Ireland’s controversial stance on the Falklands crisis sparked deep anger in Britain and prompted fears of longer term damage to fragile Anglo-Irish relations.
Ireland had backed sanctions against Argentina following its invasion of the Falklands, but then appeared to backtrack when it sought an immediate meeting of the UN Security Council, of which Ireland was a temporary member, to prepare a new resolution.
Ireland framed its approach to the Falklands crisis as one in which Ireland was protecting its neutrality, but the British government led by Margaret Thatcher saw it differently, while some in the British media fulminated against Ireland’s stance.
A member of the Conservative’s research department told the first secretary in the Irish embassy in London that Mrs Thatcher had taken a dim view of the Irish approach to the Falklands crisis.
“He believed that the Falklands issue will further persuade her that the Irish government has no real interest in developing a framework of co-operation for the sake of good bilateral relations but views those relations only through the prism of events in the North,” Gerry Corr wrote to the department.
He outlined — as many in government did at the time — that Ireland’s stance was based on its neutrality, and not on any wish to antagonise Britain.
A diplomatic cable from the Irish ambassador in London to Dublin also said it was impossible to not rule out a “backlash” from elements of the UK media on the Irish stance. In May that year in a meeting at the British embassy British representatives stressed that the Irish contingent “should not underestimate the damage” to Anglo-Irish relations that had been caused by Irish actions over the Falklands crisis.
According to notes from the meeting, the British opinion was that “the damage in their view was not merely a short-term problem, on the contrary our actions would be long remembered in Britain”.
“The Irish initiative at the UN had been untimely in that, in the assessment of British professionals at the UN, it had ‘wrecked’ the chances of the success of the Peruvian peace efforts [an effort in shuttle diplomacy to resolve the conflict between Argentina and the UK]. At the very least we should have consulted the British before taking such action.”
Ireland initially supported UN Resolution 502 and backed sanctions at European level, but British representatives at the meeting said Ireland’s later “volteface” was “totally unexpected”.
“They found it difficult to accept the case which had been put forward on neutrality grounds, particularly since our initial agreement to sanctions had been given in full awareness that the Task Force was on its way and since we had previously supported sanctions in the case of Iran and Afghanistan.”
Charles Haughey had said in May that Ireland backed initial sanctions against Argentina as they were in support of diplomatic effort, but that as a neutral country Ireland could not support sanctions in support of military action.
Reporters at risk
The government believed Irish reporters covering the Falklands War could have been put at risk by British journalists travelling to the conflict zone on Irish passports.
State papers from 1982 show RTÉ telling the government it had made “a blunder of massive proportions” in providing accreditation for one journalist who subsequently only worked for the BBC in the Falklands.
The Irish ambassador in Buenos Aires had raised concerns with the government in Dublin, resulting in staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs calling a meeting with senior media personnel.
A file dated Jun 14 of that year outlines how RTÉ’s news features editor Kevin Healy was called in to provide “clarification”.
According to the file: “He said he was not only alive to the implications but that the decision to give Clive Ferguson a letter [of accreditation] was ‘a blunder of massive proportions’. That decision had been taken by ‘a very senior RTÉ executive’. When it emerged in RTÉ that Ferguson had been given a letter, several people, including Healy, expressed their dissatisfaction and concern.”
The embassy in Argentina raised concerns over a number of reporters operating in the war zone on Irish passports, among them Roisin McAuley, who was Cork Examiner accredited but working for the BBC, Brian Walker, also linked with RTÉ, and BBC’s David Capper.
Files show the Irish embassy was worried that while Buenos Aires was “turning a blind eye” at that time, the situation in Argentina could quickly become potentially dangerous, with another government letter spelling out the danger of “BBC journalists masquerading as RTÉ personnel”.
“There could be embarrassing implications... RTÉ is apparently permitting Walker and Ferguson falsely to represent themselves as RTÉ journalists although working only for the BBC compounds the imbroglio.”
It also outlined the danger to the government, quoting the ambassador that “our government could conceivably be accused of ‘duplicitously lending covert assistance to an enemy organ’”.
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