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State papers: DUP MP William McCrea wanted air strikes launched on the Republic in the 1980s


Rev William McCrea

Rev William McCrea

Former Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi

Former Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi


Rev William McCrea

A firebrand DUP MP urged the British Government to launch air strikes on the Irish Republic in the 1980s.

William McCrea also called for bombing raids on republican strongholds in Northern Ireland.

Rev McCrea wanted "Libyan-type strikes" against Dundalk, Drogheda, Crossmaglen and Carrickmore.

He made the call in April 1986, just days after the US government had unleashed air raids on Col Gaddafi's regime.

The extraordinary demand is discussed in previously classified government papers.

The documents, held by the Public Record Office, are released today under the 30-year rule.

One memo reports on the DUP annual conference in Belfast on April 19, 1986.

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Noel Cornick, an official at the NIO's Political Affairs Division, wrote that staff from the division had not been welcome at the conference.

His briefing paper appears to be based on a mixture of press reports and gossip from party insiders.

It reports: "Rev William McCrea urged Libya-type strikes against Dundalk, Drogheda, Crossmaglen and Carrickmore."

The memo notes that another senior DUP member, Gregory Campbell, made an "extravagant contribution" when he called for "even the foundations of Maryfield to be demolished".

Maryfield was the Belfast base for officials from the Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs.

They worked as a permanent secretariat for the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, a consultative body established after the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.

However, the presence of civil servants from the Republic incensed unionists.

The conference report also noted that DUP opposition to the Agreement remained "as strong as ever, if not stronger".

The main speech was given by Peter Robinson, in which he outlined two alternative solutions - negotiation or confrontation.

He said the latter would be "devastating, terrible and bloody".

Rev McCrea's calls for air strikes appeared to be inspired by the US raids on Libya four days previously.

At least 100 people died after planes bombed targets in the capital Tripoli and the Benghazi region.

Over 60 American jets, some of them flying from British bases, attacked key military sites.

Colonel Gaddafi's residential compound took a direct hit that killed Hanna Gaddafi, the adopted baby daughter of the Libyan leader.

US President Ronald Reagan justified the attacks by accusing Libya of direct responsibility for terrorism aimed at America.

Rev McCrea, a Gospel singing Free Presbyterian minister, is known for his hardline views.

He served as DUP MP for Mid-Ulster between 1983 and 1997, and has been MP for South Antrim since 2000.

In 1996 he was criticised after sharing a platform at a Portadown rally with LVF leader Billy Wright.

1986 State Papers in brief

Challenger horror and royal wedding

It was a year which brought the Challenger space shuttle disaster, a royal wedding and economic woes. Closer to home, unionists took to the streets in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

In London, the world watched as Sarah Ferguson married Prince Andrew. In sport, Barry McGuigan retained his world boxing title against Danilo Cabrera.

The international headlines were dominated by the Challenger disaster, which killed seven astronauts, and the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Soviet Union.

Diego Maradona's hand of God knocked England out of the World Cup in Mexico. Argentina went on to beat West Germany in the final.

Chris de Burgh sang about a Lady In Red, while other hits included Simply Red's Holding Back The Years and Dire Straits' Walk Of Life.

Councillor 'a nutcase'

A hardline one-time DUP councillor was branded "a nutcase" who should be treated no better than Sinn Fein in official government papers.

George Seawright was infamous for his sectarian views, which landed him in court several times. He once suggested on Catholic schools that the Belfast Education and Library Board should "acquire an incinerator and burn the lot". In a memo in 1985, officials debated how they should deal with him. Ultimately, they decided to keep him at arm's length. Seawright was shot dead by the IPLO in 1987.

Stormont vow

Ian Paisley believed he would never again set foot in Stormont - 20 years before he led the DUP into government with Sinn Fein. He thought the demise of the 1986 Assembly marked the end of the line for devolution. Mr Paisley told officials there would not be another in his political lifetime.

Wells warns BBC

Jim Wells warned that BBC personnel could be in danger after the broadcaster announced it was pulling live coverage of the 1986 Twelfth.

Unionists accused the BBC of bowing to political pressure. The angry reaction over the move is detailed in a previously confidential memo.

The memo adds: "The subsequent behaviour of DUP Assemblyman Jim Wells in suggesting that BBC personnel would be in danger if they tried to cover events in Portadown on 31 March received almost universal condemnation, not least from the Apprentice Boys."

Peter 'cold'

Peter Robinson was described as "cold and calculating" by a senior figure within the DUP.

The unnamed Assembly man remarked that, in 12 years as a party member, Mr Robinson had not spoken to him for more than 10 minutes at a time. The insight is contained in a memo from 1986.

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