The year was 1989 and the Berlin Wall fell after an epoch-making few months when Eastern Europe's communist regimes began tumbling.

Here there was a general election and an unlikely coalition government of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats was formed.

As 75 people were killed in Northern Ireland during 1989, the Taoiseach Charlie Haughey described what was happening there as the "most harrowing and intractable of problems."

In Britain the Guildford Four were released from prison and their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal.

The Irish football team qualified for the World Cup for the first time, while Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue dominated the Irish charts this year.

The State records for 1989 have been released today, although far fewer files were transferred to the National Archives this year due to a lack of storage space.

Aisling Kenny and Micheál Lehane have looked through the State Papers and here’s what they found:

Concerns Justified

Pat Finucane was shot dead by the UDA in front of his family at his home in north Belfast in February 1989.

The publication of State Papers from that time reveal the scale of the disquiet felt within government in the hours following the murder.

In a document - marked Coded Message/Immediate/Confidential - sent from Dublin to London, the Irish Ambassador there was asked to make some things clear to the British side.

The first was that the government had previously signalled concern at the remarks by a Home Office Minister, Douglas Hogg.

He had said in the House of Commons just weeks earlier that: "There are in Northern Ireland a number of solicitors who are unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA."

The Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, and the government instructed the ambassador to tell the British administration that: "The murder of Mr Pat Finucane has shown that these concerns were justified."

The documents also show that there was unease over rumours that policemen had prompted loyalist paramilitaries in custody to attack solicitors acting for republican defendants.

An exchange between the Irish ambassador in London and the British cabinet secretary is recorded in the papers with the accompanying words, "not for reporting."

This is where Robin Butler expressed regret that it appeared the Irish government was suggesting that Mr Hogg bore some responsibility for Mr Finucane’s death.

There was anxiety too on the British side about the wording of the statement the Taoiseach would make following the murder in which he spoke about: "The need for the greatest care to be given to any statements which might have tragic consequences."

The papers indicated that Mr Hogg had contemplated naming names based on the precise official briefing he had received, but untimely decided not to do so because it would be an abuse of parliamentary privilege.

Irish officials also spoke with another solicitor in Northern Ireland in the weeks following Mr Finucane’s murder.

Paddy McGrory told them (in a document stamped Seen by Taoiseach) that the RUC considered the threat to himself and fellow solicitors Paschal O’Hare and Oliver Kelly as a "very real one."

Birmingham Six Review Urged

The State Papers show the extent of the pressure mounting on the British government to review the Birmingham Six case following the release of the Guildford Four in October 1989.

In October 1989 the Guildford Four were released from prison when their convictions for the 1974 Guildford pub bombings were quashed.

The case had been referred to the Court of Appeal in January of this year.

"I'm in prison for 15 years for something I didn't do, something I didn't know anything about," he called out. "I'm a totally innocent man - I watched my father die in a British prison for something he didn't do. He is innocent, the Maguires are innocent, let's hope the Birmingham Six are next to be freed," were the emotional words of Gerry Conlon outside the Old Bailey.

Now State documents from December 1989 suggest that the British Government could possibly have been looking for a way to also overturn the convictions of the Birmingham Six.

They show that a solicitor representing some of the group, Gareth Pierce, had been asked to submit new evidence she had uncovered to the British Home Office.

However, the documents show that Ms Pierce was quite sceptical about the British Government’s desire to resolve the case.

The Irish government too was increasing pressure on the British to review the case.

During his December meeting with the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Taoiseach Charlie Haughey asked that a way was found to re-open the case. He said the arguments for this were unanswerable.

However, the British Prime Minister refused and said the government could not interfere with the courts process.

In a letter to the Taoiseach, one of the accused, Paddy Hill, was critical of the government for not taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

He said: "Recently my co-defendant, Mr Richard McIlkenny wrote to you asking you if you would take the case of the Birmingham Six to the European Court of Human Rights.

"This you have refused to do - stating that under Article 25 of the convention you could not help us."

He continued: "There is absolutely nothing preventing the Irish Government from doing this and I ask that you do this as soon as possible."

The six men were released in 1991 - they had spent 16 and half years in prison for something they did not do.

US President Seeks Taoiseach’s Help

In April 1989 the US President wrote to the Taoiseach seeking his help in the US’s efforts to change Russian policy towards Central America.

George Bush told Charlie Haughey that a move by the US and Cuba to "shut off the assistance pipeline feeding armed conflict in the region would pay large dividends in American goodwill."


President Bush asked the Taoiseach to urge the Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev to support diplomatic efforts "by stopping the shipment of weapons to the region."

The Taoiseach met Mr Gorbachev in Shannon in early April 1989. Mr Haughey then wrote back to the US President to tell him that the Russian President had "expressed his hope for the favourable development of his bilateral relations with the US."

Thatcher did not want German Unity

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told Taoiseach Charlie Haughey in the weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall that she did not want German unity.

At a meeting in Strasbourg in December 1989, Ms Thatcher said: "I am sorry for Gorbachev. He doesn’t want German unity. Neither do I."

The British Prime Minister said this was because even as things stood, Germany had a balance of trade surplus with every other country in the European "community."

The Prime Minister’s Private Secretary Charles Powell produced a map at the meeting showing how "vast" Germany had been before World War II.

Margaret Thatcher told Mr Haughey that "all Germans are nationalists" and attitudes were becoming "more and more Germanic."

She said that German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was "like a bulldozer" and his attitude was that "no-one can tell us what to do."

Separately the Taoiseach asked Mrs Thatcher if she knew of talks among paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.

"Yes - they want to carve up their areas of violence," she replied.

Princely Gifts

The Government spent over IR£1,000 on gifts for Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and his team when they visited Ireland in 1989. A copy of the Koran, Waterford Glass and Celtic Weave China were among the items gifted to the Prince. 

Documents from the time also reveal that the government had decided to serve alcohol at the events organised for the prince. However strict instructions were in place not to offer any of the Saudi delegation alcohol. The confidential papers show that precise orders were given on how drinks should be poured for the prince during a State dinner. 

"The wine should be veiled but the colour of the wine should be displayed in case the Saudis mix it up and think it is juice. Ideally the wine should also be decanted – for some odd reason the site of the noble beverage in decanters or jugs is deemed to be less offensive than in the bottle. If we cannot manage that the bottle should be suitably veiled."

Assassination threat

From 1982 but released in the 1989 State Papers, it was revealed that there was an assassination threat made against the then Taoiseach Charlie Haughey and Fine Gael leader Garret FitzGerald.

This emerged after the Secretary to the Government, Dermot Nally, penned a diplomatic yet no less angry letter to the Clerk of the Dáil. Mr Nally was infuriated after he had been asked to leave the Officials Gallery in the Dáil Chamber. The country’s top civil servant was asked to vacate the Chamber during a motion of confidence in the Government.

The Clerk of the Dáil apologetically replied that all ushers working in Leinster House had been given specific security instructions following an assassination threat that day. He added that ushers may "overreact" in times of high security.

Russian Crown Jewels Sale

The Irish government fleetingly thought about selling off Russian Crown Jewels without disclosing where they came from, in a revelation that long predates the events of 1989.

The State Papers reveal that the government was in the 1940s considering selling the jewels without informing the USSR. 

The origins of this saga stretch back to Harry Boland’s trip to the USA to raise awareness of the First Dáil which met in 1919.

There he met with Ludwig Martens, who was a representative of the then fledgling Russian administration.

The Irish agreed to lend the Russians a sum of $20,000 and the collateral for this loan was a number of the Russian Crown Jewels, once the possessions of the Romanov royal family.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Harry Boland gave the jewels to his mother, who is said to have hidden them in the chimney of their home in Clontarf in Dublin from 1922 to 1938.

The jewels were handed over to Éamon de Valera’s Government in 1938 and placed in a Bank of Ireland safe for several years.

The government would in time consider putting the jewels up for public auction.

They were later returned to the Russian government in 1949 after the State loan was repaid without interest.

US Training Rejected

Documents show the government refused a US offer of $50,000 to pay for members of the defence forces to attend military courses in America in 1987. The Department of Foreign Affairs believed the move would require an exchange of notes, and this would amount to an international agreement.

The State Papers also say there was controversy about pay and conditions for members of the Defence Forces at the time. Army officers rejected a pay deal announced by the Government.

The Minister for Defence expressed concern that troops had been canvassed by military officers who were highly critical of the award on offer.

Housing Stock

A report from the National Economic and Social Council in 1989 criticised the government for selling off local authority housing stock. It also lambasted the Fianna Fáil-led government over what it described as a failure to provide protection for tenants in private rented accommodation.

In response the government said it did not accept any of the report’s recommendations, which it viewed as contrary to government policy.

 US Requests Airspace Rule Change

Throughout the period 1988 and 1989 there was concern in the Department of Foreign Affairs about a suggestion from the Taoiseach to ease restrictions on US flights using Irish airspace.

The Department warned the Taoiseach’s Office that any change to current policy would mean that, arms, ammunition and explosives could be carried freely on US planes flying over Ireland.

It stated too that this country would not know whether or not nuclear arms were aboard these planes.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said there were strong arguments against this course.

However, it said the main argument for accepting the US position was that it would make the administration in Washington better disposed in relation to visas for Irish emigrants.

Armed Military on Cross Border Trains

A file from 1979 released today shows that a senior official in the Department of the Taoiseach believed that the idea of having armed military personnel on all cross-border trains should be examined.

The official wrote that this would require  trains to stop at the border to allow the Irish army get off the train, and it would then be boarded by British soldiers.

But the document says that the lives of passengers could be put in danger if military parties exchanged gunfire will illegal organisations attempting to hijack the trains.