State Papers – 1977: Amin rumour caused panic at Irish airports

CONFIDENTIAL Garda files show about 100 gardaí were put on duty for a surprise landing of General Idi Amin in Ireland.

Pandemonium began when the Cabinet were told, during a morning meeting on June 7, 1976, the Ugandan leader was to land in Ireland ahead of “crashing” a Commonwealth conference in London.

The Government immediately drew up an order forbidding the dictator’s landing as well as the deployment of army and Garda numbers around airports.

Figures show two assistant Garda commissioners, four Garda superintendents and dozens of rank-and-file gardaí were put immediately on alert at Dublin Airport on the supposed day of Amin’s arrival.

In Cork, another four Garda superintendents and dozens more officers were put on alert. Smaller numbers of extra gardaí were also drafted into Shannon. The extra airport gardaí stayed on alert for days afterwards.

The draft cabinet order read: “…The M/J [Minister for Justice] having announced that, after consultation with the M/FA [Minister for Foreign Affairs], he had made an exclusion order against General Amin, it was agreed that (1) airport authorities should be instructed not to permit the general’s plane to land in Ireland unless for necessary refuelling, in which case the captain would be ordered to taxi to a remote part of the airport and informed that the Government would not allow anyone to leave or join the plane.

“(2) An adequate army presence should be provided at the airport to enforce this decision and (3) that an immediate statement should be issued through the G.I.S. [Government Information Service).”

Following the cabinet meeting, the media were alerted with a brief but to-the-point statement.

“No notice had been given to the Irish authorities of General Amin’s intentions to come to this country,” the GIS message explained.

The private secretary to the Taoiseach, D O’Suilleabhain, in a memorandum to other departments, recorded the information was Amin “was en route by plane to the British Commonwealth Conference in London, possibly via Ireland…”

Media reports the following day related the confusion that had taken place at Dublin Airport. About 60 reporters had assembled awaiting the arrival of the “Flying Pimpernel” of Europe, said one newspaper. Rumours abounded that the British or their air traffic authorities had transmitted the message to Ireland.

Just when spectators and reporters went to leave on the Tuesday evening, an Aer Rianta spokesman said an unidentified plane was spotted en route to the airport.

Listening on radios, spellbound reporters heard the control tower say: “Uganda Flight 345, Uganda Flight 345. This is Dublin Control. Do you read?”

But it emerged the aircraft circling overhead was only a training flight.

Ugandan Radio meanwhile reported Amin was expected to sail from “France, West Germany or Ireland” and go by road to London.

British reports dismissed the claim the Ugandan dictator was en route to crash the conference. The general would fear a coup in his absence.

General Amin, of course, never came.

Covering up the embarrassing muddle afterwards was probably foremost among civil servants minds, as one note revealed.

“…the D/ Justice [Department of Justice] propose to destroy the exclusion order and to treat it as not having been made, as it was not used.”

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