A purported MI5 plot to get the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) to kill Taoiseach Charles Haughey was treated with the upmost seriousness in Government Buildings, according to the 1987 State papers released today by the National Archives.
The threat came in the year of the Enniskillen bombing when an angry British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher believed the only thing the Anglo-Irish Agreement had brought her was "criticism and bad blood with the Unionists."
Mrs Thatcher feared the IRA would kill a British royal, while the Bishop of Derry believed Martin McGuinness personally arranged a meeting with an IRA informer who was shot dead in 1986.
The state of the public finances was so meagre that Mr Haughey admitted "we are right up against the wall."
A prominent businessman was scathing of Aer Lingus sponsoring a Phil Coulter tour in the US. And a proposal to repair Soviet navy vessels in Arklow caused unease in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Mícheál Lehane, Conor McMorrow and Edel McAllister of RTÉ's Political Staff, trawled through the confidential State Papers, which have been kept under lock and key for 30 years until today.
1. UVF claim Haughey execution approach
"In 1985 we were approached by a MI5 officer...he asked us to execute you," so read a letter purportedly penned by the UVF and sent to the Taoiseach Charlie Haughey in August 1987.
After 30 years it has been released in the State Papers published today.
The correspondence signed by Capt W.Johnston makes the sensational claim that the UVF had been supplied with details of Mr Haughey’s cars, his trips to Farranfore airport in Kerry, his private yacht, the Celtic Mist, plus aerial photographs of both his homes in Kinsealy in north Dublin and Inishvickillane off the Kerry coast.
Charlie Haughey’s son Seán has revealed that his family was aware of a threat from the UVF around this time and it was taken seriously.
So much so that army naval divers were even deployed to Dingle to inspect the Celtic Mist and ensure a bomb was not placed beneath the famous yacht.
The letter states too that the UVF were asked to accept responsibility if Mr Haughey was killed but they refused saying: "We have no love for you but we are not going to carry out work for the Dirty Tricks Department of the British."
Explaining the ‘dirty tricks" reference the letter writer alleges that the UVF killed 17 men based on information supplied by British intelligence agencies between 1972 and 1985.
"MI5 were double crossing us all the time we were working with them. We executed some of our best men believing them to be traitors. Jim Hanna was killed as a result of information given to us by MI5. Hanna was totally innocent and we killed one of our best volunteers."
The letter says that MI5 also supplied the UVF with detonators "which they had set to explode prematurely," as happened during the attack on the Miami Showband near Banbridge in 1975.
In a long list of dramatic allegations about British intelligence agencies the letter also says that these agencies will supply foot-and-mouth disease or swine fever to anyone who would release it in the Republic of Ireland.
"They plan by doing so to destroy Éire’s economy and to make the Éire Government increase border security."
2. Aer Lingus told watch its ‘Penneys’ over Phil Coulter tour
In January 1987, Arthur Ryan, the chairman and managing director of Penneys Stores penned a strongly-worded letter to then Minister for Finance John Bruton.
The clothing store owner was on an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to London when he read in the Cara in-flight magazine that the airline was sponsoring Phil Coulter and his orchestra to embark on a three-month tour of America.
Mr Ryan said: "Surely someone like me travelling to London at least once a week would be a lot better off getting £5 off their London ticket, rather than subsidising a three-month tour of an unknown orchestra, for one night stands around the US."
He argued that the only long-term benefits "are for the individual concerned and not Aer Lingus." and asked, "What can you gain from doing one night stands in the US? It is like a midge flying into a hurricane."
He added: "We are definitely as a result of this, looking at Ryanair and diverting as much of our business as possible to them."
On 30 January 1987, Minister Bruton wrote a spiky reply letter to Mr Ryan. He pointed out that "advertising and promotion campaigns are a matter of individual taste, as is Phil Coulter’s music. You, obviously are more attracted by the lean, no-nonsense (and no breakfast) corporate image of Ryanair than Aer Lingus’ self-image as patron of the arts."
With a nod to the forthcoming election, Minister Bruton noted that Fine Gael was campaigning on a policy of introducing private capital in State companies such as Aer Lingus.
He said: "If we get an opportunity to put our policies into practice, there may be less largesse for the travelling bard but a better deal for the travelling businessman."
3. Martin McGuinness left to do 'the dirty work' on his own
The Bishop of Derry told a senior official at the Department of Foreign Affairs that Martin McGuinness personally arranged a meeting with an IRA informer who was shot dead in 1986.
Frank Hegarty, a prominent IRA member turned informer, was shot in the back of the head after being promised safe passage home.
Bishop Edward Daly told the official that in 1986 Martin McGuinness was Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA, at least for the North-West if not for the entire North.
In a detailed note compiled by the official it states: "The Bishop understands that, far from using a henchman (as he would ordinarily do) McGuinness personally arranged the rendezvous with Hegarty from which the latter did not return."
The file released today also says that McGuinness had persuaded Hegarty to return from Britain and had assured his family that no harm would come to him.
Bishop Daly said "McGuinness would usually try to keep his own hands clean in an affair of this sort but with the number of Provo volunteers reduced.....McGuinness was left in a position for several months last year in which he had to do much of the dirty work on his own."
The former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland who died earlier this year always insisted that he had "absolutely no role" in the death of Frank Hegarty.
Speaking about the murder in 2015 he said: "It was my duty as a public representative to assist the family. I did this to the best of my ability but there was little I could do."
4. Haughey-Thatcher relations strain
Accounts of meetings between Taoiseach Charles Haughey and his British counterpart Margaret Thatcher in June and December show relations between the two leaders became strained by the end of 1987.
Mr Haughey was elected Taoiseach in March and met the British Prime Minister in Brussels in June.
Mrs Thatcher described the situation in Northern Ireland as "terrible". She indicated her intention to forge ahead with implementing the Anglo-Irish Agreement but at the same time she "cannot stress enough how disaffected the unionists are."
She did not expect unionists to be so disaffected when the agreement was signed two years previously and "it is not logic but emotion that governs their actions."
The Taoiseach attempted to reassure Mrs Thatcher and told her that she was the first Prime Minister who indicated to unionists that there must be progress. He said, "You have stood firm and that is an historic contribution to Anglo-Irish relations. You must not forget."
But the Prime Minister believed as a result of the agreement "the minority community would not harbor the IRA. But the security situation has got worse. It is all very worrying."
The Taoiseach agreed and suggested that when things settle down the two leaders should look at ways of making progress and ways to "placate the unionists."
When Mrs Thatcher said "the Republic has problems economically", Mr Haughey admitted there was serious problems with the public finances and "we are right up against the wall."
Later when the Prime Minister pressed the Taoiseach to commit more money to cross-border security he joked, "If you would lend us £2 billion or so!"
Throughout 1987 Mr Haughey came under intense pressure to amend the Extradition Act to remove a long-standing defence where suspects could plead that an act of violence in Northern Ireland or Britain was a political offence.
Dozens of letters from Fianna Fáil cumainn around the country were sent to the Taoiseach in October and November urging him not to allow the legislation to proceed.
8 November 1987 witnessed one of the darkest days of the Troubles when 11 people were killed and 63 were injured in the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen.
Less than a month after the bomb, the Taoiseach and Prime Minister met at the fringes of a European Council meeting in Copenhagen where there were tetchy exchanges.
Mrs Thatcher said she was "extremely upset by your moves on extradition. They are a step backwards. We have been working for 20 years and here now I find that it is changed without consultation."
Such was her frustration with the Irish legal system that she said that her Attorney General Patrick Mayhew "says cases have been thrown out by the Irish courts for all sorts of frivolous reasons. One case was thrown out because documents were not stapled together."
Mrs Thatcher added: "I am very angry about this. My feelings go deeper than anger. He [Mayhew] tells me there may never be another extradition case again. I know from what you told me that you have extreme difficulties with your people, but where are they living? They are going back to the black and tans - or is it 400 years ago?"
The Prime Minister then said: "I did not have to sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I could have got by without it. The only thing it has brought me is criticism and bad blood with the Unionists." She thought the agreement would calm unionist fears but this had not happened.
She was angry at the "level of Provo support which can provide safe houses. What is going to happen now is that we will not get extradition...the whole thing has suddenly collapsed."
Later the Taoiseach says that: "I am certain that we can make the new extradition arrangements work."
5. Unease over Soviet Navy repairs in Arklow
The prospect of an enterprising Arklow engineering company accepting a contract to service auxiliary vessels of the Soviet navy had officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs feeling very uneasy in 1987.
Members of Arklow Engineering were due to fly to Moscow to meet the Russian Ministry of Merchant Marine through the Irish embassy in Moscow and wanted to know if there "would be any problem in allowing such ships into Irish dockyards".
Although Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev was in the throes of introducing a new era of openness and transparency with Perestroika and Glasnost, officials back in Iveagh House feared the arrival of the Russians could be more trouble than it was worth.
An assessment of the proposal from one official expressed "the strongest reservations" about sanctioning repairs in an Irish dockyard of what were described as "support vessels to the Soviet Navy".
The official warned that the North Atlantic was a "highly sensitive area of naval operations" and it should be turned down on the basis of our neutrality.
The officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs also appeared perplexed at the offer of business from Moscow. "It is difficult to gauge the intent of the Soviet proposal. They have gone out of their way to emphasise to us that they are enquiring about support vessels for their navy. My best guess accordingly is that it is a probe designed to establish our attitude," one official mused.
"Our acceding to the Soviet proposal would be a significant departure for this country and would not work in our interest" was the conclusion of officials.
6. Border incursion to Mullingar and Paisley arms claim
Back in the days of the hard border, controversy over security force incursions across the border regularly erupted.
In December 1987, the Department of Foreign Affairs contacted the British authorities to ask them about reports of a British Army incursion south of the border.
The British authorities responded that they were "greatly embarrassed" by the incident involving a pilot who had just arrived in the North.
Before being sent on a surveillance exercise in a beaver aircraft, the pilot asked his commanding officer if he was "cleared for the border".
The superior officer responded that the pilot was cleared, meaning that the aircraft was cleared to fly within 2km of the border.
The British side said that the pilot in question thought border clearance meant that he could fly over the border.
The pilot "honestly thought he had permission to fly anywhere in the republic". He was since "firmly disabused" of this notion.
The pilot flew as far as Mullingar, an incursion 40 miles south of the border.
The Irish authorities questioned the nature of briefing given to pilots before they came to Ireland and "questioning how the pilot, even if he had totally misunderstood the clearance received from his superior officer could possibly have thought that his surveillance task should involve flying over counties Louth, Meath and Westmeath?"
The Department of Foreign Affairs telex released today concludes: "I expressed incredulity that any British Army pilot could possibly think that he was free to fly at will in our airspace. The British side repeated their embarrassment at the whole affair and indicated that the pilot in question had been spoken to in very strong terms."
Although the majority of the papers released today are from 1987, some older documents have also been made public for the first time.
Among them a letter dated 14 June 1985 from Noel Dorr, the Irish Ambassador in London, to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, where he stated that the Israeli ambassador mentioned to him "Rev Ian Paisley had been in touch with him 'to obtain arms'. I expressed surprise at this since I thought it unlikely that Paisley would leave himself open on something like this. The ambassador said the request related to 'border protection'. I said I presumed that the emphasis was on surveillance equipment rather than on arms..."
During the 1980s, Unionist politicians were among those to criticise the Irish government's policing of the border.
The letter continued: "I would assume that what happened is that Paisley may have written to the Ambassador to seek a meeting in regard to 'border protection'. The ambassador possibly interpreted this general phrase as referring to weapons rather than technology."
Ian Paisley Junior has issued a statement dismissing the claims made in the letter as "absolute and total nonsense".
7. State rejects proposal to buy Lissadell House
The State could have acquired Lissadell House in 1987 for IR£80,000, according to a briefing note prepared by the Office of Public Works for the Department of Finance.
The historic home of the Gore-Booth family in Sligo, which W.B Yeats immortalised in his poetry, was eventually bought in 2003 by barristers Eddie and Constance Cassidy for €3m.
However, a protracted court battle over rights of way at the estate left Sligo County Council with a legal bill in excess of €5m.
According to documents revealed in the State papers, an OPW official told the Department in July 1987 that "the House, excluding the estate lands, could be acquired for IR£80,000, however the refurbishment of the House after years of minimal maintenance would cost at least IR£1m and possibly double that amount".
The Regional Tourism Manager Dan O’Neill had written to then Finance Minister and Sligo TD Ray MacSharry in April 1987 with proposals to develop the property as a tourist attraction, telling him the county needed "a major tourist attraction".
However, the briefing note from the OPW to the minister in July that year concluded that even with the assistance of European development funds, "it is considered that the net cost to the State is still unacceptable and in the current economic climate acquisition cannot be recommended".
Also in the file is a letter from estate agents Hamilton and Hamilton who were then acting for the Gore-Booth family which put the asking price for the house and estate at IR£500,000.
The letter advised that Josslyn Gore-Booth would not consider a figure less than IR£400,000 and warned that unless "such a figure is possible, there is no point in prolonging negotiations".
It also said the Gore-Booths wanted to have a permanent right of residence in a small part of the house.
While Josslyn Gore-Booth was in favour of Lisadell being developed as a tourist attraction, the letter warned that "he would not be willing to see the property turned into a ‘hurdy-gurdy’ resort".
8. RUC chief critical of gardaí’s IRA intelligence
In a secret briefing to Irish officials at the Anglo Irish Secretariat in Belfast on 16 April, the Chief Constable of the RUC conveyed his disappointment at the gardaí's failure to gather intelligence on IRA activities.
Over dinner in Belfast, Sir John Hermon said that while relations between the two security forces had greatly improved since the Anglo-Irish Agreement, there was still "no worthwhile pre-emptive intelligence coming over" and that the traffic of information was "mainly one way".
Officials noted that Sir John was not optimistic that this would substantially improve until the gardaí became more adept at surveillance.
He told them that the RUC had the necessary experience and were willing to help the garda and to train personnel. "He could not see why this offer could not be availed of," the officials noted.
Meanwhile, in a private letter to Margaret Thatcher, Taoiseach Charles Haughey wrote to say he was ‘deeply shocked' at the murder of Lord Justice and Mrs Gibson on the morning of Saturday 27 April 1987.
Although a public statement was issued on behalf of the Taoiseach, the letter to Mrs Thatcher was not released to the press. "I extend to you on behalf of the Irish government sincerest sympathy".
"I want to assure you that the security forces will cooperate in every way possible to see that the perpetrators of all such acts of violence are brought to justice and that terror and violence in the island of Ireland will be brought to an end," the letter read.
9. Proposal to treat injured Iranian soldiers in Mater hospital
The Iran-Iraq War lasted from September 1980 to August 1988, after Iraq invaded Iran.
In July 1987 a proposal for a number of "Iranian war-wounded" to receive medical attention in Ireland came to the attention of the Government.
For some time Iran had been sending people injured in the war for treatment in private hospitals in London.
But in 1987 Edward Chaplin, the of head of the Middle East department of the UK’s Foreign Office, was detained and assaulted by a branch of the Iranian Army.
This led to the deterioration in UK-Iranian relations and the Iranians looked at alternative hospitals for treating injured soldiers.
Documents from the political division in the Department of Foreign Affairs show that Dr Bryan Alton at the Mater Private Hospital said the hospital was disposed to treating patients for eye injuries.
"All the wounded would be members of the Iranian armed forces. They would come to Dublin under their name and army identification number and would not be accompanied by any relatives. Apart from the wounded, one Iranian would reside at the clinic and act as an interpreter," according to the briefing note.
The note written by Patrick O’Connor in the political division at Department of Foreign Affairs, concluded:
"The question arises as to whether there might be political difficulties in accepting members of the Iranian armed forces for medical treatment. What view would Iraq take? My preliminary view would be that, on the basis of the information available, acceptance of the proposal would be quite defensible on humanitarian grounds."
A report from the Irish embassy in Tehran was sought before a decision was made on accepting the soldiers.
The documents do not indicate if any of Iran’s "war wounded" was treated at the Mater Private Hospital.
10. Garret FitzGerald’s final letter as Taoiseach to Margaret Thatcher
Garret FitzGerald was Taoiseach from December 1982 until 10 March 1987.
His party lost 19 of its 69 Dáil seats in the general election on 17 February. This paved the way for Charles Haughey to lead a Fianna Fáil minority government.
On 22 February, a few days after the election, Dr FitzGerald penned what was most likely his final letter as Taoiseach to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
He said: "I regret that because of events here we shall not be able together to carry forward the great work that we initiated, which has opened up a totally new, and I would hope, irreversible phase in Anglo-Irish relations, and has provided the groundwork for the achievement of peace and stability in Northern Ireland."
He added that he regretted it "all the more because I can detect the first stirrings of movement in the North amongst the bewildered and unhappy unionist community who have naturally found it hard to face long-postponed realities. And on the nationalist side there is not only solid support for the Agreement amongst the vast majority, but signs also, I think, that some in the IRA are beginning to face the realisation that their effort to achieve change by violence is now doomed."
He predicted that several years would elapse before the signs of the Anglo-Irish Agreement’s intended effects "bear their full fruits. But I am more than ever convinced now as I leave office that in the action we took together, aided by our ministers and by some extraordinary able and dedicated civil servants, our instinct, yours and mine, was right, and our judgement sound."
He concluded with two points made "on a purely personal note." Firstly he said, "It is not for me to comment on the domestic politics of Britain, but I think I am entitled to say that for Ireland’s sake I hope you are returned to power."
"The other is that I very much hope our paths will cross again." He said that he believed their relationship had been "extraordinarily fruitful for both of our countries, and our encounters have always been stimulating – whether calm, as they usually were, or heated, as they sometimes momentarily became!"
11. Mystery of the missing cross
Senior staff at the National Museum in Dublin were surprised to hear a Medieval Irish cross that went missing during an excavation in Ireland was offered to a museum in California for $1.75m.
The cross in question was the Tully Lough Cross, which was recovered from a lake in Roscommon, and is now on display in the National Museum in Dublin. It has been in the possession of the museum since 1990.
The J.Paul Getty Trust in Malibu wrote to the museum in February 1987 to tell them that an individual had written to them offering a bronze-mounted early Medieval Irish cross.
Dr Michael Ryan, then Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the museum wrote back to trust thanking them for alerting them to the offer.
He told them the cross in question had been "illicitly excavated from an Irish site... and represents part of a pattern of plundering of our heritage which is currently the subject of a top-level investigation".
Dr Ryan sought more information on the offer and the Trust replied with a copy of the letter from a lady in Massachusetts who explained she was "acting on behalf of two friends" who acquired the cross which she said was the "only one of its kind known of this period", the next closest one being the 12th century Cross of Cong.
"As regards the price wanted for the artefact, we feel a modest request would be 1.75 million dollars," the letter to the J. Paul Getty Trust read, adding that she wanted this to be "kept in the utmost confidence".
The cross was described by the writer as being an "eighth maybe ninth century Processional Cross" "made of bronze panels, no two being the same...with some of the panels showing traces of gold building with amber stones".
Dr Ryan told the trust that other American museums had also been approached in January of that year.
12. Margaret Thatcher feared IRA assassination of British royal
By 18 June 1987, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher swept to her third UK general election victory. A briefing document on the post-election situation was prepared by the Irish Embassy in London for the Department of Foreign Affairs a week later.
It states that even though Mrs Thatcher "could stay on as Prime Minister to attempt a fourth term in 1991/’92 when she would still only be 65 years of age."
It also warned that there is "a small but growing trickle" of dissatisfaction on the Tory backbenches at the lack of progress as they see it under the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.
"This relates in a very simple way to the average MP’s lack of real understanding" of Northern Ireland and their "naive assumption" that supporting the bill was "somehow a panacea" and the "Northern Ireland problem would somehow just go away."
The assessment of the post-election political climate noted that, "The Northern Ireland problem is by no means a priority for the third Thatcher Administration...But the continued operational success of the IRA and the fear of an assassination of Royalty or a Cabinet Secretary remain a source of great concern for the Prime Minister."
13. Birmingham Six given "false hope" with "false promises" by Dublin
The State Papers from throughout the 1980s show the depth of the campaigns to have the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four released.
Among the documents released today is a handwritten letter from Paddy Hill.
He was one of the six falsely sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 for the Birmingham pub bombings the previous November which killed 21 people and injured over 180 others.
Writing from his cell in Gartree Prison in Harborough on 10 September 1987, Mr Hill penned a letter to Fianna Fáil Senator Paschal Mooney.
In the letter he said "the attitude of Senators Ross and Murphy [Independent senators Shane Ross and John A Murphy] astounded me. Can they really be that naive to believe that Irish men and women will get justice in this country? The British system doesn’t know how to spell the word justice, never mind dispensing it."
A clearly angry and frustrated Mr Hill said that he would not be meeting representatives of an all-party delegation when they visited adding: "I won’t be seeing any representatives of any Irish party. As far as I am concerned they are all a load of shit."
He expressed anger that Irish public representatives came to visit him in Long Lartin prison and "they still haven’t had the courage to publicly declare that we are innocent and that we were tortured and framed for something we know nothing about."
He accused successive Irish governments of giving the Birmingham Six "false hope" and "false promises".
He concluded: "We got here without the help of the Irish government and we will prove our innocence without their help."
After receiving the letter, Senator Mooney wrote to Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Lenihan stating the contents of Mr Hill’s letter are both "disturbing and depressing".
He indicated that he asked the Government to make a public statement declaring its belief in the innocence of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven.
The Tánaiste responded to Senator Mooney on 9 October 1987, regretting that Mr Hill felt the Government has not supported his case.
He said that it is preferable for the Government’s views to be conveyed privately to the British government.
He added that as Mr Hill’s case is pending before the Court of Appeal "it would not be appropriate for the government to comment publicly on it."
Other letters released today show the Tánaiste was in regular contact with UK Home Secretary Douglas Hurd about the case.
14. Phone-tapping compensation
In December 1982, it emerged that the telephones of journalists Bruce Arnold of the Irish Independent and Geraldine Kennedy of the Sunday Tribune were being tapped with officially signed warrants signed by the Minister for Justice, Seán Doherty.
The scandal would eventually lead to the resignation of Taoiseach Charlie Haughey a decade later.
After a protracted legal battle, the compensation case taken by Ms Kennedy, Mr Arnold and his wife Mavis Arnold against the State for having their phones tapped came to a head.
Files released today show correspondence from the Attorney General, the Chief State Solicitor and barristers for Ms Kennedy and the Arnolds.
The journalists were awarded £20,000 in compensation after successfully suing the State.
There was some consideration given to appealing that decision to the Supreme Court.
But a document signed by the Attorney General John Rogers on 9 February 1987 advised against such an appeal.
He stated an appeal would allow the Supreme Court to elaborate further on law of privacy under the constitution and this "could be very unhelpful to the State."
On the £20,000 compensation paid to each of the journalists, the Attorney General said "it may be arguable" that the amount was "excessive."
But he added: "The State should not appeal unless it is likely to succeed in having the award reduced. I think this is unlikely and that we should not appeal."
15. The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven campaigns
In March 1987 an ITV programme gave momentum to the case of the Guildford Four, who by then had served 12 years in prison for the pub bombings in 1974 which had killed five people.
It also prompted then Tánaiste Brian Lenihan Snr to write several times to Home Secretary Douglas Hurd raising the case.
The programme had interviewed a witness who said they had been with one of the convicted, Paul Hill, on the night of the bombing but had not been called to give evidence at the original trial.
Officials recorded that the "Tánaiste called once more for a referral of the case to the Court of Appeal" in April and July.
He received a reply to the effect that a police investigation would be set up to inquire into the statements provided.
The Irish Embassy in London noted that the Hill family was satisfied with the police investigation into the new evidence.
It also recorded the fact that Paul Hill was married in Wormwood Scrubs in November that year.
The Guildford Four were eventually released in 1989 after their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal at the Old Bailey.
The Tánaiste also took up the case of the Maguire Seven, who received sentences of between four and 14 years for possession of explosives following the Guildford bombings.
However, Douglas Hurd wrote to him saying that "unlike the case of the Guildford Four, no fresh matters have been raised with him in this case".
They would eventually have their convictions quashed in 1991.