitted the Goodman International Group.

In 1991 a tribunal was established to examine serious irregularities in the Irish beef processing industry with a particular focus on Mr Goodman's businesses.

The Argus