A 1983 paper about the role of Northern Ireland’s councils in civil defence described the threat of war as “remote”, adding that elaborate preparations for such a catastrophic event would be “unjustified”.
Nevertheless, the paper, released at the Public Record Office in Belfast under the 30-year rule, said that contingency plans for either conventional or nuclear war were necessary.
It said: “A widespread nuclear attack would undoubtedly kill millions of people and bring our social organisation to a halt.
“But there could equally be many millions of survivors whose prospects would be greatly enhanced by prudent peacetime planning.”
The paper then sets out in some detail what could be expected to happen in the event of a nuclear bombing.
“After a nuclear attack, or during and after heavy conventional bombardment, when a district was cut off from outside help, local charge would have to be taken over the immediate tasks not only of burying the dead but also of caring for the injured and providing food, water, help, information and advice to the surviving population.”
It said that in the event of a nuclear attack Northern Ireland would be one of 11 ‘civil defence regions’ within the UK in which government powers would be vested in a senior minister, with a small team of advisers “until it became possible to restore normal institutions”.
A 1983 Home Defence Planning Committee meeting (which seems to have been held annually) in Dundonald House involved 26 individuals from across the public sector and the armed forces.
The meeting was shown a NIO paper which contained details of likely targets for nuclear attack, though these are not included in the file.
The paper was to be communicated to others on a “need to know” basis.
Another restricted paper in the file contains recommendations for selecting those who would form the membership of four ‘Area Control Teams’ who would provide government from secure bunkers after a nuclear attack.
The paper said that the teams – which had a maximum complement of 75 personnel – had made progress but “their state of preparedness falls far short of the planning objective of 48 hours”.
Among recommendations for who should be selected to serve on the teams were that individuals should be of sound health, not already designated for essential duties in crisis and ideally younger than 50.
It was ‘desirable’ that the individuals were not vegetarian or require other special diets and ‘ideal’ if they had no dependent relatives and were not members of a religious sect which required no work on Saturdays or Sundays.
The paper also recommended they should not have personality problems “that would exacerbate the abnormal and stressful working environment of bunker life”.
A detailed list of those who should be in one of the four area control bunkers included several senior police officers, a member of the judiciary, two under secretaries from the Civil Service and a scientific adviser as well as support staff including typists, three cooks and two ‘domestic helpers’.