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State Papers: Mary Robinson advised to avoid 1993 World Cup tie between NI and ROI at Windsor Park as sectarian violence surged

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Big match: Gerry Taggart of Northern Ireland battles for the ball with John Aldridge of the Republic of Ireland at Windsor Park in 1993. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Big match: Gerry Taggart of Northern Ireland battles for the ball with John Aldridge of the Republic of Ireland at Windsor Park in 1993. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

INPHO

Big match: Gerry Taggart of Northern Ireland battles for the ball with John Aldridge of the Republic of Ireland at Windsor Park in 1993. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Security chiefs advised President Mary Robinson against attending a key World Cup play-off between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in Belfast in 1993 amid an alarming upsurge in sectarian violence.

State Papers revealed President Robinson had hoped to attend the match at Windsor Park but subsequently did not travel for the historic fixture.

One document revealed that a Department of Foreign Affairs official noted the British government was not specifically asking President Robinson to stay away from the Windsor Park clash, but privately would be happier if she did not attend given worrying tensions in Northern Ireland.

The match, which took place on November 17, 1993, was crucial to the Republic’s hopes of qualifying for their second World Cup finals under Jack Charlton.

The Green Army successfully qualified for the US finals after an Alan McLoughlin strike equalised an earlier effort for Northern Ireland by Jimmy Quinn as the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

President Robinson later hailed the fixture as “a triumph for sport on this island”.

Security chiefs were extremely concerned over the match, which took place just weeks after two of the most brutal sectarian atrocities in Northern Ireland.

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An IRA bomb had killed 10 people at Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road on October 23 — with the IRA later claiming they had mounted the attack in a bid to wipe out the leadership of the Ulster Defence Association.

In retaliation, loyalist paramilitaries attacked a pub in Greysteel, Co Derry on October 30, shooting dead eight people who had gathered for a local Halloween party.

Security officials said they had concerns about the President attending the match — and over the logistics of getting her into the ground and then away from it after the match.

“In the context of recent events there could possibly be a reaction to her presence from the attendance,” one official noted.

Greatest concern focused on the fact that Windsor Park was located in a staunchly loyalist area and was the home ground of Linfield, an overwhelmingly Protestant club.

Irish officials were privately briefed by British officials that, given the scale of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland, there was concern the RUC would be stretched by another massive security operation around Windsor Park.

In one document, an Irish civil servant noted that it was clear the British would privately be happier if President Robinson opted not to attend the game.

However, both British and Northern Ireland officials did not want the match venue changed.

“Comprehensive operational measures will be put in place by the RUC consistent with the need to ensure the safety of both spectators and the two teams concerned,” a memo noted.

Strict security advice was given to Irish fans travelling to Belfast for the match.


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