Friday 22 February 2019

State papers from 1988 echo modern day Brexit fears

30 year release of State papers

Olivia Ryan

The challenges of policing a 500 mile long border are at the forefront of Brexit fears in modern day political negotiations.

But a look back at the State Papers released this week under the 30 year rule revealed that policing the border was a major cause for concern in 1988.

In the late 1980s, the 'Troubles' in the north remained a significant threat to peace, with a series of atrocities continuing to impact on life along the border.

As pressure on governments in both Dublin and London intensified to find a resolution, official papers, which have been in archives since 1988 revealed a number of 'intense meetings' between the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and Taoiseach Charlie Haughey.

At one such meeting, Thatcher declared: 'I can't seal the border,' she said. 'There is no way we can patrol the 500 miles. Everywhere there is an open border.'

The revelations come as concerns grow over the prospect of a hard border being introduced at the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Thatcher was recorded saying that the border was being used by 'terrorists'.

'We can't have the border open as it is now. There are massive caches of arms somewhere. We know that there are arms and weapons and we know that they bring them across.'

The former 'Iron Lady' was also critical of the gardai, saying: 'We do not get intelligence from the gardaí, they are not the most highly professional police force.'

However, Mr Haughey defended the Garda's record and said that, unlike the RUC, it patrolled right up to the border.

He also said the Garda had successes in identifying IRA arms dumps and was in the process of trying to infiltrate the Provos in the Louth area.

Ms Thatcher, who the records showed continued to become increasingly exasperated in the meeting, said: 'I don't know what to do about the border.'

However, Mrs Thatcher was adamant that she wanted better security and intelligence liaison between police forces.

She also queried how, when the Irish Government wanted, specific republican targets could be pursued relentlessly.

'You got (Border Fox Dessie) O'Hare alright when you wanted him,' she said. 'You went after him in no uncertain manner.'

Mr Haughey countered by insisting that O'Hare had 'rampaged about the country for a week before he was caught.'

The challenges of policing the border have been consistently raised over the last few months. Aerial surveys carried out by the Irish army indicated there are 300 border crossings between Louth and Donegal, including many previously unidentified openings.

The Argus