Garda concerned IRA weapons would go to criminals, declassified files show

Sir John Chilcot notes Irish government’s ‘fear of the arms stores ...leaking out ... in an uncontrollable way’

 IRA arms cache.  File  Photograph: PA

IRA arms cache. File Photograph: PA

 

Within a month of the IRA declaring its 1994 ceasefire, the Garda and the Irish government were growing increasingly concerned that IRA weaponry might find its way into the hands of organised criminals, files declassified in Belfast show.

A confidential note by the senior Northern Ireland Office (NIO) official Sir John Chilcot of a meeting with the then secretary general at the Department of Justice Timothy Dalton notes the Irish government’s “fear of the arms stores and Provisional activity leaking out even more into ordinary crime in an uncontrollable way”.

During the meeting in London on September 15th 1994, Sir John said he discussed paramilitary disarmament with the senior Irish official.

Dalton suggested “there was a move taking place in the Irish government’s attitude, as they came to realise, on advice from the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, that the historical soft line in terms of previous violent republican campaigns could no longer hold, given the Libyan arms shipments and threat that the holdings of Semtex, heavy weapons etc presented to the Irish state, not least in their leakage into ordinary criminal use”.

Sir John responded by telling Dalton “that this realism will be welcome to us, and that it was very much in our mutual interest to share as much information and intelligence as possible about stocks, and stores of weapons and material, and to take a realistic view of, for example, token offers of surrender, which had no material bearing on the real capabilities of the republican movement”.

During their conversation the two officials discussed the possibility of “a deal between INLA and Republican Sinn Féin whereby the former would endow the latter with the weapons they were certainly seeking”.

Sir John warned Dalton about the “real risk of unguarded remarks from Dublin provoking the loyalists further and cited the Irish Times report of the Taoiseach [Albert Reynolds], talking of the giving up of legislative authority to a north south institution”.

Dalton told Sir John that Gerry Adams “had requested the Irish government for special dispensation in respect of 11 prisoners... Though he emphasised, there was no expectation of immediate or very early release. I was given to understand, then in exchange for this generosity, the Provisional IRA had given undertakings regarding full cooperation within prisons with the regime, an end to attempt to smuggle in arms and other objects, while on the government side, it was likely that minor regime improvements would take place, such as the provision of colour televisions in cells.”

Both senior civil servants agreed that the “need for security cooperation across the border will continue to be very much in the interest of both governments, not only during a transition phase towards what we both hoped will be a permanent peace, but also thereafter, in terms of dealing with organised and potentially heavily armed criminal activity”.

Dalton hinted there might soon be progress under the law and order pillar of the Maastricht treaty, but was not willing to be specific. A British official wrote in hand beside this section of the note the words “Hot Pursuit?” an apparent reference to long term British requests that northern security forces should be allowed to pursue fleeing suspects across the border.