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9 January 2003 Edition

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British considered repartition

1972 Cabinet papers released


British cabinet papers for 1972 released by the Public Records Office on 1 January under the 30-year rule have revealed that the British Cabinet considered a proposal for the repartition of Ireland. They also show that, in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, British policy in Ireland was disarray as the Heath government tried desperately to shore up Brian Faulkner's administration and to avoid the introduction of Direct Rule.

Just before Bloody Sunday the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Burke Trend, had urged the attempted appeasement of the Catholic population by offering modest reforms, whilst still maintaining the Stormont system; a similar process, he remarks, to one under consideration "in Rhodesia".

In his briefing dated 10 January, Trend considers the question of "inter-party talks" and observes that the stated position of the SDLP not to take part in talks whilst internment was still in operation was "not necessarily an unsatisfactory position for the government", since "public opinion is not likely to agree that the government should let loose a lot of gunmen and terrorists in return for no more than a promise merely to take part in inter-party talks without any assurance that they will have a successful outcome".

"And provided that internment itself is properly managed and the Army seem to be continuing to gain the upper hand on the IRA," he continues, "the government can probably afford to rest in this position for at least the time being".

The immediate prospects for talks, he concluded, were "not bright" but in the long term the government would be "driven to devise some new political initiative.

"Here we confront the old dilemma - should any initiative be based on the fundamental premises that the Border remains intact and the Stormont system continues; or should it envisage some basic modifications in these assumptions? Hitherto, Ministers have judged that it would not be possible to modify either of them without risking the fall of Mr Faulkner's government and the inevitable need, as a result, to introduce direct rule."

Trend also urges that the ban of marches be renewed "and enforced", saying that "the relatively gentle handling of the anti-internment march on Christmas Day was perhaps to be excused by the nature of the occasion. But, if we are putting our money on Mr Faulkner's survival, we cannot afford to expose him indefinitely to the accusation that he is using kid gloves to deal with provocation and intimidation".

However, ten days after Bloody Sunday, the introduction of Direct Rule was becoming inevitable. Minutes of the Ministerial Committee on Northern Ireland dated 9 February record that "the alienation of the minority population is growing and world opinion is becoming increasingly critical. A purely military solution could not guarantee success and makes a political initiative more urgent. The implementation of our plan might well involve an interregnum, during which Northern Ireland would be subject to direct rule."

A number of Heath's backbench MPs also got involved with the debate and reveal British attitudes to the Protestant population in Ireland. On 14 February Norman St John Stevas wrote to Heath saying that "there is a danger of losing one's temper and becoming exasperated with both sides. One has to remember effectively at all times that the Irish are not English (unfortunately)". Sir Alex Douglas-Hume expressed a similar view in a slightly more elegant manner when he wrote on 13 March that he disliked the idea of Direct Rule "because I do not believe that they are like the Scots or the Welsh and doubt that they ever will be. The real British interest would I think be served best by pushing them towards a United Ireland rather than tying them closer to the United Kingdom. Our own parliamentary history is one long story of trouble with Ireland."

On 22 March Faulker was summoned to London and refused to accept the handing over of law and order to the British cabinet. He refused and resigned, together with the Stormont Cabinet.

Despite the government's public insistence in 1972 that the British Army was gaining the "upper hand" on the IRA and that it would never negotiate with "terrorists", government officials had, in fact, secretly met with republican representatives.

Then, on 20 June 1972, British officials attended a meeting with Gerry Adams and Daithi O'Connell at a private house in Donegal, during which the prospects of a ceasefire, the demand for political status for republican prisoners and other issues were discussed.

PJ Woodfield, for the British, wrote that he agreed to a request that the British secretary of State, William Whitelaw, meet with republican representatives after a ceasefire had been announced and Whitelaw had judged it to be "effective". Two weeks later a number of representatives were secretly flown in to London for what turned out to be an unsuccessful meeting with Whitelaw.

Woodfield's note also records that, amongst Adams and O'Connell's other requests in relation to the proposed ceasefire, they asked him if the NIO could use its "good offices" to introduce them to representatives of the UDA, telling him that "if a meeting could be effected they might get along better than some people might expect".

The terms for a ceasefire were discussed in some detail and Woodfield then turned to the terms in which it would be announced, commenting, revealingly, that the British were "particularly anxious that it should not, even by inadvertence, disclose any of the matters we had been discussing".

In conclusion Woodfield writes that the meeting took a total of three and a half hours and was held in an "informal and relaxed atmosphere" and adding that "it may be of interest to record an impression of the two representatives who came".

"Mr O'Connell is about 40 and Mr Adams is 23," he writes. "There is no doubt whatever that these two at least genuinely want a ceasefire and a permanent end to violence.

"Their appearance and manner was respectable and respectful - they easily referred to Mr Whitelaw as the 'Secretary of State' and they addressed me from time to time as 'Sir'. They made no bombastic statements in defence of their past and made no attacks on the British government, the British Army or any other communities or bodies in Northern Ireland. Their response to every argument put to them was reasonable and moderate."

After the failed meeting in London, the British government decided instead to attempt a military crackdown, despite its own admissions that this could not work. In a letter dated 26 July from one Ronnie Custis at the MoD to Christopher Roberts in Heath's office it was stated that the "Army now may fire without warning to protect themselves or others. They may also use heavy weapons, such as the Carl Gustav rocket launchers."

One of the most interesting documents released is the draft of a paper submitted to the British Cabinet entitled "Redrawing the Border and Population Transfer" in which the practicability of moving the "dissident republican population" out of the Six Counties and "retaining only the unionist population" is discussed, a proposition which was also to be considered by Margaret Thatcher some years later.

The transfer could be achieved, says the document, by:

"(a) Transferring to the Republic of Ireland (or conceivably to some separate status within the United Kingdom) areas which contain a Catholic majority;

(b) Moving individual Catholics from their homes in Northern Ireland to new homes in the Republic;

(c) Some combination of (a) and (b).

Curiously, the typewritten document has been altered by hand, with an anonymous official crossing out the original terms "Six Counties" and "Twenty Six Counties" in option (b) and inserting "Northern Ireland" and "the Republic" instead.

Also released were papers which showed that Heath was clearly worried about the Parker Report on the mistreatment of detainees which had severely criticised the government, saying that the methods employed to question detainees were both "illegal and immoral". Heath demanded changes be made to the new Army Directive on Interrogation "in case the document ever becomes public".

An early indication of the British government and army's ambivalence towards - or even tacit support of - loyalist violence comes in a letter, again from Ronnie Custis at the MoD, to Heath's office dated 29 November 1972. Custis was responding to Heath's request that "the question of members of the UDR who are also members of the UDA" be given further consideration.

He states that the UDA is not an illegal organisation and that, in any case, "an important function of the UDA is to channel Protestant energies which might otherwise become disruptive". However, the letter continues that if a UDR officer was discovered to be participating in UDA activities he should be "asked to resign". Ordinary soldiers, on the other hand, who were suspected of sympathy with the UDA to a degree where it could compromise their "loyalty" could simply be "dismissed". For all that, however, the letter says that "it is not considered desirable or practical to make membership of the UDA a bar in itself to membership of the UDR" and only about 50 resignations or dismissals were envisaged.

The policy was laid out in a Regimental Routine Order in November 1972 which, writes Custis, also includes a similar directive aimed the Catholic Ex-Servicemen's Association "for presentational reasons".

Short-sighted British policy - McGuinness

Commenting on the papers, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness said that they "revealed no surprises but only confirm Sinn Féin's contention that successive British governments had not considered long term policy commitments to the North of Ireland." Rather than being pro-active in what it knew to be the right course - self-determination for the people of Ireland - said McGuinness, "it always reacted to pertaining political conditions".

He continued that whilst the papers reinforced the republican view of British policy in Ireland, they would also confirm "unionist feelings of insecurity and distrust of British intentions. Once more these documents demonstrate that the British public position is seldom its private position as highlighted by comparisons of publicly stated positions and those considerations in the released official documents.

"Unionists must realise that Perfidious Albion doesn't just apply to British dealings with Irish republicanism, it applies equally to its dealings with unionism."

However, he continued whilst the past was a matter of interest to everyone "we must not be fixated by it. Our concern must centre on what is happening now and in the future.

"The Good Friday Agreement has fundamentally changed Britain's relationship with the island of Ireland. That Agreement - the implementation of which is in all of our interests - provides the only sensible way forward for every politician truly interested in improving the lives of all of our people.

"I urge unionism to participate in an inclusive exercise of forward thinking and planning for our mutual future. It is plain that it is not secure within the union with Britain‚ but would be an invaluable, influential and integral component in mapping out the shape of the new united Ireland.

"Throughout these documents the Sinn Féin position and its advocacy of self-determination for the people of Ireland has been vindicated."


Papers reveal Para brutality days before massacre


Papers released under the 30-year rule have confirmed that then British prime minister Edward Heath was warned just days before Bloody Sunday by the Cabinet Secretary Sir Burke Trend that the Paras had "overreacted" against civil rights protestors.

Four days before Bloody Sunday, Heath received a security briefing in which Trend remarked that "you may wish to question the Secretary of State for defence about recent suggestions in the press and on television that the army overreacted against some of the civil rights demonstrations last weekend - And that, in particular, soldiers of the Parachute Regiment, by being unnecessarily rough, have gratuitously provoked resentment among peaceful elements of the Roman Catholic population."

Trend also writes about the issue of the how crown forces are to respond to increasing civil disobedience. "Are we able - and prepared - to deal with that situation?" he asks. He recommends that the question should be "explored urgently" with Brian Faulker during a forthcoming meeting, but the record of that meeting has not been released.

The papers also reveal that Heath intervened in the Widgery Inquiry to ensure that British Army witnesses would be called to give their evidence first. On 7 February, a letter from Downing Street to the MoD expresses Heath's concern that the British government and army would face a propaganda setback if civilian witnesses were heard first. "There might be a lot to be said for the army to be given an opportunity to set out its own facts early on," said the letter. "The Prime Minister would be grateful if urgent consideration could be given to this point."

After a delay due to a fall, Edward Heath is scheduled to begin his evidence to the Inquiry shortly after it reconvenes on 13 January.

In a separate development, Lord Saville has rejected an application by MI5 to prevent two of its officers and the whistleblower David Shayler - recently released from prison after being convicted last November of breaching the Official Secrets Act - from giving live evidence to the inquiry. The security services had asked that a time-delay restriction be imposed when the three give their evidence. Such a restriction would have meant that legal representatives of the families, or indeed the soldiers themselves, could not cross-examine the witnesses.


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