Declassifed Files: In Troubles’ final years, RoI still a ‘haven for criminals’

Sir Patrick Mayhew, who was the British Attorney General and later Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. PACEMAKER BELFAST
Sir Patrick Mayhew, who was the British Attorney General and later Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. PACEMAKER BELFAST

Even in what was the final decade of the Troubles, the Republic of Ireland’s notoriously difficult extradition system was so problematic that the British Attorney General believed that not a single terror suspect would be successfully extradited from there.

During a meeting between the British Attorney General, Sir Patrick Mayhew, and his Irish counterpart in July 1988, the serious difficulties with extraditing IRA suspects from the Republic were discussed.

In a four-page account of their meeting in a Dublin private members’ club, Sir Patrick said his counterpart had told him to “bear in mind the sensitivities and realities involved”.

In the note, copied to the Prime minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Advocate, Sir Patrick said: “I took the opportunity to remind him that ‘sensitivities’ were not restricted to his side of the Irish Sea. We too were sensitive to a bomber walking free from a District Court unjustifiably.”

Sir Patrick went on: “I told Mr Murray that extradition from the Republic was perceived as being so fraught with difficulty that police forces throughout the UK were already concluding that it was not worth the time and effort to apply for extradition.

“The very small number of applications since March and in the pipeline starkly illustrated this trend.

“I said that the present Irish legislation with all its built-in obstacles was a recipe for turning the Republic into a haven for criminals. They must make a choice: either they must operate a truly simplified backing of warrants arrangement, in which case they must legislate to remove many of the existing obstacles or they must negotiate a new Treaty with us from scratch.

“It was clearly in the interests of both countries to have a simplified backing of warrants system; but the present system was not working satisfactorily.”

The Attorney General described it as “an unfruitful meeting”, adding: “Perhaps not surprisingly”.

In glum terms, he went on: “I think it unlikely that the Irish Government will promote any legislation to amend the Extradition Act.

“I think it is unlikely that we will secure the return of any [underlined] terrorist from that jurisdiction.

“Our interests must lie, as I have indicated before, in ensuring that the blame for the failure of any particular case is plainly [underlined] seen to lie with the Irish and not with us.

“I intend to ensure this.”