References to security situation in North deleted from ‘wartime emergency plan’

Taoiseach’s department argued sensitive issues should be dealt with by a cabinet committee

Secretary to the government Dermot Nally wrote  to say it was the view of the taoiseach’s department that because of the ‘highly sensitive nature of the issues involved’, other departments should be consulted on a ‘limited and confidential basis’.  Photograph: Paddy Whelan

Secretary to the government Dermot Nally wrote to say it was the view of the taoiseach’s department that because of the ‘highly sensitive nature of the issues involved’, other departments should be consulted on a ‘limited and confidential basis’. Photograph: Paddy Whelan

 

References in the State’s wartime emergency plan about the security situation in Northern Ireland were deleted at the request of the department of the taoiseach after it argued that this planning should be dealt with confidentially by a cabinet committee.

Records from the taoiseach’s department indicate that while a decision had been taken by the government in 1985 that planning for wartime and peacetime emergencies should be dealt with separately, the wartime emergency plan was still being worked on in early 1987 when the FitzGerald government fell.

The wartime plan was to be the prime responsibility of the minister for defence, possibly through the establishment of an inter-departmental committee.

A draft memorandum for the government from the minister for defence recommended retaining the possible security implications of the Northern Ireland situation, in place since 1972, in the new emergency plan.

These included the possibility that violence in Northern Ireland could necessitate such civil measures in the State as “the reception of refugees on a large scale and medical and hospital treatment of casualties”.

The 1972 emergency plan included contingency measures for dealing with violence in the six counties, including the protection of important installations and premises against sabotage, Border patrols, and the setting up of special criminal courts.

It also envisaged measures to deal with “other forms of reaction” in the State, as a result of events in the North.

In a January 22nd 1987 letter marked “secret”, the secretary general of the department of defence wrote to the secretary to the government to say the minister accepted “that any immediate destabilisation of Northern Ireland is at present a remote possibility and that this matter has considerable sensitivity in the context of the Anglo Irish Agreement”.

“However, as responsibility for Wartime Planning is assigned to the Defence Forces in operational terms and to this Department in overall terms . . . he is of the view that this Department must plan for the contingencies which the land-border with the North of Ireland could present, including a ‘worst case’ scenario.”

The secretary, MJ Somers, said it was appreciated that the inter-departmental committee on wartime emergency preparations might not be the forum which the taoiseach wished to discuss the matter. But if this was the case, it was necessary to decide what forum or committee should deal with the emergency planning issues relating to Northern Ireland.

The department said this may require some amendment to a government decision of March 1985.

On January 29th, secretary to the government Dermot Nally wrote back to say it was the view of the taoiseach’s department that because of the “highly sensitive nature of the issues involved”, other departments should be consulted in so far as this may be necessary, either through the minister for defence in his capacity as a member of the cabinet committee on national security, or directly on a “strictly limited and confidential basis”.

A later draft memo for the government from the minister for defence indicated that the references to the security implications of the situation in Northern Ireland had been “deleted at the request of the Department of the Taoiseach”.

“That department has indicated that planning in the security context should be done under the direction of the cabinet committee on national security.”

The draft new emergency planning assumptions, however, retained the reference to the possibility that the State might have to plan for “the reception of refugees on a large scale”, a contingency the department of defence confirmed in a letter of February 4th that it was prepared for.