The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was branded as “mad” by the then taoiseach Charles Haughey during a private meeting with the British prime minister, John Major, in 1991.
State papers released under the 30-year rule show Mr Haughey warned his British counterpart about the unstable nature of the colourful North African leader against a background of Libyan support for the IRA.
A secret garda file also made publicly available by the National Archives reveals the true extent of the support of Gaddafi’s regime for republican paramilitaries.
Documents show British intelligence passed to Irish security forces had calculated that six major arms shipments and financial aid worth over $12m — an estimated €40m in today’s money — were provided to the IRA by Libya.
The British authorities were particularly concerned about the quantities of the Semtex explosive coming into the hands of the IRA.
The issue was one of the main topics discussed between Mr Haughey and Mr Major at a meeting in Government Buildings in Dublin in December 1991.
A separate garda memo provided to the Department of Justice in June 1992 provided details on arms shipments to Ireland from Libya between March 1973 and October 1987.
The list included Kalashnikov rifles, Dushka heavy machine guns, SAM-7 missiles, RPG rocket launchers, grenades, and Semtex explosive as well as sniper rifles and handguns.
During talks between the two leaders the British prime minister said it was clear that Libya was behind the Lockerbie bombing of a PanAm flight in December 1988 in which 270 people were killed.
Mr Major described the police investigation into the terrorist attack as “absolutely staggering”.
“There is no doubt that Libya is responsible for the blowing up of the PanAm flight and also for the bombing of the French plane,” said Mr Major.
Libya was also blamed for the bombing of a French aircraft over Niger in September 1989 in which 170 people lost their lives.
“The thing is what do we do? Libya is a terrorist state,” said Mr Major.
The Taoiseach pledged Ireland’s support for any action which either the United Nations or G7 group would take, even if it had a negative impact on the Irish economy.
Mr Haughey pointed out that Ireland had already “punished” itself on the issue due to the loss of live cattle trade to Libya at a time when other EU countries were happily trading with Libya.
“We have a major outlet to cattle which was very valuable to us in the past especially because it comes at a critical time of the year and helps to keep up factory prices,” Mr Haughey explained.
The Taoiseach acknowledged that the problem was the Libyan head of state.
“The trouble is that Gaddafi is mad,” he remarked.
British officials informed the Taoiseach that Egypt had tried “to bring him around” but had not got anywhere.
Meanwhile, separate files show that the British authorities were shocked at the scale of support offered by Libya to the Provisional IRA.
Libya had provided information to the UK about the extent of weapons and funding it had given the IRA in a bid to improve relations over years of tension between the two countries which peaked following the Lockerbie bombing.
A Libyan embassy official had also killed a British police officer in 1984.
At a meeting in Geneva in June 1992, Libya handed over the names of IRA members who had received military training in Libya, although the vast majority of names appeared to be aliases.
One file showed a British official observing that “the information on funding reveals Libya has given PIRA far more money than we had thought”.
Libya confessed that it had first established links with the IRA in 1973 via the Soviet Union but contacts then lapsed between 1976 and 1984.
Gaddafi is believed to have decided to supply the IRA with weapons and money in revenge for Britain allowing US aircraft to launch its bombing missions on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in 1986.
Libya subsequently tried to enlist the help of the Irish government in repairing relations with the UK but the Department of Foreign Affairs took the view that Libya was “trying to use us as a vehicle for gaining international respectability”.