State Archives: Fears over Semtex falling into hands of subversives

The Government here asked the Czech authorities in the late 1980s to take steps to ensure that explosive material manufactured in Czechoslovakia did not fall into the hands of subversive groups, including the IRA.

State Archives: Fears over Semtex falling into hands of subversives

The Government here asked the Czech authorities in the late 1980s to take steps to ensure that explosive material manufactured in Czechoslovakia did not fall into the hands of subversive groups, including the IRA.

State files show that the Government had grown increasingly concerned about the amount of Semtex — a plastic explosive manufactured in Czechoslovakia — that was falling into the hands of republican paramilitary groups at the time.

Semtex was originally developed for military use and export but became popular with paramilitary and terrorist groups because prior to 2000 it was extremely difficult to detect.

The explosive material was used in numerous bomb attacks during the Troubles as well as on the Pan Am flight which crashed near Lockerbie in Scotland in December 1988, killing 259 passengers and crew as well as 11 people on the ground.

A senior civil servant in the Department of Foreign Affairs instructed Ireland’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia, who was based in Vienna, in December 1988, to raise the matter with the Czech foreign ministry.

“While there is no evidence to show that the Czech authorities are consciously permitting, still less arranging for, the supply of arms to illegal organisations, we consider it would be useful to draw to their attention our concern to ensure, so far as possible, explosives do not fall into paramilitary hands,” said Pádraig Murphy, an assistant secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

He asked the Irish ambassador to Czechoslovakia to take the opportunity to raise the issue with officials on his next visit to Prague.

The ambassador was advised to emphasise the Government’s efforts to combat violence in Northern Ireland and its commitment to ending terrorist violence.

He was told to emphasise how large quantities of Semtex ending up in the hands of the IRA and other subversive groups was a “grave concern” for the Irish government.

Mr Murphy said the Government was considering making similar approaches to a number of other unnamed countries.

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