THE unionist campaigners seeking the British Government’s help to get compensation from Libya for IRA victims may be surprised to know that once upon a time their own government offered the Libyan’s £14 million (about half a billion in today’s money) to stop supplying the IRA. And that also in the 1970s, the Libyans wanted compensation from the British for “death and injury caused by thousands of landmines left by the Eighth Army while fighting in North Africa during the Second World War”, as well as cancelled contracts for military equipment and missile systems.
The documents revealed by The Independent make a couple of things quite clear – that the UK Government was prepared to overlook many actions by old enemies in the name of trade; and that ‘justice’ for victims is of little concern to politicians with an eye on the bigger picture.
As the 1976 Foreign Office memo said:
A settlement could, of course, bring its own disadvantages: Colonel Qadhafi… could cause HMG embarrassment… by continuing to support terrorist acts throughout the world. But the French and the Italians manage to survive a closer relationship with Qadhafi without sacrifice of their interests, even if he occasionally causes them embarrassment. The trade pay-off is clearly worth the risk.
Yes, this memo was typed in the mid-70s, and not earlier this year. In between times, Gaddafi’s weapons would cause more than occasional “embarrassment” to HMG, as well as mayhem, death and destruction in Northern Ireland. Later, he lost either interest in or patience with the IRA. But that is all history now.
Back then, the question of Libya’s support for the IRA seems to have been a secondary issue for the British Ambassador, Donald Murray, who wrote that he might use it as a stalling issue if he didn’t receive “immediate telegraphic instructions” from London in time should he be summoned by the Libyans.
Sadly for the Willie Frazers of today, I doubt if the Libyans will make any significant concessions to his campaign for compensation, because right now it isn’t in Libya’s interest to pay up – nor in the British Government’s to force the issue. Do unionists have any bargaining chips in an international poker game where they are bit players?