The 1984 arrest of Gerry Adams in connection with a visit to Belfast by NORAID boss Martin Galvin led to a flurry of NIO questions to the police and appears to have annoyed the Secretary of State, documents released under the 20-year rule reveal.
Galvin had defied a ban on him entering the UK by attending a republican rally in west Belfast at which the Sinn Fein president had introduced him.
The RUC unsuccessfully attempted to arrest Galvin and one of those in the crowd, Sean Downes, was killed by a plastic bullet.
The West Belfast MP was later arrested as police examined whether they could pin charges on him for assisting in Galvin’s breach of border controls.
A confidential note of a 4 October 1985 meeting between Secretary of State Tom King and the Chief Constable, Sir John Hermon, recorded that Sir John had been asked privately about the Sinn Fein leader’s arrest.
An exclamation mark is written in the margin beside the sentence (part of which is underlined): “The Chief Constable said that he himself had not been informed in advance, but that he approved of the action.
“It was partly designed to question Mr Adams about the possible offence under the Immigration Act and partly to enable the RUC to say, in the context of the inquiry into the events of 12 August, that they had interviewed all key witnesses.
“The Secretary of State told the Chief Constable that, as it happened, no harm had been done.
“But the Secretary of State added that an operation of this kind was bound to be very sensitive politically, and that he would prefer when possible to be told in advance.
“Sir John said that this should have been done, and that he had been surprised to find that it had not.”
The note — which is in a file released at the Public Record Office in Belfast — intriguingly adds, with a question mark added in the margin, that “he was glad that the Secretary of State had raised the matter, since this would enable him to take steps to put it right for the future”.
Another confidential memo dated 10 October 1984 said that the Secretary of State had asked for “a report on why the RUC arrested Mr Gerry Adams MP on 2 October, and why they subsequently released him”.
The three-page memo by Deputy Under Secretary JB Bourn said that the Sinn Fein president had been arrested at his Andersonstown home at 5.30am by police supported by troops under the Immigration Act 1971 which allowed for arrest where there were suspicions that someone had knowingly been involved in “facilitating the entry into the United Kingdom of anyone whom he know or has reasonable cause for believing to be an illegal entrant”.
The memo added: “The Secretary of State also spoke to me about the importance of the RUC giving us advance warning, if possible, of police operations that are likely to lead to events of political sensitivity.
“I said that the Chief Constable had been told about and accepted the importance of providing us with this information, and your minute to me of 4 October shows that the Chief Constable confirmed that he understood the importance of ensuring that we have information of this kind, and undertook to look into what had gone wrong on this occasion.
“We shall, of course, be in touch with the RUC about the steps which the Chief Constable undertook to take to put matters right for the future.”
Elsewhere in the same file, a record of a meeting between the Secretary of State and Sir Myles Humphreys, chairman of the Police Authority, shows that during a “brief tête-à-tête with Sir Myles”, the Secretary of State “mentioned the Treasury’s approval of the payment this year of a hardship allowance to the Chief Constable”.
Earlier this year Mr Adams was again arrested, this time by PSNI officers reinvestigating the murder of Jean McConville. At the time, it was made clear that Secretary of State Theresa Villiers had been notified in advance.