A Foreign & Commonwealth documents file released in April 2016 has been obtained under a Freedom of Information request dated back to 2012 and consists of some one hundred plus pages.
The contents of the file marked: ‘Relations between Libya and the IRA; including seizure of the Eksund’, will be of considerable interest locally and to those UK victims and survivors groups and individuals seeking compensation.
The period covered in the file is up to and including 1987.
It should be emphasised the file is of a diplomatic and political nature; although it makes a number of references to intelligence and security matters, much of this input has been redacted, or ‘removed’ from the documents. One cryptic underlined note reads ‘Did seizure of Eksund not reveal gap in British intelligence? We do not comment on intelligence matters’.
It is well known that it was the French naval authorities who seized the vessel Eksund while it passed through French territorial seas.
The documents reveal the French prosecuting authorities at the time were reluctant to pass on to both the Irish and British any information of detail on the arms due to a criminal investigation and sub judice rules. ‘Important not to jeopardise any proceedings’, was the official line taken by the French.
It is clear from reading the documents that both British and Irish authorities had no idea – although it is hard to believe given Gaddafi’s credentials that Israeli intelligence had not been passing the odd note to MI6 – of the four arms shipments successfully landed in Ireland between 1985 and 1986, consisting of several hundred tons of arms, ammunition and explosives valued at $55 million in US dollars.
There is also a letter stamped secret from the US Embassy in London expressing outrage at the Libyan shipment and wishing to know if the arms were of Eastern Bloc origin.
And yes, the Soviets get a dishonourable mention. A meeting with the Soviet Ambassador by the Foreign Secretary was typically understated by the British – ‘To express concern that Soviet arms are reaching the IRA through Libya’.
There is much more fascinating detail in the file, covering on-going separate trade deals by both the British and Irish with Libya, while at the same time, Gaddafi was exporting Chinese-made weapons to the Provisionals in Ireland.
The French Press had obtained ‘authentic’ photographs showing boxes clearly addressed by the arms manufacturer, Norinco, to the Directorate of Military Procurement of Libya.
There is also mention of freezing Libyan assets, closing bank accounts and the effect of military blockade on oil exports.
My view on the whole process of the IRA’s acquisition of arms from Libya is that although the Garda and the RUC had some home ground success in the capture of arms, the British and Irish governments were always behind in these matters and never caught up.
The contents of the FCO file tend to support this view; and with their release into the public domain – there can be no rewriting of history.
MW Woods, Bangor