| 11.9°C Belfast

UK secret files released: Thatcher tried to bar Queen trip, Princess and PM's tell-all letters, Foster & Allen Apartheid shock


NI Secretary of State Tom King speaking on the steps of Stormont Castle after the Ballygawley bus bombing in August 1988

NI Secretary of State Tom King speaking on the steps of Stormont Castle after the Ballygawley bus bombing in August 1988

The bullet-riddled car in which Gervaise McKerr, Eugene Toman and Sean Burns were shot dead by the RUC in Lurgan in 1982

The bullet-riddled car in which Gervaise McKerr, Eugene Toman and Sean Burns were shot dead by the RUC in Lurgan in 1982

Outside Old Bailey as Birmingham Six freed in 1991

Outside Old Bailey as Birmingham Six freed in 1991

Border patrols in 1980

Border patrols in 1980

Sir Nicholas Fenn

Sir Nicholas Fenn

NI Secretary of State Tom King speaking on the steps of Stormont Castle after the Ballygawley bus bombing in August 1988

Britain and Ireland would get on very well together were it not for history, a senior diplomat observed. Writing at the end of 1988, the British Ambassador to Dublin noted improving relations on every matter - except Northern Ireland.

Sir Nicholas Fenn said: "We end the year as we began it, glaring at each other across the Irish Sea."

His eight-page report provides an unusually candid summary of bilateral relations over the previous 12 months.

It notes: "In all fields but the crucial one, we did quite well this year."

The memo goes on to add: "If it were not for history we should get on well with the Irish.

"It is worth placing our relationship in a broader and more harmonious context."

Sir Nicholas served as British Ambassador to Ireland from 1986 to 1991. Anglo-Irish relations had been strained in 1988 by a series of controversies.

These included the rejection of the Birmingham Six appeal and the decision not to prosecute RUC officers named in the Stalker-Sampson 'shoot to kill' inquiry.

Sir Nicholas wrote: "The year ends as it began; two peoples who have much in common are glaring at each other across the Irish Sea in mutual incomprehension. We must both try again in 1989."

His confidential memo, released today by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, notes that "history will not go away".

It refers to "two litanies of horrors", associated with an upsurge in terrorist violence.

"The heart of the matter, of course, is the politics: The aspiration to a united Ireland, the determination of a million Irishmen to remain British and the self-exclusion of the constitutional parties from the governance of Northern Ireland."

Away from politics, Anglo-Irish relations were said to be improving.

Sir Nicholas cited trade and agriculture as examples.

He wrote: "We are beginning to recognise that the Irish are partners in the European Community as well as opponents.

"We have different interests on agriculture and the budget. But both countries depend upon trade for livelihood."

He noted that "tactical alliances" can be made even on difficult issues such as tax harmonisation and monetary policy.

Separately, in a letter to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Tom King reflected on cross-border relations.

He said the Anglo-Irish Agreement, while not resolving every problem, had provided "a worthwhile and workmanlike framework".

He cited "practical results" such as better security co-operation and less criticism from Dublin.

Mr King concluded by speaking of his hopes for "a constructive and developing relationship with the Irish Republic".

He added: "There are unlikely to be dramatic developments in either internal or external relations, but gradual progress despite inevitable setbacks and disappointments."

Thatcher tried to bar Queen trip

Margaret Thatcher attempted to block a visit to Brussels by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh (right) over fears it would come at a "very bad time" for policy negotiations in Europe.

The then Prime Minister expressed concerns that plans for the royals to visit the European Commission and Nato and meet with the King of the Belgians in 1980 would clash with a settlement on fishing policy. In a handwritten note, Mrs Thatcher said: "Please consider this advice in relation to a settlement on fisheries policy.

"The proposed visit could come at a very bad time.

"The deadline for the settlement is end 1980."

Mrs Thatcher underlined the words "very bad time".

The Queen went on to visit Belgium in November 1980 for celebrations to mark the country's 150th anniversary.

By Gavin Cordon

Bomb fears after deal backlash

The Irish government feared a "big" loyalist bomb in Dublin during a bitter unionist revolt against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, then Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald said.

In a meeting with then Northern Ireland Secretary of State Tom King three months after the accord, Mr FitzGerald said people in the Irish capital were as worried as people north of the border.

"There was a fear in Dublin of loyalist bombs, and though our present information was that the loyalist paramilitaries were not yet ready to do anything big, we had to do what we could to minimise the dangers," Mr FitzGerald told the then Northern Ireland Secretary.

Mr King said he had been "rocked on his heels" by the unionist backlash to the agreement, which was signed on November 15, 1985.

By Brian Hutton

Disbelief over fall of Thatcher

World leaders greeted the fall of Margaret Thatcher after 11 years in power with shock.

Among the first to reach out to Mrs Thatcher after she was forced to resign following a Conservative Party coup was former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who telephoned Charles Powell, her trusted foreign affairs adviser, in a "very emotional state". In a note to Mrs Thatcher, Mr Powell said Kissinger told him: "It's worse than a death in the family."

But the most remarkable message came from Mikhail Gorbachev. In what Mr Powell described as an "unusually warm and friendly" letter, Mr Gorbachev addressed her as "Margaret" and praised the "mutual understanding" they had established.

Mrs Thatcher's tear-stained departure from Downing Street made headlines around the world.

By Brian Hutton

Bishop's fury at 'nothing' SDLP

Working-class Catholics in Northern Ireland were "anti-authority and anti-everything", the late Archbishop of Armagh Cahal Daly (right) said.

The one-time head of the Catholic Church in Ireland blamed a deep scepticism among some of his flock on the SDLP.

In remarks made in a secret meeting in 1986 with David Donoghue, an Irish government negotiator in Anglo-Irish talks, he said the party, then under John Hume, had made no serious effort to challenge Sinn Fein in Catholic ghettos.

The result was a wary response to the then fledgling Anglo-Irish Agreement in areas such as west Belfast, according to the former primate, Bishop of Down and Connor at the time.

Gerry Adams was "the working-class hero" and the SDLP "count for nothing", he said.

By Brian Hutton

Princess and PM's tell-all letters

Candid personal letters between Margaret Thatcher and Princess Margaret, exchanging views on crippling industrial action and turbulent world events, have been unearthed for the first time.

The correspondence includes Princess Margaret's opinion on the 1980 Olympics and a light-hearted complaint that a debate she attended in Cambridge was full of "rabid conservatives" with "not a Trotskyite to argue with!".

Mrs Thatcher praised the princess for a successful tour of the US and wrote: "I cannot help feeling that Washington is more isolated from America than London is from Britain."

The PM also discussed the hostage crisis at the US embassy in Iran.

By Gavin Cordon

Foster & Allen Apartheid shock

Musicians Foster and Allen agreed to play in South Africa during Apartheid, the papers show.

The Centre Against Apartheid complied a list of Irish personalties who agreed to visit the country. The list was obtained by the Irish embassy and sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Also on it were musicians Joe Dolan, Phil Coulter, Geraldine Brannagan, Margo Burns, Trevor Burns, The Danny Fisher Showband, Dave and Harry Monks, Cissy Stone, Michael Bryan and Tom McGrath and tennis star Matt Doyle.

Three Irish entertainers, Mitch Mitchell, Mary O'Hara and Hal Roche, were removed from the note after giving pledges that they would not play, as was the now disgraced Rolf Harris.

A large number of US singers, including Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers and Tina Turner, appeared on the list.

Belfast Telegraph