McGuinness ‘reacted angrily’ when told he could not visit IRA prisoner

Martin McGuinness pictured in 1983.  Pacemaker Press Intl.  30/1/83.

Martin McGuinness pictured in 1983. Pacemaker Press Intl. 30/1/83.


Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness “reacted rather angrily” on being told that he could not visit an IRA prisoner in jail in 1983.

The exchange with Government officials came after the June 1983 election of Gerry Adams as MP for West Belfast prompted an unusual ban on he and other Sinn Fein figures visiting prisons.

Mr Adams, along with Sinn Fein councillors and Assembly members, was banned from visiting prisoners (unless it was a close relative) because “he is a member of an organisation which openly espouses the use of violence for political ends”, the Government decided.

There was also a fear from the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Jim Prior, that a visit by Mr Adams to a prison would be “a threat to good order in prisons ... because of his attitude to violence”.

The file contains a clipping from the Irish News in which Mr Adams was reported to have told a 1,500-strong crowd in west Belfast that legally he could not appeal to people to join the IRA, but that it was “the patriotic duty” of Irishmen and women to engage in the “legitimate armed struggle”.

He encouraged people to ensure that “every time a British soldier comes out of his fort he will not be just afraid of the IRA or stone-throwers, he will be afraid of the people as well. From now until they leave Ireland, British troops will not be given a moment’s peace”.

The bulky file also contains a note of an attempt by Martin McGuinness, then a Sinn Fein Assemblyman, to visit Hugh Brady, who was on remand charged with possession of firearms and membership of an illegal organisation.

The note from A McKechnie in the Prison Regimes Policy section said that Mr McGuinness had arrived at Belfast Prison asking to meet Brady.

When refused entry, Mr McGuinness telephoned the NIO and asked by name for a Mr Mitchell who was not there so the call was put through to Mr McKechnie.

On being told that he should put his complaint in writing, Mr McGuinness “reacted rather angrily...stressing the urgency of his complaint”.

Mr McGuinness then directly phoned the minister’s office but was given the same message.

Another newly-released Government paper also reveals that the Irish government and some “responsible Roman Catholics” in Northern Ireland believed that the Government was “hobnobbing” with Sinn Fein as the party became a serious political force in the wake of the 1981 hunger strike.

Mr Adams’ election as MP for West Belfast prompted a series of ground rules for officials dealing with Sinn Fein.

A June 1983 note from a G L Angel set out proposals to meet with Sinn Fein representatives on issues which were raised on behalf of their constituents, but not enter into discussions on policy.

Any correspondence with Sinn Fein members should be “brief, cold and formal”, he said.

The memo noted that “the Irish government believes that we are hobnobbing with Sinn Fein”, adding that a similar impression was held by “responsible people in the minority community in Northern Ireland”.

Another note from the same official said that there had been some fears from “responsible Roman Catholics” that the Government was being “unnecessarily forthcoming in our relations with Sinn Fein Assembly members. Mr Prior is particularly anxious to dispel those fears..”

A confidential note from AK Templeton in the Prison Security and Operations Division said that “Sinn Fein – and all other paramilitary subversives – should be excluded from our prisons at all times other than as residents!”




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