Army OC closed border crossings on Paisley’s and Molyneaux’s advice

Former Secretary of State James Prior.
Former Secretary of State James Prior.

Secretary of State Jim Prior told Lieutenant-General Robert Richardson, the Army’s OC in Northern Ireland in 1984, to close several border crossings, after being urged to do so by Ian Paisley and Jim Molyneaux, it’s been revealed.

Newly de-classified cabinet documents also reveal the Government felt “anarchy” was in danger of spreading south of the border and that Michael Noonan - then Irish Justice Minister - was nervous of being put under pressure to take “more effective action on the security front.”

A cabinet minute from January 12, 1984, notes that Mr Prior: “Recently had a useful meeting with the leaders of the Official Unionist Party (Mr Molyneaux) and the Democratic Unionist Party (Mr Ian Paisley), following which there had been no breach of the confidentiality of the discsssions.”

Following the meeting: “He had agreed with the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland that an attempt should be made to close a number of crossing points on the border, which afforded terrorists easy access to and from the Irish Republic.”

The minute also refers to Mr Noonan’s political caution over security co-operation.

Referring to a meeting with the Irish Justice Minister, Mr Prior informed cabinet: “The Minister had at first been nervous of being put under pressure to take more effective action on the security front, but the general atmosphere had been reasonably good and the meeting had resulted in agreement on a number of measures to improve co-operation between the police forces in the Irish Republic and Northern ireland, including the appointment of Liaison Officers to the respective Police Headquarters.”

Mr Prior also acknowledged the “hostile” reaction of people in Leitrim to operations by An Garda Síochana and the Irish Army against IRA activity.

“Security co-operation remained a politically sensitive matter for the Irish Government, and the hostile reception given by the local population to units of the Irish Army and An Garda Síochana during recent security operations in County Leitrim showed that anarchy was close to the surface south as well as north of the border,” the minute states.

A key objective, said Mr Prior, was that there should be “no general breakdown of law and order throughout the island of Ireland.”