Northern Ireland news

State Papers: Irish diplomat angered by withdrawal of RUC protection

The plummeting threat from loyalists meant the RUC's close protection unit's car provided for the diplomats would be withdrawn `with immediate effect'. Picture by Pacemaker
Éamon Phoenix

THE RUC decision to withdraw its 'close protection service' for Irish officials working in the Anglo-Irish Joint Secretariat at Maryfield, near Belfast, sparked a major row between a senior Irish official and the NIO in 1995.

The decision had been taken by the RUC in light of what they saw as a greatly diminished security threat to Irish diplomats working in the north in the wake of the 1994 loyalist ceasefire.

The decision was delivered to the Irish side at a meeting at Maryfield on February 28, 1995, attended by C D Kyle of the NIO, Declan O'Donovan and Barry Mellett of the Irish section and Superintendent Irvine of the RUC.

At the meeting, the RUC officer explained that, in the view of the police, "the threat [from loyalist paramilitaries] had plummeted" and the close protection unit's car provided for the diplomats would be withdrawn "with immediate effect".

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Mr Kyle reported to the NIO that an angry Mr O'Donovan "interrogated Superintendent Irvine as to what this would mean if an Irish Minister, for example the Taoiseach... visited Northern Ireland".

Irvine replied that protection would be provided for VIPs.

However, Mr O'Donovan stated that "there were clearly political implications in withdrawing the CPU service to Irish staff at Maryfield" and "Dublin would have something to say" about it.

In a further memo to officials, dated March 1, 1995, J Wilson of the NIO reported that in several subsequent meetings "Mr O'Donovan emphasised how angry he was at the RUC decision and the peremptory nature of it".

He claimed it was a "political" decision.

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Deputy Chief Constable Blair Wallace said the announcement of the withdrawal of close protection "was intended to be considerably less blunt than had been conveyed" and there was no question of the withdrawal of the protection immediately.

Assistant Chief Constable McLaughlin held a meeting on March 1, 1995, and stressed to Irish officials that the decision was based on "intelligence which indicated no threat to Irish staff" at present.

An NIO official, Keith Smyth reported that the Irish side seemed "relatively relaxed".

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