Ireland and US handbagged after Mountbatten assassination…

THERE are many interesting disclosures flowing from the UK and Irish archives after the IRA assassination of Mountbatten in 1979. The Times reports that a “telegram from Robin Haydon, the British Ambassador in Dublin, to Lord Carrington, the Foreign Secretary, revealed that Lord Mountbatten’s daughter, Lady Pamela Hicks, had told him that 1979 had been the first year that the boat was not under guard or searched for devices before the family went aboard”. Haydon wrote:

In the absence of an official report, it would be unwise to go into detail, but I must say I find it extraordinary that the boat was apparently not searched by the Garda before it sailed. It is even more extraordinary that, to my knowledge, no questions have been asked by the Irish media about the level and adequacy of Garda security for the Mountbatten family.

It sounds not unlike the accusations of collusion that fly around Northern Ireland today.

The Irish Times reports that Anglo-Irish relations were low even before the Mountbatten and Narrow Water attacks. Four days beforehand, Thatcher considered taking the vote away from Irish citizens living in the UK, and bringing them “fully within the UK’s immigration laws”. Relations deteriorated further after the bombings. The British government even discussed the possibility of sanctions against Ireland unless it secured better co-operation on security, which apparently was forthcoming. Some pretty harsh sanctions against the Irish were certainly on the table initially – including “more vigorous use of the SAS”, the “closing of Border roads” and even “reintroduction of executive detention [internment]” – though pragmatism seems to have led to a more measured bilateral response later. Lynch would even agree to cross-border helicopter overflights.

Thatcher’s ‘special relationship’ with America on the Irish question was also frosty. We learn from the Irish Times that she banned one Northern Ireland Secretary from meeting New York governor Hugh Carey following reports that he was planning to put pressure on the British government over Northern Ireland. She “would not think of discussing with President Carter, for example, US policy towards their black population”.

Nor did the US refusal to grant an export licence for Ruger revolvers intended for the RUC impress Thatcher. After all, “[s]he herself had handled both of the gun(s) which the RUC at present used and that which was on order. There was no doubt that the American Ruger was much better.” A Foreign Office letter to the then US secretary of state about the restriction stated: “It would without doubt be seen as a sharp shift in the US policy, and would certainly give encouragement to the Provisional IRA, who would exploit it to the full,”

Even worse, as far as Thatcher was concerned, was Carter’s lacklustre response to the Mountbatten killing. The BBC reports that he wrote only to Thatcher to express his “profound sadness” at the “tragic death” – avoiding condemnation and references to terrorism or murder. However, a later State Department statement “condemning the organisations which indulge in violence and asking Americans not to support them” seems to have mollified the British.

And so unionists don’t feel left out, it should be noted that long before the Anglo-Agreement, Thatcher’s relationship with Ian Paisley was also far from cordial. As the FT reports:

In spite of her prounionist position, unfriendly letters were exchanged at the time between Mrs Thatcher and the Reverend Ian Paisley, the staunch Protestant and Democratic Unionist party leader. In a July letter to Mr Paisley, the prime minister wrote: “For the moment it seems unlikely that we would have anything to gain from a meeting on security.”

Mr Paisley replied: “Thank you for your note which, being a statement of facts already within my knowledge, was hardly illuminating.

“Neither does it reassure either myself or the people of NI that their continuing plight is a matter of your urgent personal concern.”