Secretary of State Jim Prior misled the House of Commons about allegations Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was guarded in hospital by up to eight republicans, according to a file released at the Public Record Office.
In March 1984 Secretary of State Jim Prior was asked in the House of Commons about security at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
South Belfast MP Martin Smyth told him that “until even 11 O’Clock last evening, Sinn Fein supporters were patrolling in level two because they did not trust the security forces”.
Then Ian Paisley asked: “Why was a similar situation allowed to exist at the Ulster Hospital, when a terrorist who was taken into that hospital was guarded by Sinn Fein members and when every person entering the hospital to go to that ward was followed in by two members of Sinn Fein?”
Mr Prior replied: “I am told that that is quite untrue and that the RUC has been in charge on all occasions.”
However, a note attached to the Hansard record of that House of Commons exchange states that the Secretary of State was wrong in what he said to Dr Paisley.
The confidential note, by senior official Maurice Hayes, is contained in a file released at the Public Record Office in Belfast. It said: “Secretary of State’s reply to Dr Paisley is incorrect. Could you find out , please, how he was briefed for the encounter and what was the basis of his reply. It will then be necessary to consider whether any corrective action is necessary.
“Rev Martin Smyth has already referred to this in conversation with Mr Kinder, alleging that Secretary of State had misled the House.”
A detailed letter to the Rev Smyth — complete with an already addressed Department of Health envelope — is contained in the file with a note saying that it was never sent to the then MP.
In the letter, the Rev Smyth was told that there had indeed been members of Sinn Fein who had accompanied Gerry Adams during his stay in hospital after being shot.
The letter, from NIO minister Chris Patten – which a memo states was not sent “on the instructions of the Secretary of State” as he had “dealt with the matter” in the Commons–said: “For most of the time Mr Adams was in hospital at least two people were involved but the numbers did fluctuate and for short periods as many as eight people were present. Such people were not allowed into the wards but were confined to public areas where they did not interfere with the normal running of the hospital.”
Mr Patten insisted that they “were not guarding Mr Adams or any other patients. Where patients require special protection it is provided by the RUC who guarded Mr Adams throughout his stay in the hospital”. He acknowledged that “technically the presence of these people infringed the normal administrative arrangements of the hospital”, adding that the hospital management had consulted police about the issue but officers advised that no action should be taken to remove them as they were not threatening to breach the peace.
He suggested that Sinn Fein wanted to exploit they situation, the party might have wished to provoke a confrontation between its supporters and the hospital staff and police, seeking to use the fracas for propaganda purposes.
“As tensions were already running high in the aftermath of the shooting of Mr Adams, the police, for perfectly proper operational reasons, did not wish to see any action being taken which would have exacerbated an already tense situation unless there was a clear need to do so.”
A separate memo from RS Sterling in the Department of Health explained: “When Mr Adams and the three others who were injured with him were admitted into the RVH suffering from gunshot wounds on 14 March, they were housed in a secure ward and placed under the protection of armed police officers. All four were material witnesses to an armed assault and clearly their lives were at risk which is why the police took these precautions.”