Irish officials feared “bloody-minded element” in Britain would stall peace process

Posted By: December 28, 2021

British diplomat was told they seemed to share unionist suspicions about nationalists

Harry McGee Political Correspondent. Irish Times. Dublin. Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Irish officials became increasingly frustrated at negativity and foot-dragging by the British government following the announcement of the IRA ceasefire in August 1994 describing its deliberately sluggish response as “bloody-minded”.

A senior Irish diplomat told his British counterpart that they seemed to share unionist suspicions about nationalists taking the initiative.

Declan O’Donovan, the Irish joint secretary at Maryfield, told the most senior civil servant in charge of the Northern Ireland Office, Sir John Chilcot: “There seemed to be a sense on the British side that a green giant was clambering up the beanstalk and that something needed to be done sharpish to slow his progress.”

Elsewhere, Séamus Mallon of the SDLP described the British response as “kicking the dog to see if it’s alive”.

Irish officials at the Anglo-Irish secretariat at Maryfield, outside Belfast city, repeatedly complained that the British were not doing enough on the security front to respond to the IRA move. What was being done was grudging and minimalist in manner, they claimed.


Northern secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew’s focus on the absence of a commitment to make the ceasefire permanent also drew criticism from Irish officials who said he was focusing on the negative rather than welcoming the move.

O’Donovan complained at a meeting some weeks later that “the bloody-minded element in British thinking is becoming predominant”.

His British counterpart, Martin Williams, responded that the British did not yet see Adams and company as “reformed characters”.

“We said the British were not required to like Adams or to treat him as ‘reformed’, or even to reopen the apparently cordial dialogue they had pursued a couple of years ago in secrecy. We were asking them to be business-like and sensible,” wrote O’Donovan.

The cordial dialogue referred to secret talks the British had held with Sinn Féin prior to the IRA ceasefire, about which they had lied to Dublin.

Chilcot defended the speed of the British response, saying that prime minister John Major was “walking on eggshells” because of the danger of a unionist backlash to any concessions to republicans.

He told O’Donovan that “the prime minister would not be deflected from a determinedly cautious response even if that were to put our two systems at loggerheads and cause a rift with the Clinton administration”.

Taken aback

The Irish side was strongly taken aback after learning that the Parachute Regiment, which was involved in Bloody Sunday, would be doing a tour of duty in Belfast.

Arguing the regiment was not trusted by many nationalists, the Irish side was highly critical of the move. “The deployment into West Belfast of an entire battalion of what are effectively frontline assault troops with a particular and officially endorsed reputation for aggression in the circumstances of the ceasefire would be extremely difficult for us to understand,” it wrote in a communication with British counterparts.

The British ministry of defense insisted that they were no different from any other regiment, and had been fully trained to carry out operations in Northern Ireland. (Archive ref: 2021-48-173)