RUC tipped off gardaí over Robinson 'invasion'

THE RUC tipped off the Gardai about the loyalist incursion into Clontibret, Co Monaghan in 1986, according to declassified files released today in Belfast by the Public Record Office. The loyalist raiders included Peter Robinson, then the deputy leader of the DUP.

This emerges from a long epistle from Mark Elliott, an NIO official at Stormont Castle, to Sir Alan Goodison, the British ambassador to Dublin dated August 15 1986.

A report in the file by JE McConnell of the NIO's Political Affairs Division refers to the "Clontibret Affair" when in the small hours of August 7 1986 a crowd of around 150 loyalists, "some wearing paramilitary uniforms and carrying cudgels, accompanied (or, according to some reports, led) by Peter Robinson, crossed the border near Keady (in South Armagh) and invaded the Co Monaghan village of Clontibret, daubing slogans on an occupied Garda station and injuring two Garda officers who confronted them".

The confidential report notes that the crowd dispersed when other Gardai fired shots into the air.

"Robinson, who appears to have lingered behind deliberately, was arrested and held in custody for 32 hours (during which he refused all sustenance provided by the Gardai, preferring the wholesome Ulster food brought to him by his wife) before being charged with four offences, including assaulting Gardai and causing wilful damage."

The official noted that Mr Robinson was granted bail to appear in court in Dundalk on August 14.

Other loyalist shows of strength planned to take place on the same night as Clontibret were limited by RUC activity to Swatragh in Co Derry where a group of masked men, some carrying firearms, marched through the nationalist village, causing some damage to property.

Both incidents were condemned by the British and Irish governments while the DUP hailed the operation "as a clear indication of the absence of cross-border security".

In his report to the British ambassador in Dublin on August 15 1986 the official referred in particular to the "Clontibret Affair".

According to Elliott, the RUC had tipped off the Gardai of the impending raid into the southern border town by Mr Robinson: "The RUC's action in tipping off the Gardai during the night of 6-7 August about the incursion by Peter Robinson and his Loyalist thugs was also warmly appreciated in Dublin, according to Michael Lillis [of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs]."

The NIO official told Goodison:

"We have done our little bit here by holding Irish hands in the [Anglo-Irish] Secretariat and feeding them with material for their hourly reports to their Ministers during periods of particular tension."

On Anglo-Irish relations generally, the official reported that following "squabbling" during July over parades, relations had "improved markedly".

Elliott took the view that the RUC's deft handling of parades during the 1986 marching season had won the admiration of Dublin: "The behaviour of the RUC in the second half of the marching season has also contributed greatly.

"We have been told in the Secretariat that their behaviour in standing up to the Loyalists in Keady [Co Armagh] on 8 August and in Londonderry on 12 August and the manner in which they controlled Republican marches in West Belfast on 10 August has reassured Dublin at the highest level.

"Even Seamus Mallon [the SDLP deputy leader] admitted privately that things have gone about as well as they could have gone although publicly he feels obliged to press his case for a total ban on provocative marches."

* INCURSION: Above, Peter Robinson pictured at Ballybay Court House following his incursion into Clontibret, Co Monaghan. A loyalist gang had to be escorted from the town after violence flared, main and inset

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