State Papers

Records reveal British criticism of Republic's response to Gibraltar deaths

Sean Savage, Mairead Farrell and Danny McCann were shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar on March 6, 1988. Picture by Press Association
Aoife Moore, Press Association

State papers have revealed that the British government was critical of the Irish state's response to the killing of three people in Gibraltar.

The controversial military operation saw three members of the Provisional IRA shot dead by the British Special Air Service in Gibraltar on March 6, 1988.

The killings of Sean Savage, Daniel McCann and Mairead Farrell were part of Operation Flavius, the British military operation targeted at preventing a planned bombing by the IRA in the territory.

A secret memo addressed to Taoiseach Charlie Haughey from Dermot Nally, the secretary to the Irish government, on September 5 notes that Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe had asked that a message be conveyed by Ambassador Fenn to the Irish government about their statements regarding engagement in Northern Ireland.

"The message was to the effect that the British are concerned the Irish are imperfectly precise in the use of the word 'violence'.

"The British have no reservations about the legitimacy of Irish aspirations to unity.

"They do, however, ask that the Irish government should recognise the difference between violence used by those whose aim is to overthrow the state and violence arising in the operations of the security forces, within the law and for the public good."

Mr Nally goes on to say he told the ambassador that "they were being unduly sensitive about the use of the word 'violence'".

Despite the fact the three were unarmed, a subsequent inquest in September 1988 into the deaths returned a verdict of "lawful killing", a decision that was subsequently appealed by the deceased's families to the European Court of Human Rights, which decided that the operation had been in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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