Belfast Telegraph

State papers: UK envoy wanted to spark row over Republic's 'intransigence'

Target: Bomb at Europa Hotel in 1991
Target: Bomb at Europa Hotel in 1991

By Michael McHugh

The British Government considered leaking details of Irish "intransigence" during Northern Ireland talks in 1990.

The UK's ambassador to the Republic Sir Nicholas Fenn envisaged an Anglo-Irish row in which international opinion and a substantial section of the Irish public would support it against Dublin.

An official file details the fall-out from the devolution impasse following the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Sir Nicholas blamed lack of progress in the political process under then-Secretary of State Peter Brooke on contentment with the status quo among members of the SDLP and the Irish Government.

Any new but failed talks would cause a potentially damaging blow to the SDLP while Sinn Fein's elections machine grew, he suggested.

The diplomat wrote: "We could leak Irish intransigence.

"We could expect an unusually sympathetic hearing in Dublin outside government circles.

"For once there is a prospect of an Anglo-Irish row in which a substantial section of Irish opinion, and indeed international opinion, would support us against the Irish Government." The memo is contained in files released by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland today.

Much of the debate surrounded the inclusion of Sinn Fein and the IRA in political talks.

One record related to the political talks in 1990, four years before the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries were to declare their first ceasefires.

Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister at the time and her opposition to concessions to the IRA was well-known.

Discussion centred on how inextricably bound up the IRA was with Sinn Fein.

An Northern Ireland Office official stated: "To some extent Sinn Fein is a separate political entity.

"Our attitude to it crucially turns on the extent to which it is engaged in legitimate and constitutional political activity.

"It seems that to me we have no inherent interest in preferring the SDLP to Sinn Fein or any other potential movement speaking for nationalism provided it adopts a constitutional road.

"If it brought with it the strain of anti-clericalism, which I detect in Sinn Fein, that might have interesting possibilities for levering open the somewhat theocratic structures of Northern and Southern nationalism to the benefit of an accommodation with the unionist community."

Belfast Telegraph


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