Belfast Telegraph

Local residents a key concern as British debated border policy during Troubles

British officials feared closing Irish border roads using explosives during the Troubles would distress and harm local residents, newly-disclosed records showed.

They were prepared to compensate those whose homes were damage from blasts intended to reassert control and hamper the movement of paramilitaries in staunchly republican areas between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The intervention was seen by unionists as a symbol of firm and vigorous action to uphold the law by the security forces after local people reopened closed routes against the state's wishes, official British documents written in 1989 showed.

One Northern Ireland Office (NIO) civil servant wrote: "It may well be...that the use of explosives will cause real harm and distress to the locals.

"It is equally arguable that so far from causing distress etc, the Protestant population in South Fermanagh, for instance, will be reassured by the use of explosives."

The discussion came after border community associations, in which Sinn Fein members participated, were responsible for reopening many roads.

The original NIO suggestion to have those whose properties were damaged sue the associations because of their illegal activities instead of the government was unlikely to be upheld by a court and could rebound politically, officials calculated.

One wrote: "If my front window in Co Monaghan was blown in by the actions of the British Army, I would be off to my TD quicker than you could say Anglo Irish Agreement i f I were told that I had to sue Martin McGuinness before I could get my hands on the moolah.

"All our experiences of house searches etc suggest that the best way of minimising conflict with the local population is for the man with the chequebook to turn up as rapidly as possible.

"Also, to be frank, even if my solicitor told me I did have a case against Mr McGuinness, I might think twice before suing him.

"I am told he has devoted and persuasive friends."

The future of the frontier is part of Brexit negotiations.

But the compensation culture was well ingrained in 1989 and a real factor when considering whether property would be damaged by explosions, files released by the Public Record Office Northern Ireland (PRONI) showed.

One civil servant wrote: "Claiming compensation is an art form on both sides of the border and more explosions are planned."

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