Thatcher rails against Supreme Court decision on extradition

Dermot Finucane and James Pius Clarke walked free from court after appeals upheld

Margaret Thatcher  and Charles Haughey had a sharp exchange during a meeting in 1990. File photograph: Getty

Margaret Thatcher and Charles Haughey had a sharp exchange during a meeting in 1990. File photograph: Getty

 

Then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher launched a withering attack on Ireland’s Supreme Court during a private meeting with taoiseach Charlie Haughey weeks after it refused to extradite two IRA men who had escaped from the Maze prison in the North.

“Your Supreme Court is really something,” she complained to Haughey, during a tetchy encounter in a drawing room in 10 Downing Street in April 1990, newly declassified files disclose.

Some weeks before, Dermot Finucane and James Pius Clarke, who were among 38 prisoners who escaped from the Maze in 1983, walked free from court in Dublin after the five-judge court upheld their appeals against extradition.

Both had been serving 18-year sentences – Finucane for possessing firearms and Clarke for the attempted murder of a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment.

The Supreme Court cited “the probable risk” that the pair would be assaulted in prison in the North.

Despite repeated attempts by Haughey to steer the conversation away from the controversial extradition case, Thatcher returned to it again during sharp exchanges between the two premiers.

“Really, your Supreme Court is something!” she repeated, notes of the meeting just released into the National Archives under the 30-year rule record.

“These are not political offences. They are criminal acts.”

In a bid to ease tension over the affair, Haughey praised Thatcher’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland Peter Brooke as “the best man in the world”.

“Yes, he is very good,” Thatcher agreed. “He is very anxious to get on with the job. I am not optimistic but we will try. He is a man of total integrity and very commanding presence.”

Security measures

But Thatcher again turned to one of her recurring demands of Haughey – increased security measures.

“On security, we must keep at it,” she said. “Some time ago I thought we were winning.”

Haughey countered that he thought “we are still winning”, citing police chiefs in the Republic and the North were meeting “more frequently than their predecessors and seem to have an extremely good relationship”.

Security co-operation was very good and “getting better all the time”, the taoiseach contended.

Unappeased, Thatcher suggested not enough was being done in the Republic to uncover IRA explosives.

“Then there is this Semtex – we have not recovered all we should,” she railed.

Eventually, the memo of the meeting (file 2020/17/31) shows, Haughey managed to nudge the conversation back on to European issues.