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Northern Ireland Catholics faced ‘Doomsday’ scenario: official documents

Hundreds of thousands of Northern Ireland’s Catholic population faced a “doomsday” situation if civil war had broken out in the province in the 1970s, newly released official documents have revealed for the first time.

According to papers released by the Republic’s Department of Foreign Affairs under a 30 year rule, Catholic people living in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles would have had little chance of escape from an upsurge in the violence which gripped the country.

Some minority communities would only manage to hold out for a few days, the documents predicted, while other papers warned of the “catastrophic” effects on the Irish army if Ireland refused a request from the Northern minority for the intervention of Irish troops.

The document, entitled the “doomsday” file, is one of more than 5,500 files released by the National Archives.

It gave a grim assessment of the plight of Northern Ireland’s population in a “doomsday situation” in the mid-1970s, in which it predicted that more than a quarter of a million Catholics “will be in immediate danger with minimum chances of escaping”.

The document also estimated how long communities could hold out if surrounded and how food and supplies might have to be brought in by sea or air in a Berlin-style airlift.

Those living in west Belfast stood a better chance of holding out for three to four weeks, while the rest of the Catholic minority across Antrim, north Down and and north and east Belfast would only be able to survive for a few days.

The report, drawn up by Irish officials to examine worst-case scenarios for their increasingly troubled Northern neighbour, even looked at how desperate measures could be taken to contact the Ardoyne parish priest — a radio ham — in the event of attacks on the Holy Cross Retreat.

Documents released also examined the escalation of the ‘dirty protests’ by Republican prisoners in the 1970s and the concern this caused to the British government.

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