1988 state papers: what they reveal

In some ways, the release of state papers twenty or thirty years after the events is a cod. Many of the people involved in the events are now dead, so justice is out of the question. The only thing we could perhaps learn is to avoid the same or similar mistakes.

Try these six for size.

  1. “The British were in this [the north] only because one million Irishmen in Northern Ireland wanted them to be there” reported 1988 comment of British ambassador to Ireland,  Nicholas Fenn. 
  2. The ambassador managed to by-pass the wishes of the other 4 – 5 million Irish people living then. Nicholas Fenn was a British public servant. Should  people with such an arthritic grasp on mathematics – and democracy –  be allowed to run our country?

2. “You talk of unity and I ask would that be better? I say: ‘No’ – there would be the worst civil war in history – and it would spread to the mainland.”  –     Maggie Thatcher to Charlie Haughey, 1988.

Typically, Thatcher asks questions and answers them herself.  More importantly: what was the unionist threat behind the Ulster Covenant?  Civil war.  What was unionist threat behind the Workers’ Strike in 1974? Civil war.  What are the unionist arguments  currently against a border poll?  It could incite unionist violence. Didn’t Thatcher believe that a crime was a crime was a crime?

3. “John Hume will generally do what he is asked to do.” – Garret Fitzgerald to Maggie Thatcher. With friends like Garrett…

4. “The privilege of [farmers]  being allowed to install such gates [through closed border roads]  is apparently not extended to the Roman Catholic community and has caused considerable resentment in the area.Old allegations of Royal Ulster Constabulary collusion with the unionist community are reviving.”  – Gerry Lynch,  an influential member of the community in Fermanagh. 

A question of nationalist distrust of police. PSNI, please copy and study carefully.

5. “It could be interpreted by sections of the nationalist community as a purely sectarian project”. – Donal McFerran, a prominent local solicitor responding to 1988 plans for the restoration of a Co Armagh cottage viewed as the birthplace of the Orange Order and a £300,000 interpretive centre.

Given that the Orange Order is an anti-Catholic organisation, how else would they interpret it?

6. “Both these bodies [the British government and judiciary]  know of our innocence but are frightened by the prospects of our release which would expose the parts played by both in our railroading to prison for [a] crime they know we were not guilty of. ” – Gerard Conlon, one of the Guilford Four, in a letter from prison to Charlie Haughey.

Do the British government and judiciary today have similar fears about the truth behind the Dublin and Monaghan bombings? And is freshly appointed Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, with his PSNI/RUC/ MI5 insights, likely to blow his shiny new whistle?

Thirty years from now there will no doubt be events and views exposed which will reveal similar stupidity and cowardice. But they’ll be hard put to excel this lot.

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