British state papers and Gibraltar shootings


Sir, – Most of the Irish and British media have given prominence to the release of British state papers indicating Charlie Haughey’s reluctance to have the remains of my sister, Mairéad Farrell, and her IRA comrades, Seán Savage and Dan McCann, returned to Belfast via Dublin. The Irish Times (August 25th) repeats the false claim by a British diplomat that our families wanted the remains of our loved ones to be flown home via Dublin rather than Aldergrove airport in order to make political capital for Sinn Féin. That is nothing other than British propaganda.

The truth is we were not able to use Aldergrove because the ground staff at the airport refused to facilitate the chartered aircraft carrying the remains. The same was the case in Gibraltar. In this latter case, the British military loaded the coffins onto the aircraft.

Charlie Haughey’s reluctance to allow the aircraft to land in Dublin is not a surprise, when one knows that Aer Lingus, then Irish state-owned, refused to charter the families an aircraft, as did other Irish companies in the airline business.

The most interesting aspect of Haughey’s meeting with the British diplomat is highlighted in the Irish Times report: Haughey “was preoccupied by the recent catalogue of horrors and was unable to rid himself of the notion that someone somewhere in the British government machine had been orchestrating this scenario.”

These horrors included the killing by the British army of Aidan McAnespie weeks earlier and the case of British Private Ian Thain, who had been convicted of the murder of Thomas Reilly but after two years of imprisonment was allowed to rejoin his regiment. Was this Haughey raising the issue of a shoot-to-kill policy with the British government? It seems so to me.

Haughey was not willing to challenge the British state on the international stage, as he should have. His government refused to take the Gibraltar killings case directly to the European Court of Human Rights and save the long years it took for us to have the Strasbourg Court find the killings unlawful.

However, two months later Haughey did channel information to myself via the journalist and broadcaster Proinsias Mac Aonghusa that Thatcher had presided over a secret cabinet sub-committee, which had given the shoot-to-kill order. Proinsias said the information came from Irish military intelligence, in other words from his pal “Cathal”, as he called Charlie Haughey.

When I announced that at the families’ first Dublin press conference on May 12th, 1988, the “respectable” press scoffed at it, because I naturally could not divulge my source. – Yours, etc,