Government was asked to allow Iranian soldiers to be treated in Dublin

Irish diplomat in Tehran feared how Iranians might react to ‘offensive programme on RTÉ’

Iranian revolutionary guards march during a 2008 ceremony near Tehran to mark the  anniversary of the onset of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988).  Photograph: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

Iranian revolutionary guards march during a 2008 ceremony near Tehran to mark the anniversary of the onset of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). Photograph: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi


The Haughey government was approached in 1987 with a request to sanction the treatment in a Dublin private hospital of members of the Iranian armed forces wounded in the Iran-Iraq war.

Dr Bryan Alton, a consultant at the Mater Hospital who had been Eamon de Valera’s personal doctor, approached officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs to say the hospital’s private clinic was “disposed to take patients in need of treatment for eye injuries”.

The armed conflict lasted from September 1980 until August 1988 after Iraq invaded Iran amid a history of border disputes.

A note from Patrick A O’Connor of the department’s political division on July 6th says he spoke to Dr Alton regarding the proposal that Iranian war-wounded might come to Ireland for treatment at the Mater Private.

For some time, the Iranians had been sending war-wounded to the UK to receive treatment at private hospitals in the London area.

However, because of a deterioration in relations between the UK and Iran after the so-called “Chaplin affair”, the Iranians were now looking for alternative sources of treatment.

Edward Chaplin, a senior British diplomat had earlier that year been kidnapped and beaten by revolutionary guards, following which the British embassy was virtually shut down.

He and four colleagues were expelled 12 days later, shortly after Britain had expelled five Iranian diplomats.

“According to Dr Alton, 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 interpreter,” O’Connor wrote.

The Mater clinic’s contact was a Dr Javdan, who was shortly returning to Tehran from the UK and who planned to visit the Irish embassy to discuss the possibility of treatment for war-wounded here.

The diplomat said his preliminary view was that acceptance of the proposal would be “quite defensible” on humanitarian grounds.

While the records do not show whether such treatment was ever provided to Iranian soldiers here, a note from the Department of Justice in July suggested the proposal should go to the government.

In lengthy and evocative letters from Tehran, the Irish chargé d’affaires Noel Purcell-O’Byrne wrote back to Dublin in June about the expulsion of the British diplomats, including Chaplin.

“Tomorrow night, I shall go out to the airport to see off a Finnish friend, who happens to be travelling on the same Lufthansa flight as the British four who have been expelled. Perhaps at the airport, I shall discover others there to say farewell to the British, but I do not believe that there will be many,” Purcell-O’Byrne wrote.

“It is a pity, because solidarity in one sense is what is needed at the present time amongst the diplomatic corpse (sic).

“I wonder in the event that there was an ‘offensive’ programme on RTÉ, what would happen to my wife and self?”

In May, Purcell-O’Byrne wrote to Joe Hayes in the Department of Foreign Affairs about daily life in Tehran, saying descriptions of the “chaos on the roads and the dismal buildings” was accurate. Queues, he said, were “part of everyday life for the average Iranian”.

Citing a report by the French consul, he said it had failed to mention the necessity for every Iranian always to have his ID book with him, as so many items of daily life could not be obtained without it.

“Ration cards are issued on sight of it, entered in on each occasion they are obtained, for food, petrol etc. A car cannot be registered or sold without it, nor can immovable property. It is one of the leftovers from the Shah’s time that the present regime finds useful to control the population with.”

The Irish diplomat noted that he and his wife had been struck during Ramadan, the traditional fasting period for Muslims, that they had seen many people, businessmen, shopkeepers and workmen eating. This was almost impossible in restaurants, which were closed by the Pasdaran, or Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, but they did it in their own places of work and homes.

“Fear of the Pasdaran and of fundamentalist neighbours seem to be the only check,” Purcell-O’Byrne wrote.

“There are numerous controls in the streets, to ensure that the religious law is observed, that women are fully covered. There have been a number of attacks on women deemed not to have been observing the hijab, by motorbike gangs, one of which was seen by my wife. On that occasion, the gang used chains to impress the women of the wilfulness in disobeying the law.”

In another despatch, Purcell-O’Byrne wrote that since he had come to Iran he had endeavoured to get to know the country and people, “as is the function of a foreign diplomat”.

But he had been told by officials there that he was “wasting my time seeking to get to know people better”.