By David McCullagh, Conor McMorrow and Justin McCarthy
Newly released State Papers from 1994 show that Irish officials became increasingly frustrated by the "bloody-minded" British response to the IRA ceasefire of that year. They repeatedly accused the British of trying to "test the ceasefire to destruction" or – in the more colourful phrase of Seamus Mallon of the SDLP – of "kicking the dog to see if it's alive".
Irish officials at the Anglo-Irish Secretariat at Maryfield outside Belfast repeatedly complained that the British were not doing enough on the security front to respond to the IRA move. The security-force response to the ceasefire was described as "sluggish", "grudging" and "minimalist".
Tensions rose in the days after the ceasefire, when Northern Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew focused on the absence of a commitment that it would be permanent. Declan O'Donovan, the Irish Joint Secretary at Maryfield, said that the Irish hoped he would not continue to do so. "It was important that the note of scepticism should not drown out the note of welcome."
Some weeks later, O'Donovan complained to his British counterpart Martin Williams that there was a growing impression in Dublin "that the bloody-minded element in British thinking is becoming predominant".
His report continues: "Williams responded that the British did not yet see Adams and company as 'reformed characters'. We said the British were not required to like Adams, or to treat him as 'reformed', or even to reopen the apparently cordial dialogue they had pursued a couple of years ago in secrecy. We were asking them to be business-like and sensible…". (The comment about an "apparently cordial dialogue" was a reference to secret talks the British had with Sinn Féin prior to the IRA ceasefire, which they had lied about to Dublin).
'A determinedly cautious response'
The civil service head of the Northern Ireland Office, Sir John Chilcot, defended the speed of the British response, saying that prime minister John Major was "walking on egg shells", because of the danger of a unionist backlash to any concessions to republicans.
The Irish were further outraged by confirmation that the British intended to send the Parachute Regiment to Belfast
He told Declan O'Donovan that "the prime minister would not be deflected from a determinedly cautious response, even if that were to put our two systems at loggerheads and cause a rift with the Clinton administration".
O'Donovan replied that the British seemed to share unionist concerns about nationalists taking the initiative. "There seemed to be a sense on the British side that a green giant was clambering up the beanstalk and that something needed to be done sharpish to slow his progress. Chilcot indicated, smiling, that that about described it…".
The Irish were further outraged by confirmation that the British intended to send the Parachute Regiment to Belfast. The Paras – infamous for their involvement in Bloody Sunday – were not trusted by many nationalists.
Dublin sent a message: "The deployment into West Belfast of an entire battalion of what are effectively front-line assault troops with a particular and officially endorsed reputation for aggression in the circumstances of the ceasefire would be extremely difficult for us to understand."
But the British Ministry of Defence insisted that they were no different to any other regiment, and had been fully trained to carry out operations in Northern Ireland. The Irish files soon became littered with complaints about the Paras – and about how slow the British side were to deal with such complaints. All the while, nationalist resentment was building, raising questions about just how durable the ceasefire would be.
Based on documents now available to view in the National Archives of Ireland.