Northern Ireland news

State papers: Britain protested at the Dublin-imposed ‘hard border'

Irish soldiers guarding the customs post at Killeen in August 1988
Éamon Phoenix

THE British government expressed concern in 1990 about the Irish government's '48 hours rule' for southern shoppers buying goods across the border.

The measure, at a time when many shoppers from the Republic were travelling north to take advantage of lower prices, signalled Dublin's willingness at the time to impose a 'hard border' to protect its economy.

In a letter dated January 13, 1990 to C D Powell, private secretary to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Stephen Pope, the private secretary to Secretary of State Peter Brooke, wrote: "The PM might like to be aware that the Irish government introduced in 1987 restrictions on cross-border shopping.

"The Irish measures denied to those out of Ireland for less than 48 hours the 'travellers' allowances' - freedom from Irish tax on NI purchases up to a certain limit - conferred by European law."

The Irish measures were, the official said, "transparently illegal" and to the detriment of Northern Ireland traders.

He informed Downing Street that the British government had taken this up with the European Commission who referred the case to the European Court.

The court had just delivered its judgement, "declaring against the Irish on all counts" and Mr Brooke had publicly urged the Irish government to come into line.

Meanwhile, papers also reveal pressure from the Irish government to introduce a marker in petrol on sale in the north to curb cross-border smuggling.

In a memo to Peter Brooke dated May 18, 1989, Austin Wilton from the NIO noted that Irish officials had pointed to a link between cross-border fuel smuggling and "the financing of terrorism".

The issue remained under discussion and in March 1990 a meeting of British and Irish officials failed to reach agreement on the extent of smuggling.

Reviewing the issue in a memo to Mr Brooke on March 30, Peter Bell of the Security Policy Division of the NIO noted: "The Irish will certainly argue that Mr (Thomas) Slab Murphy and his like are among the beneficiaries of British inaction".

The official felt that ministers should ask the Irish government to supply "reliable facts and figures".

The UDR at Ballykinlar

State papers: Dublin reported UDR border ‘threat' 

UDR men tried to intimidate an Irish army checkpoint in Co Donegal following mass unionist protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

Confidential files reveal that the British Ambassador in Dublin, Sir Alan Goodison, reported a complaint by the Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs about an incident at Kilclean, Co Donegal, on the Tyrone border.

On November 29 1985 eight UDR men, dropped by helicopter, reportedly pointed their guns towards the checkpoint and shouted "in unison and in a non-jocular tone" the words "never, never, never".

A Northern Ireland Office official said the UDR patrol was "adamant" that no provocative behaviour had taken place.

However, he added: "Given the nature of their task and in the real risk of terrorist attack, it is not surprising that their weapons were pointed in the direction of the Republic...Indeed, it is mischievous to suggest that such action is unreasonable or unwarranted."

The increasingly controversial reputation of the UDR led the Irish government to press for RUC accompaniment of UDR patrols through the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference.

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