Declassified files: Intelligence showed IRA wouldn’t hand over weapons, RUC told NIO

IRA members pictured with heavy weapons in south Armagh in 1989
IRA members pictured with heavy weapons in south Armagh in 1989
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IRA members would not accept the organisation handing over its weapons to be decommissioned, a senior RUC officer told the NIO in January 1995.

With civil servants just a month into their first ‘exploratory dialogue’ with Sinn Féin in which they were pressing for at least a commitment to decommission, the issue was discussed at a 10 January 1994 security coordinating meeting involving NIO officials, senior RUC commanders and Army officers.

RUC deputy chief constable Blair Wallace told the meeting that although “both ceasefires were holding”, it was the case that “PIRA continued to gather intelligence, to target, and to train”.

A large section of what he said after that has been blacked out and will not be released until at least 2079.

The minute goes on to record that DCC Wallace had said that “‘civil administration’ beatings were still going on. Sinn Féin continued also to orchestrate street protests – the previous Sunday a crowd of some 400 people attended an event at Maghera.

“This was something of an achievement, especially since large numbers were not bussed in. This contrasted with the cavalcade to the Maze recently where only 30 cars could be mustered.”

He said that the opening of exploratory dialogue between NIO officials and Sinn Féin had “eased some pressure on the leadership and silenced some criticism” but that over time he expected that “internal pressure would increase on Sinn Féin to show results from exploratory dialogue.”

He also said that “at grass roots level, it was clear that PIRA would not accept the handing over of weapons to anyone, north or south, even to an ‘honest broker’.” Another section had been blacked out after that comment.

At a meeting of the same group the following month, the senior RUC officer gave the government an updated intelligence assessment.

The minutes of the meeting said: “DCC Wallace reported that the ceasefires continued to hold. Within PIRA there were rumblings in east Tyrone, south Armagh and in some parts of Belfast, where volunteers were losing confidence in the leadership as a result of what they perceived as slow political progress.

“However, there was as yet no suggestion of the formation of a breakaway group. Sinn Féin were acutely aware of RUC inroads into hard republican areas and were actively backing opportunities to discredit the force.”

The IRA ultimately ended its ceasefire the following year and did not substantively decommission its arsenal until almost a decade later.

Officials did not want public record of SF talks

Sinn Féin told the government that it wanted full transparency around its ‘exploratory dialogue’ with civil servants but officials did not want to publish everything that was discussed.

At the third meeting, on 16 January 1995, lead NIO official Quentin Thomas said that the government had “carefully considered” Sinn Fein’s suggestion that there should be a verbatim record of the meetings but believed that to do so “would be a mistake”.

He said that no such meetings with other parties were recorded in such a way and it would be “an impediment to the development of the full and frank exchange of views that was needed”.

A minute of the meeting said: “Rather surprisingly, Mr McGuinness put forward no counter-arguments, saying simply ‘that’s fine’.”

Mr McGuinness told the officials that it was an “amazing statement” to suggest that decommissioning was necessary before wider talks, saying that “for five years up to November 1993, there had been contact between HMG and Sinn Féin, and during all this time there had been no mention of arms decommissioning.”