Dublin wanted Divis Flats demolished to reduce influence of Sinn Féin

Irish government said conditions in Belfast complex allowed extremism to flourish

 Rioters turn a burning lorry into a barricade in the Divis Flats area of Belfast in May 1981 as violence erupted following the death of Irish Republican Army hunger striker Bobby Sands. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

Rioters turn a burning lorry into a barricade in the Divis Flats area of Belfast in May 1981 as violence erupted following the death of Irish Republican Army hunger striker Bobby Sands. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

 

The Irish government’s desire to see the demolition of the high-rise Divis Flats in west Belfast “to reduce the influence of Sinn Féin” is highlighted in a 1986 file released in Belfast.

From 1969 the flats had become a symbol of the Troubles and it was from there Jean McConville “disappeared” and was later killed by the IRA in December 1972.

In its submission to the Intergovernmental Conference under the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Irish side stated its view that the complex was “a matter in which the interests of the minority community are especially affected” under the agreement.

The Divis tenants believed the structural flaws were beyond repair and the best solution would be its demolition and replacement by conventional housing.

The Dublin government believed conditions “have allowed extremists to obtain an influence in the area that can and should be ended through the replacement of the complex” due to the “alienation of the residents from their environment”. A decision for demolition “would send a message of hope throughout west Belfast and do much to increase confidence in constitutional politics,” it said.

Responding to the proposal, a Stormont official said funds to replace housing could be better used to help those on the waiting list.

“The Irish belief that the demolition of the complex would reduce the influence of Sinn Féin is a little naive. Sinn Féin have been campaigning for demolition and would no doubt claim credit for it,” he wrote.

Later that year the British government confirmed the phased demolition of Divis Flats.