State Papers - 1977: Archives of 30 years ago gloss over vital political events

THE year 1977 was not a great one from the standpoint of the state papers. Historically, the most important events were related to that year’s general election. As the civil servants were not formally involved, the elections were glossed over in the state papers.

Neither is there mention of Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave’s famous denunciation “blow-ins” in his address to the Fine Gael ard fheis, nor of the Fianna Fáil election manifesto, which not only promised to do away with rates on domestic dwellings but also to abolish motor tax on private vehicles.

Pundits were confidently predicting the “Tullymander”, the drastic constituency revisions drawn up by Jim Tully of the Labour Party, would ensure the return of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition, but once Fianna Fáil got more than 50% of the vote, it had the reverse impact and led to the return of Fianna Fáil with the largest majority since the civil war.

In recent years, the state papers have included past files that had not been released on time for one reason or another, but this year the files were largely confined to events of 1977. Security files from the Department of Justice relating to the 1920s and early 1930s were released last July, so the Justice files were particularly thin in comparison with other openings.

For some reason the files relating to the Irish embassies in Canberra, Ottawa and Washington were not released, nor were the private papers of Jack Lynch for 1977.

But some correspondence between Eamon de Valera and George Bernard Shaw was released, as it had been the subject of departmental consideration in 1977. Shaw’s complaint about the illegible signatures of the staff of the Taoiseach’s office in 1947 seemed as apt 30 years later.

Timeline 1977

January

1: Fifteen-month-old child killed in Belfast car-bomb.16: Des O’Malley says Fianna Fáil would legalise sale of contraceptives.19: Central Statistics Office announced Ireland’s trade deficit was £500m in 1976.20: Jimmy Carter inaugurated 39th President of the USA.21: Fianna Fáil promises to abolish rates on domestic dwellings.24: Foreign Minister Garret FitzGerald and Northern Secretary Roy Mason conclude talks.26: Richie Ryan announces increases in social welfare benefits, tax allowances, and extending the tax net to more farmers in his budget address.

February

4: Paddy Donegan appointed Minister for Fisheries.7: British acknowledged in European Court of Human Rights abusing suspects in Northern Ireland in 1971.9: Attorney-General Declan Costello calls for prosecution of British soldiers who abused suspects.10: Prime Minister James Callaghan criticises Irish government for refusal on constitutional grounds to sign European convention on terrorism.17: Justice Minister Paddy Cooney denies existence of Garda ‘heavy gang’.

March

7: 20 members of PIRA begin hunger strike in Portlaoise.8: Eight SAS convicted of illegal possession of weapons.16: Foreign Minister Garret FitzGerald meets US President Jimmy Carter.

April

2: Amnesty International discusses prison conditions and allegations of Garda brutality.14: Irish Medical Association calls for legalisation of contraception.19: Government lifts restrictions on visits of relatives of hunger strikers.22: PIRA prisoner hunger strike called off after 47 days.

May

1: British transfer 1,200 troops to Northern Ireland to deal with UUAC strike.3: Loyalist workers strike begins in Northern Ireland.14: Loyalist strike called off.19: Attorney-General Declan Costello resigns to become High Court judge.21: Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave denounces ‘blow-ins’ during Fine Gael Ard Fheis address.26: Five soldiers killed in accident at Glen of Imaal.

June

6: Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee celebrations begin.7: Cabinet decides that Idi Amin should not be allowed to land in Ireland.14: Fianna Fáil gains record majority with 84 seats in general election.23: Liam Cosgrave stands down as leader of Fine Gael.26: Brendan Corish resigns as leader of Labour Party.

July

1: Garret FitzGerald elected leader of Fine Gael and Frank Cluskey as Labour leader.5: Jack Lynch elected Taoiseach.29: Cabinet establishes Department of Planning and Economic Development.

August

7: Rioting erupts in Belfast ahead of Queen's visit.10: Queen begins two-day visit to North.

17: Former ministers Conor Cruise O'Brien and Paddy Cooney elected to Seanad.22: Monsignor Tomás Ó Fiaich appointed Archbishop of Armagh.28: President Carter issues statement on Northern Ireland.

September

1: Amnesty International calls for inquiry into Garda brutality.4: Cork defeat Wexford by 1-17 to 3-8 in All-Ireland hurling final.17: SDLP expel Paddy Devlin.20: Seán MacBride given Lenin Peace Prize.25: Dublin defeat Armagh by 5-12 to 3-6 in All-Ireland football final.

October

3: Foreign Minister Michael O’Kennedy discusses North with congressional leaders in Washington.5: Séamus Costello, IRSP leader, murdered in Dublin.6: Cabinet decides to establish committee to investigate charges of Garda brutality.10: Peace People leaders Betty William and Mairéad Corrigan presented with Nobel Peace Prize.14: Bing Crosby dies.

November

6: Body of Frank Stagg dug up in Ballina and reburied in nearby Republican plot.10: Garret FitzGerald announces bipartisanship has been restored in Dáil on Northern Ireland.17: British and Irish officials begin talks on improving cross-border co-operation.28: Dutch parent company announces closure of Ferenka steelcord factory in Limerick with loss of 1,400 jobs.

December

14: Pieter Menten, the Dutch art collector who owned an Irish home, was sentenced to 15 years in jail for Nazi war crimes.

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