| 5.4°C Dublin

Thatcher feared NI civil war

BRITISH Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher bluntly warned Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald that she feared Northern Ireland descending into civil war and the emergence of a Central American-style Marxist society.

The warning came as she angrily ruled out any question of joint authority in the North, saying it would never be acceptable to unionists who had loyally fought with Britain in World War Two.

The private exchanges between the two leaders - carefully described as "rapid and vigorous" in a secret government memo - saw Mrs Thatcher at one point asking Dr FitzGerald if "the future in the south was as dark as in the north".


A memo written by David Nally of the Department of the Taoiseach set out just how hard-hitting the meeting at Chequers was on November 19, 1984.

The media famously reported the meeting as difficult at the time - but the memo reveals it was even tougher than believed.

In a private letter sent by Dr FitzGerald to a US friend on December 24, he admitted the meeting was "very direct and, at times, difficult".

The Fine Gael leader also said that post-meeting comments by Mrs Thatcher were "unfortunate".

The meeting took place just over a month after Mrs Thatcher had narrowly escaped being killed by the IRA in its massive time bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton that killed five.

While Mrs Thatcher wanted to focus the meeting on security in Northern Ireland and security cooperation between London and Dublin, Dr FitzGerald kept insisting that a political deal had to be part of the solution.

Mrs Thatcher queried the demands of the nationalist minority in the North for specific rights.

"She cited the Macedonians, the Croats, the Serbs and the Sudeten Germans as examples of minorities who were not, as of right, given particular prerogatives," Mr Nally wrote.

At one point Mrs Thatcher asked why nationalists in Northern Ireland should have the right to fly the Tricolour when Sikhs living in London don't seek to fly their flag?

She warned that the escalating terrorist campaign could have disastrous consequences.

"There was a real danger that a Marxist society could develop. She did not ever want that to happen. When she looked at the strategic aspects of the problem she understood what the US feels about Nicaragua," Mr Nally wrote.

Mrs Thatcher said she could not understand why people were objecting to being frisked in the North by the RUC and British army when improved security would ultimately allow them to live in greater peace and safety.

She also said the RUC was trying to recruit more Catholics to address nationalist concerns.

But Dr FitzGerald insisted that political concerns had to be tackled.

"The people in the North had fought with Britain in the last war. The prime minister referred to Winston Churchill's praise of their contribution. Power-sharing was just not on for those people. Sunningdale still lives vividly in their memory," he said.

A suggestion from Dublin that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland work closely with his Irish counterpart was rejected out of hand.

"The prime minister said that was out - it smacked too much of joint authority," Mr Nally wrote.


"The unionists would say that you are giving up your constitutional claim, but you are coming across the border and don't really need the claim. That would put us well on the way to civil war."

Other proposals were dismissed by Mrs Thatcher as "a repartition even if you are not doing it geographically".

Dr FitzGerald's suggestion of Irish ministers agreeing on relevant matters in Northern Ireland with their British counterparts prompted a vehement reaction from the Tory leader.

"She said 'No, no - that is joint authority'. You are giving them 40pc of our country."