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More on state papers… invasion 1986 July 24, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Don’t know why I didn’t mention this before, but the last batch of state papers released earlier in the year, as noted in the IT – included plans for an invasion to protect nationalists should the worst occur. That worst being the establishment of a unionist/loyalist independent state:

State papers from 1986 indicate that high-ranking British officials such as cabinet secretary Robert Armstrong considered the declaration of an independent state by unionists an eminent possibility.
The high-level Defence Forces paper warns that within such a state “all the organs of power particularly the security services would be in the hands of loyalists.”

That last is fascinating. It underscores the reality of who had the potential for state power in Northern Ireland at that time, and the dominance of unionism in that geographic territory.

The following is also interesting, though I’d like more information and references to support its central contention:

Indeed, withdrawal from the territory was a popular topic of discussion among Westminster elites exasperated by the attitudes of unionists and nationalists alike. Against this backdrop, it is little wonder that the Republic was preparing for the outbreak of serious conflict across the Border.

Meanwhile here’s something with a more contemporary note:

The eight-page document prepared over six months in 1985/86 states it would be “more prudent than alarmist” to consider the consequences of a British withdrawal, pointing to the “reckless disregard” shown by the UK under similar circumstances in Israel/ Palestine and India / Pakistan.
This would not, however, compromise the loyalists’ military capabilities, with reference made to the formation of battalions comprised of UDR members and reservists, and backed up by loyalist paramilitaries and armed militia enlisted from the ranks of the RUC.

‘Reckless disregard’ is reminiscent of something happening at the moment. Be that as it may the ‘invasion’ plans appear fairly thin. As the IT notes:

While such a course of action may appear farfetched, the plans contain some outright aspirational elements such as the prospect of aerial assaults on Belfast or at least the mass evacuation of Catholics using only the handful of ill-equipped aircraft available to the Air Corps at the time.
This strategy combined with a sea assault/transport to Belfast harbour would be complemented by an “infiltration element”; an indication that the authorities may have considered deploying guerrilla-style tactics to soften the northern capital’s defences.
Roughly shaded sketches of Protestant and Catholic areas of Northern Ireland using orange and green coloured markers serve to further detract from the document’s credibility as a blueprint for cross-Border aggression.

And it does all appear to be highly theoretical and unlikely to survive contact with an actual armed force opposing its aims. And yet, the very fact that it was drawn up – even as a contingency – suggests that there was an official view that matters were out of control. Intriguingly the IT notes that the plan did not envisage ‘opposition from British Army companies’.

In any event, politics and pragmatism – perhaps sensibly – outran it:

The Council of Defence – which included the minister for defence Patrick Cooney and secretary of the department as well as the chief of staff, adjutant general and quarter-master general of the Defence Forces – voted unanimously against any possible intervention in Northern Ireland at its August 1985 meeting.

For some fairly solid reasons:

It suggested that the Defence Forces’ “numerical strength and equipment are hopelessly inadequate”, which reveals the divergent attitudes existent in the military hierarchy of the time regarding such a plan’s prospects of success.
This perspective contrasts sharply with the contents of the subsequent invasion plans, which state that the Defence Forces “have a capability for intervention to achieve certain objectives” in regard to Northern Ireland.

I wonder is the idea that there was any great split in thinking a bit of a stretch. Military planners are paid to make military plans however unlikely they may appear or are. Obviously the Defence Forces would be well able to carry out limited military operations – for example an evacuation of a town or city close to the border, say Newry or Derry (although not in the face of an armed response from British forces).

Notable, isn’t it that the fundamental issue in these plans, and the broader context, was not PIRA, though this is not in any way to downplay its activities during this period or how those fed into that context, but the possibility of a UDI by unionism/loyalism in the wake of the AIA. Frankly I’ve always thought that far fetched – as far fetched as London actually pulling out (though perhaps that last is less far-fetched). Unionism and loyalism’s raison d’être was always predicated on the relationship – however unreciprocated – with London. To call for UDI would fundamentally sever that relationship. Indeed what’s telling is what a difference a decade made. For all the bluster unionism and loyalism were unable – despite the levels of violence prevailing, to mount the sort of opposition seen against Sunningdale. That change is highly intriguing.

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Comments»

1. yourcousin - July 24, 2017

But couldn’t a UDI have served to force a British surge so to speak that would’ve seen in their (unionism/loyalism) minds at least a resolution of the security issues and allowed a return to the “status quo”?

In my mind I find it hard to fathom the UDR etc fighting the BA, but I could very easily see a UDI coupled with a concerted campaign of ethnic cleansing in order to knock down the number of Catholics/nationalists in the six counties.

I know I’m thinking hypothetically about things that never happened, but it doesn’t seem too far fetched.

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2. benmadigan - July 24, 2017

plans for a unionist UDI were certainly being mooted about in belfast at the time, together with an underlying surge of Loyalist rage.

Don’t know about the rest of NI

However even at the time Belfast people realised UDI was unlikely to gain traction with a majority of Unionists

If the push had come to the shove – people thought the British Government would intervene on the grounds that –
if they weren’t going to cede NI to Republicans, they weren’t going to cede it. Full stop.
Not to anyone.

The Queen’s writ would run, no matter what!

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yourcousin - July 24, 2017

But wouldn’t that have been the point? Not to actually secure independence but to force a major influx of BA regulars which would then “sort out” the IRA, (because quite frankly I fail to see how an ’86 would be any different than ’69 in that sense). Allowing a UDR/loyalist force to engage in a little bit of population reduction so to speak so that ideally once the Queen’s writ was restored it would be with a defeated IRA and a reduced nationalist population to boot. Resetting the clock to a pre-civil rights era for the foreseeable future in NI. And then it would be back to, “their only crime was loyalty”.

Again just speculating on past hypotheticals is all.

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3. EWI - July 24, 2017

Obviously the Defence Forces would be well able to carry out limited military operations – for example an evacuation of a town or city close to the border, say Newry or Derry (although not in the face of an armed response from British forces).

The successful achievement of any Defence Forces incursion, though, would likely lie in seizing and holding on for a few days or at very most a week, which is within the power of even lightly-armed but motivated infantry (look at Arnhem and other urban battles of the past century).

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4. The Broken Elbow - July 24, 2017

a question: did this story manage to bypass the irish media or did someone, at least, pick it up?

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WorldbyStorm - July 25, 2017

Irish Times is the only place I saw it.

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5. Jim Monaghan - July 25, 2017

In People’s Democracy circles there was a fear of a Rhodesian type situation http://www.clririshleftarchive.org/document/472/

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