The Price of Shame

Many of the papers carry details of the 1976 state documents now released and several focus on the murder of Christopher Ewart Biggs, the British Ambassador to Ireland who was less than 2 weeks in the job before he was killed along with an aide. The Daily Telegraph reports that Martin Taylor, a PIRA man who was one of 7 to escape the Maidstone Prison ship by swimming across Belfast Lough was the key suspect. He was not convicted as there was thought to be insufficient evidence. The Irish Independent focus on the attempts of the British Government to capitalise on the guilt and shame of the Irish.In particular they wanted the Irish government to drop a case that was before the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. John Hickman, an official at the British Embassy in Dublin wrote:
Even if the traumatic effect of the assassination on Irish opinion fades or proves in the main temporary, I cannot imagine a better time than the present for the Irish government to bring itself to make some specific gesture of goodwill towards Britain. In my view, the biggest single benefit which we could expect to derive from the Irish people’s sense of shame and responsibility for the murder of a British ambassador would be a decision not to pursue the case at Strasbourg.”

Unable to have the case dropped, the British billed Dublin for the funerals, the flowers and the car damaged in the explosion. An ex-gratia payment of £65,000 was quickly approved in the Dail but the British government advised it would affect Mrs Ewart Bigg’s Civil Service pension. Thats an interesting point because the pension is not means tested at the moment, and I didnt think it had been in the past.

AJ Hunter from the Foreign Affairs department ‘advised that the British expenses be quietly slipped to the Department of Foreign Affairs as it might not be possible stop embarrassing questions being asked in the House of Commons about the use of British taxpayers’ funds for the expenses.
Hunter said the Foreign Office was cash-strapped and noted of the Irish offer to the families: “The Irish clearly intend it as a gesture to help expiate their failure to protect the ambassador, hope it will be accepted and indeed might take it amiss if it is not accepted.”

Quite a lot of that sounds extraordinary, such as the idea that the Foreign Office was cash-strapped and needed the Dublin government to cover the funerals?

I was reminded when reading this of a book I read over the summer on the Commemorating the Irish Civil war by Anne Dolan. One of the more poignant stories she recalls is the row over the payment of the funeral tea for Michael Collins. It seems the bill went back and forth between the government and Army at the time, and was only paid once some of the costs of ‘frills’ were deducted. If I recall, they were prepared to pay for tea and sandwiches but drew the line at the cakes. Isnt it extraordinary how people can bother with such pettiness in the face of momentous events. Surely wriggling out pf paying for a funeral was both disingenous and disrespectful to the memories of those killed.

  • Henry94

    Miss Fitz

    It does seem extraordinary that such a trifling amount could become an issue. Civil Service logic I suppose. But politics has a logic too and for the British to try and get the Human Rights case dropped shows just how ruthless that can be. I do think they exaggerated Irish people’s sense of shame and responsibility for the murder of a British ambassador. The Irish media maybe.

  • miss fitz

    Henry
    I guess the $65,000 that was offered to the 2 families is some indication of the feeling. 30 years ago that would have been a fairly sizeable sum of money. House prices must have been about 5,000 at the time, so not a trifling sum at all.

    Perhaps more accurately its about the sense of shame within the government circles about the failure to protect the Ambassador as opposed to wide spread feeling among the public. I just about remember the event, and to be truthful I do not remember any great sorrow at the man’s passing at the time. Perhaps we have all moved on a little since then.

  • heck

    at least the Irish Government had a sense of shame. Look at honest tony’s crew.

  • heck

    before some one else says it

    I guess SF have no sense of shame either.

  • dalek

    Miss Fitz

    “Unable to have the case dropped, the British billed Dublin for the funerals, the flowers and the car damaged in the explosion. An ex-gratia payment of £65,000 was quickly approved in the Dail but the British government advised it would affect Mrs Ewart Bigg’s Civil Service pension. Thats an interesting point because the pension is not means tested at the moment, and I didnt think it had been in the past. ”

    I really don’t see how an ex-gratia payment from one government to another could in any way affect a third parties spouses’ civil service pension.

    furthermore the sum of £65,000 grossly exceeds the costs of a funeral,flowers and a car at the time so is there an element of compensation in the payment and if so why?

    Just a thought.

  • Plum Duff

    Seeing that Phoney Tony is in the middle of yet another ‘freebie’ holiday at the moment, it’s comforting to note that the practice of parsimony continues unabated in government circles.

  • miss fitz

    From what I read Dalek, the Irish government offered this money between the families of the 2 people murdered using a British govt intermediary. It appears at this point the Irish govt were told that such a payment would affect pension rights. The irish then offered to meet the costs of the Ewart Biggs education. The article says that the official handling these negotiations was to ‘affect embarrassment’, but to mention the small matter of the British Government’s costs as well. It was at this point that they handed over the bill that included items outside the remit of a funeral

  • parcifal

    missfitz,
    as we’re doing 1976 I hope you don’t mind me quoting from the scotsman today:

    “Paisley ‘a bigger threat than IRA'”

    http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=150&id=1925662006

    IAN PAISLEY posed a greater threat to power-sharing government in Northern Ireland in the 1970s than the IRA, according to secret files.

    A document released into the National Archives in Dublin under the 30-year-rule records a meeting between Irish government minister Garret FitzGerald and then Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher

    speaks volumes, and let no-one ever forget this.

  • miss fitz

    Not much on the link Parcifal, we’ll have to see what else comes up on this. I’m trying to put it into the context of the time, and wonder if it refers to fear of another general strike? The Peace People won the Nobel Prize in 1976 as well. Do you have any thoughts on why specifically this might have been the case?

    I remember meeting Paisley around this time and being petrified! I was on a delgation from Dublin and we went to his Church for a service. His reputation was much fiercer than the man in person, as he was quite friendly to us after the service. We all felt we were going to be ‘taken out’ regardless.

  • dalek

    Fair enough Miss Fitz but i still fail to see why or how the UK could suggest that any payment to families for whatever purpose could effect the pension rights of the spouse of a deceased civil servant..diplomatic or otherwise.Perhaps they were being disingenuous and were embarrassed by the offer of recompense from the ROI government?

    just a thought.

  • Secur O’Crat

    It has been alleged Ewart Biggs was a master spy. I was in Dublin at the time of this happy event and no one gave a shit. Two years previously, of course, other British agents had bombed the shit out of Dublin in the worst atrocitiy of the Troubles. (bigger than Omagh when we include Monaghan) The innocent 1974 victims of MI5 have yet to be recompensed. At least the family of Ewart Biggs know who wasted him and why (Big Boys Rules). Who bombed Dublin?

  • parcifal

    missfitz,
    phew that’s a story and a half, you brave lass.

    yeah no details other than the short piece in the scotsman, frustrating, and sorry I’ve no idea about the Nobel Prize, maybe someone will do us a service, and reveal all.

  • miss fitz

    I wrote a piece for the Irish Times after that visit, and it was published! I was a student nurse in Dublin at the time, and a Fianna Fail youth member. Writing the story did me no favours with my fellow delegates, but we continued making trips in the late 70’s and meeting all of the key players. We fed back to Fianna Fail on the outcomes and experiences.

    I must admit I can still recall how foreign the North seemed to me then, almost as foreign as the South does now.

  • darth rumsfeld

    While we’re looking to count the pennies,what a pity we didn’t follow the example of the enlightened Chinese, and bill SF/ IRA for the cost of the bullets used to take out their activists in the last 35 years- not to mention the cost of all the criminal injury claims, insurance payments, and pensions to injured public servants. If it was deducted from their Westminster allowances it would make some amends for their lack of remorse.

  • lib2016

    darth,

    the thread is supposed to be about ‘shame’ but then, of course unionists don’t do shame.

    It’s taking those same unionists a long time to realise that what counts now is winning the peace and how much their refusal to share power has cost them.

    It will be a shame if their reluctant agreement to share power at the last minute ends up losing them what little they have left. 😉

  • parcifal
  • heck

    darth rumsfeld

    while were are at it why not get all those unionists who want to be british to pay compensation to the 650000 dead , killed in Honest Tony’s illegal war in iraq, not to mention the total distruction of Iraq’s infrastructure. And why stop there , they can pay compensation to the Egyptians for the dead of another illegal british war in Suez, they can pay compensations to the families of the dead and the torture victims in aden, kenya etc.

    Wise up man!!

  • eyeball

    shame…nonsense…martin taylor, i salute you, if you rid ireland of this snake

  • The most instructive piece to come out of the 1976 State documents was the Wilson memorandum, but more particularly the expression of his fears about a Unionist putsch and UDI (as in today’s London “Times”, page 28).

    To show that little changes in the minds of some folks, we should refer to the “Belfast Telegraph” of 7th December.

    Eric Waugh (of blessed repute and impeccable judgement) was there proposing “an independent state of Northern Ireland”. Inevitably, he confuses “Northern Ireland” with “Ulster”. He apparently believes that some statelet based on his fief could opt out of the Union, out of the island, out of the European Union, and survive as a tax-haven. His model is the Isle of Man (population something like 78,000).

    Meanwhile, the rest of us can be expected to contribute generously to Waugh’s madness, because “the new state would require bolstering for up to 20 years by the UK, the EU – and possibly the US and even the Republic”.

    Wilson was a pragmatic (one of his own favourite words) politician: his opinions should not be lightly discounted (as they were by those omniscient mandarins of Whitehall).

  • Observer

    “darth rumsfeld

    while were are at it why not get all those unionists who want to be british to pay compensation to the 650000 dead , killed in Honest Tony’s illegal war in iraq, not to mention the total distruction of Iraq’s infrastructure. And why stop there , they can pay compensation to the Egyptians for the dead of another illegal british war in Suez, they can pay compensations to the families of the dead and the torture victims in aden, kenya etc.

    Wise up man!!

    Posted by heck on Dec 29, 2006 @ 05:20 PM”

    heck,

    I reckon thats a different subject you’re on!

    What you say still does not justify the IRAs’ illegal and bloody war.

    I trust them (now provo-Sinn Fein) no more than I would have done in the 1970s.

    Paisley will make a major mistake if he signs on the dotted line while being dragged along by pro-agreement Robo and Donaldson.

    As is suggested in another thread; Plan B is no more than we already have at present.

    What I would like to see is democracy being reinstated in Ulster (Ulster=Northern Ireland; Northern Ireland=Ulster).

  • USA

    Observer
    NI has six counties, while Ulster has nine counties. I’m suprised people get this confused even today.

  • Observer

    Ulster took on a new identity post-1921.

    Most people who refer to ‘Ulster’ refer to Northern Ireland.

  • Secur O’Crat

    The Observer: Ulster took on a new identity post-1921. Most people who refer to ‘Ulster’ refer to Northern Ireland.

    The Truth: A gang of Protestant fascist bullies got a Rhodesia style set up and forced the good people of South Armagh and other areas to live under their jackboot. Ulster did not change or get a new identity. Just the local manifestation of Ireland’s British problem were allowed to continue their bullying ways with the use of the bomb, the bullet and the B Specials.