State Papers 1988: Haughey refusal to extradite ‘mad priest’ riled Thatcher

State Papers 1988: Haughey refusal to extradite ‘mad priest’ riled Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher accused the Irish Government of doing nothing to help extradite a priest who allegedly worked for the IRA, state papers have revealed.

Suspected IRA quartermaster Fr Patrick Ryan was the subject of a lengthy legal battle in 1988.

Fr Ryan was arrested by Belgian police at his home, where they found cash and bomb-making equipment. The UK requested to have him extradited from Belgium, where he was suspected to have been involved in an IRA unit.

The Belgian authorities refused the UK’s request and later extradited him to the Republic of Ireland.

Fr Ryan, a former Pallottine priest from Tipperary, became the centre of a row between Irish and British authorities after the State refused to extradite him to the UK.

The rift caused tension between the British prime minister and the taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, which spilled into a meeting between the two leaders at the end of the European Council in Rhodes in December 1988.

Minutes of the “frank exchange”, which lasted for under an hour, reveal Ms Thatcher’s frustration over the extradition process, saying she felt “badly let down” over the matter.

Ms Thatcher described Fr Ryan as a “really bad egg”.

“I and my soldiers — we are at the receiving end,” she told Mr Haughey. “Ryan is a very dangerous man. Both the Belgians and our services know this. He is at liberty still.

“People like Ryan with contacts with Libya, with expert knowledge of bombing — they can skip — I feel so strongly on this and feel so badly let down.”

Mr Haughey defended the decision, saying that when Fr Ryan arrived in Dublin, officials had no knowledge as to why he should be extradited.

Ms Thatcher said the extradition process here was not working.

“There is hostility all the time. No matter what we send, your people object,” she added.

Mr Haughey told Ms Thatcher that he had never heard of Fr Ryan until he appeared in Belgium.

She replied: “You amaze me. From 1973 to 1984, he was the main channel of contact with the Libyans.” 

Mr Haughey replied: “Ryan is an extraordinary case. You have a mad priest careering around Europe, arrested in Belgium, and then flown to us in a military plane, avoiding British airspace.”

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