From the Divorce Referendum, to the Army on standby for a teachers' strike and tensions in Irish-Libyan relations, the State Papers offer a behind closed doors view of Ireland in 1986.

Mícheál Lehane, Conor McMorrow, and Edel McAllister of RTÉ's Political Staff, trawled through the confidential documents, which have been kept under lock and key for 30 years until today.

Here is Part Two of 30 things we have learned from 30 years ago. (Read Part One here)


16. Bigamy problem growing

There was concern in government in the lead up to the Divorce Referendum that cases of bigamy were on the rise. Bigamy is the offence of marrying someone while already married to another person.

In meeting with church leaders the Taoiseach spoke about the difficulties in enforcing the law in this area.

Mr FitzGerald said "the problem of second bigamous relationships was growing," especially given the number of marriages annulled by the Catholic Church each year.

However, the Director of Public Prosecutions was adamant he would prosecute bigamy offences but said there were very few cases with enough evidence to do so.

The Catholic Church told the Taoiseach that divorce legislation was entirely inappropriate in relation to bigamy.

Bishops told the Taoiseach that laws on bigamy are to ensure people don't "make a binding valid commitment to one person during the lifetime of another person" to whom they are already married. They argued this was exactly what divorce would allow.


17. Let the journalists eat crumbs…

In April 1986, Ted Smyth at the Irish embassy in London wrote back to the Department of Foreign Affairs with an account of an address by the Attorney General to the Society of Conservative Lawyers.

Mr Smyth noted that he had missed half the meeting because he was obliged to “divert” an Irish Times journalist “who had crashed the meeting even though It was billed as a private event.”

While he says the event was "most worthwhile", Mr Smyth’s letter to Dublin concluded: "PS. In retrospect it may be wise in future to release to the media a short, even one page, extract of a speech at an event which is not open to the media. Otherwise there tends to be speculation about secret talks and conspiracies and journalists feel obliged to harass all concerned; whereas if they are thrown a crumb of comfort they and their editors will retire for a drink, satisfied that the public’s right to know has been vindicated."


18. Divorce 1986 - the rocky road ahead

The Fine Gael-Labour Coalition agreed to a hold a divorce referendum in April 1986, but behind the scenes, civil servants were warning them it would not be a smooth journey.

In late 1985 the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Marriage Breakdown recommended that a referendum on divorce be held, and acknowledged that the "problems of marriage breakdown have not been adequately dealt with by the Oireachtas" in the past.

But the committee also stated that "a situation of divorce on demand would not be appropriate in this country or acceptable to the people".

Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald announced the government’s plan to hold a referendum on removing the constitutional ban on divorce in April.

A few weeks later, senior officials in the Department of Social Welfare were busy preparing an outline of the implications of the referendum.

A memo dated 14 May 1986, from Michael Buckley - then assistant secretary general at the department - warned that "quite extensive, possibly expensive, and certainly contentions changes would need to be made to the social welfare system in the context of the enactment of divorce legislation".

He warned that it would be a "mistake to go into any details on the subject during the referendum campaign as the issues are very emotive and a complete and immediate solution which would involve no cut-back in any existing entitlements would be very expensive".

If divorce were enacted, Mr Buckley said that would mean the end the Deserted Wives Scheme, which was the sole response in the social welfare system to marriage breakdown and predicted the enactment of divorce would create two new groups potentially in financial need: separated spouses and widows.

Mr Buckley advised the government that it should “simply make a commitment to make any changes which are necessary in to meet the financial need in an equitable manner in the post-divorce situation”.

The referendum took place on 26 June 1986 and was rejected with 63% voting no. Fine Gael TD Alice Glenn famously campaigned against it, with her leaflets warning that 'women voting for divorce was like Turkey’s voting for Christmas'.

It would be almost another decade before another referendum would take place in 1995, which ultimately passed by a slim majority.


19. Garda and RUC checkpoints rejected

A proposal to have joint RUC and garda vehicle checkpoints along the border was rejected. The plan was proposed by the RUC but the gardaí did not accept the need for it. They promised to keep it under review.

These discussions came against the backdrop of repeated calls on the gardaí to hand over terrorist suspects to be questioned by the RUC.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tom King argued that gardaí did not have a background in "skillful cross examination."

However Justice Minister Alan Dukes said the government was "at the limit of what some call repressive legislation."

In philosophical terms he said "even in relation to the most abhorrent of crimes the Irish mind is on the liberal side in regard to the treatment of the suspected person; this does not apply to the British mind."


20. 50/50 chance of Birmingham Six release

A Foreign Affairs briefing note said the Government could not hold out any great prospects of success in the Annie Maguire case.

It stated that prospects were a little better in case of the Birmingham Six but these were still not much more than 50/50.

In June the Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Barry told the British Home Secretary Douglas Hurd that his own doubts and misgivings about the convictions in all three case were strengthening.

Mr Barry expressed regret that the Home Secretary had not yet found sufficient grounds to refer the cases to the court of appeal.

The Foreign Affairs Minister also told the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six and Maguire cases were making it difficult to get extradition legislation though the Dáil.

However, in November the British Embassy confidentially called the Department of the Taoiseach to say the legislation and the cases should not be publicly linked.

This followed an earlier conversation between the Taoiseach and the British Ambassador where Mr FitzGerald had spoken about creating a "congenial climate" for the introduction of the Bill in the Dáil.


21. US pilgrims not welcome at Knock Airport

The Connaught Regional Airport or Knock Airport officially opened in 1986.

Papers released today show how the government refused an application from a US charter operator to fly direct from the airport in Mayo to the United States without making a stop in Shannon.

Blue Army/Skystar International applied to the Department of Communications to transport 5,000 pilgrims to two pilgrimage centres in Europe before visiting Knock as the last leg of the route to the US.

The charter service was to operate every four days from June to September 1987.

The US company said that if they were forced to make a stopover at Shannon airport they would exclude Knock from their itinerary.

Cabinet papers from the time show how Shannon was "Ireland’s sole transatlantic gateway" and argued against any change of the then 40-year-old "Shannon stopover" arrangement.

A December 1986 Cabinet memo details reasons why the Knock proposal should be opposed, such as a change calling into question the government’s commitment to Shannon.

"It would give the US a reason to seek a relaxation of overall policy on the Shannon stop."

It continued: "The basis for large scale investment in facilities by Aer Rianta and the concerted marketing effort by State agencies in the Shannon region would be undermined.

"A concession to Connaught would be seen as a lessening of the State’s commitment to the Mid-West region and undoubtedly lead to uproar in the Shannon area."

There were also concerns that a concession to Knock, would give rise to similar concessions for Cork and Dublin airport.

So the government decided to reject the US charter company’s proposal as it was "not of sufficient importance to justify a change in policy on the status of Shannon with the downside risks involved."


22. Paisley was "six different people"

A December 1986 letter from the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin gave an account of a dinner hosted in the secretariat with the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Maurice Hayes and his Under Secretary Alan Elliott.

The briefing letter noted that during a discussion on a recent biography of Ian Paisley, they saw Mr Paisley as "schizophrenic" and "Hayes said he consisted of six different people – two human and warm, two evil and two in between."

"They saw no obvious successor, given his base in both the DUP and the Free Presbyterian Church, but were in no doubt that the particular circumstances of Northern fundamentalism and Loyalism would throw up others with similar views. They did not expect that his achievements will disappear when he finally goes."


23. Government considers student loans system

Amidst the crippling national debt, in 1986 two government departments were considering the options of getting private banks to provide student loans - so that students themselves could shoulder a higher portion of their fees.

In a memo prepared for government, the Department of Education and the Department of Finance noted that the National Planning Board had proposed that students should pay 25% towards the cost of third level education, which was costing the Exchequer £143m.

"Taking the present state expenditure as £2,900 per student per annum and the average of present fees as £630 per annum, the proposal would mean an increase in fees of £730 to £1,360."

The Central Bank has serious reservations, noting the banks would be likely to seek state guarantees for payments.

A decade later in 1996, third level fees were abolished.


24. Who should foot the GUBU flight bill?

Among the material that is more than 30 years old, released today are documents relating to the 'GUBU' affair in 1982 when double-murderer Malcolm MacArthur was seized in a Dublin house owned by Attorney General Patrick Connolly.

The Attorney General went on holiday to the United States but as the controversy escalated he was requested by Taoiseach Charles Haughey to return to Ireland.

He tendered his resignation to the Taoiseach on 17 August 1982.

Correspondence from Matthew Russell in the Office of the Attorney General, to the Department of Finance released today, states that "Mr Connolly’s return from New York was at the specific request of the Taoiseach who also considers that, therefore, that the costs involved should be borne from public funds." 

The flight home for the Attorney General, in the hours before he resigned in the middle of the 'Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented' (GUBU) affair, cost $1,906 or IR£1,377.18.


25. Air India disaster anniversary

On 23 June 1985 an Air India Boeing 747 crashed off the southwest coast Ireland when a bomb exploded on board.

All 329 passengers and crew on board were killed in one of the worst aviation disasters in history.

The flight was en route from Toronto to London with a stopover in Montreal.

The majority of the passengers were Canadian citizens of Indian descent, intending to catch a connecting flight to India.

Ahead of the first anniversary of the tragedy, a group representing the families of 200 victims of the tragedy whose bodies were not recovered in Canada wrote a heartfelt letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The families recognised that it was unrealistic to expect to retrieve their loved ones’ bodies.

"But we could at least go to the crash site in a ferry boat to feel close to our loved ones for one last time. This will allow us to remember them in that vicinity where they took their last breaths thinking of us and desperately longing for our help."

The letter said that the crash site is a place of pilgrimage for them. They requested the government to arrange a trip by ferry boat in June 1986 when they were in Ireland for the unveiling of a memorial on the anniversary of the disaster.

Correspondence from Dublin back to the families explained that as the crash site was some 300km off the southwest coast, Irish Navy vessels would not have the capability to bring the victims’ families to the crash site.


26. Army on standby for teachers’ strike

New details of a Cabinet meeting held in May 1986, show how the government approved the use of army personnel as superintendents for practical tests in woodwork and engineering in the Leaving and Inter certificate exams.

The plan was approved amidst fears of a teachers' strike.

The government also approved the use of army lorries to transport exam papers in the event of employees of the Printing Union in Dublin refusing to pass a picket "which might be mounted by the Teacher Unions outside the department’s exam centre in Athlone."

Minister for Education Patrick Cooney had sought the measures "in the event of the teachers’ dispute not being resolved by early June."

The teachers unions were in dispute with the government over pay and the retrospective payment of an ‘arbitrator’s award’.


27. Did Nazi ‘Angel of Death’ Josef Mengele hide in Ireland?

Among the State Papers is a file about convicted Nazi war criminal Pieter Menten. Mr Menten was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in July 1980, by a Dutch court.

He was found guilty of participating in the 1941 killing of between 20 and 30 Poles and Jews. The 85-year-old millionaire art collector owned a country house in Waterford.

There was much protest from TDs and Jewish groups when it emerged that he planned to return there upon his release from prison in 1985.

Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, declared Mr Menten an “undesirable alien” (under the Aliens of Act 1935) and prohibited him from entering the country.

Documents released today, show that there was also concerns about reports that Dr Josef Mengele may have hid in Ireland under an assumed name after World War II.

Dr Mengele, was an SS officer and physician in Auschwitz concentration camp. Known as the ‘Angel of Death’, he was infamous for his inhumane medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners.

In June 1985, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Jewish human rights Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles wrote to the Irish Ambassador to the US, Tadhg O’Sullivan, asking if the Irish authorities could confirm reports that Dr Mengele may have spent time in Ireland after under an assumed name.

The Rabbi’s letter contained ten aliases that Dr Mengele is known to have used.

Correspondence from both the Department of Justice and Department of Foreign Affairs some months later show that after running checks on the various aliases they could not find any records to match the names. So, as far as the Irish authorities were aware, Mengele had not spent time in Ireland.


28. Fine Gael/Labour Coalition tensions over 1986 Budget

An exchange of letters between Fine Gael Finance Minister Alan Dukes and Labour Social Welfare Minister Barry Desmond in late 1985 show the simmering tensions between the coalition over severe budget restraints.

In November 1985 after the government had agreed to a Christmas bonus for long term welfare recipients, Dukes wrote to Desmond asking him to specify how he planned to pay for it within his department's budget.

"Perhaps you would let me have a costing for such a bonus in 1986 and 1987 for incorporation in your department’s estimates for those years which are currently before the government?."

Desmond wrote back to tell him he was wasting his time expecting him to reduce social welfare spending anywhere else.

"Since 1980 special provision has been made for the Christmas bonus and I cannot accept that expenditure on other services should now be reduced to accommodate the bonus in future years," he told Dukes in a terse letter.

"You are well aware of my views on the question of producing a list of contingency options. This would be a wasteful exercise and I see no point in indulging in it."

A few days later, Dukes wrote to Desmond to warn him that his stance on the Christmas bonus "poses a particular problem" given the "unsustainable level of expenditure next year".

Nine weeks later, in January 1986, the Labour Fine Gael government collapsed amid disagreement over budget proposals.


29. Tensions in Irish-Libyan relations

In July 1986 the Government decided there should be no renewal of training programmes in Ireland for Libyan students.

A secret memo said this measure was a response to the Libyan government's support for the Provisional IRA.

It said the Government was anxious to avoid any action that could misrepresent the country's relationship with Libya.


30. Nationalists becoming impatient

Despite the momentous achievement of the Ango-Irish Agreement, efforts to secure peace in Northern Ireland continued to dominate 1986, with senior civil servants warning that "nationalists were becoming impatient".

The personalities involved in high level secret meetings between British and Ireland’s most senior civil servants that played a vital role in delivering the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 continued their efforts to deliver peace in Northern Ireland.

The Nally-Armstrong talks were led on the Irish side by the government secretary Dermot Nally, and Michael Lillis, who headed the Anglo-Irish division in the Department of Foreign Affairs and on the British side by Sir Robert Armstrong and his deputy David Goodall.

A memo prepared for government by Nally in the run-up to a meeting of Margaret Thatcher and Garett FitzGerald at a European Council Summit in June stressed the need to build on the momentum.

"We should impress on the British side that while the Agreement has had a positive 'catalytic' effect on unionist attitudes it is in the interest of both governments that the conference should between to show results," Nally stated.

He warned that nationalist are becoming impatient - "Sinn Féin are stressing the non-delivery of the Conference".

On the other side, he warned that unionists were "slipping into the attitude that if they can continue pressure they can exercise a veto on the Conference".

He reminded the government of the need to secure reforms in areas such as diplock courts; judicial power sharing and more Catholic judges.

Nally also stressed the need for progress in relations between the security forces. He warns that key questions in the coming months would include "the effectiveness of the RUC in protecting Catholics from sectarian attacks."

The Nally-Armstrong talks became one of the most effective diplomatic relationships, managing to help deliver the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, just a year after the frostiness that followed Thatcher’s famous "out, out, out" speech of 1984, in which she dismisses all the various solutions suggested by the New Ireland Forum.