172. Telegram From the Embassy in Ireland to the Department of State1

333. Subj: Talks with IRA. Ref: Dublin 0313.2

Summary: During visit to Dublin March 12/13, Labor leader Harold Wilson had long meeting with Army Council of Provisional IRA and found wide areas of agreement on permanent solution to Ireland problem. (Info is sensitive). Although Provos are themselves split, majority of Army Council supports relatively soft negotiating position advanced when Provos declared three-day truce (reftel). Wilson believes that IRA position must be taken into account but that IRA itself should not be represented in negotiations except thru elected politicians. Provos may be willing go along with this. New areas of agreement between British Labor, IRA, and GOI are evident to public (though background is not). After so much violence, political movement is encouraging, but it has certainly raised hopes of all Irish nationalists. It is even more difficult now to imagine successful solution that does not open door to long-term movement toward Irish unity.

1. Following info given to us by Irish Labor Deputy John O’Connell’s staff asst, who helped arrange all talks and sat in on them. Important protect source and others involved in IRA meeting. No US source should discuss fact that meeting held. We believe info as given us is accurate as to facts, but interpretations might, of course, be different from other angles. There may well be inputs and angles of which we are not aware.

2. As we know from source in British Emb (reftel), IRA Provisionals have been trying to reach HMG in many ways, but have not been encouraged. On about March 7, Provos told O’Connell of problem and said they had in mind declaring brief truce as demonstration of good faith and capacity to fulfill any agreement made. O’Connell urged them do so and reviewed with them their conditions for extending truce. At first he found conditions much too hard. Provos were eventually persuaded set forth three points that represented sharp departure from their past inflexible position. New points were within negotiating range of PM Lynch’s proposals and Wilson’s 15-point program of last Nov.3

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3. O’Connell flew to London March 9, had long luncheon meeting with Wilson and his Shadow Sec of Home Affairs, and then met most of Labor Shadow Cabinet. Wilson was impressed by IRA truce and relatively moderate conditions for prolonging it. Wilson was, however, pessimistic about early political initiative from Heath govt. He said PM Heath, though not deeply informed on Irish problem, understood its seriousness, wished to settle it, and understood that radical political initiative would be necessary to do so. Heath’s Cabinet and backbenchers were, however, so seriously split that any really forthcoming initiative could endanger survival of govt. Problem growing daily more difficult as unionist resistance given time to build in response to HMG’s trial balloons. Wilson was willing work with Heath on solving problem, but, if Heath fails cope, Wilson believes he could be the British PM who finally solves the Irish problem. In either case, Wilson understood that Provos’ new attitude presented an opportunity which could not be lost. He said that he wanted to come to Dublin Monday, March 13, and needed a good excuse for it. O’Connell called Irish TV and, of course, found director delighted give Wilson prime time for TV interview. Other Wilson activities in Dublin also fell easily into place, as one would expect.

4. In Dublin, Wilson’s TV performance was exceptionally effective in Irish terms, though it has drawn heavy criticism from Northern PM Faulkner. Wilson also had good meetings with PM Lynch and leaders of main opposition parties, as press has reported. Press has not reported that Wilson had three-hour meeting with five top Provos in O’Connell’s house. We believe Lynch knows this and fact is likely leak eventually, but it must not come from American source.

5. Wilson and Provos’ political leadership reached wide area of agreement. We do not know details, but much overlapping is apparent in Provos’ conditions stated reftel and Wilson’s points on TV interview (Dublin 325).4 (Positions of both Wilson and Provos are also in negotiating range of those urged by PM Lynch at Fianna Fail Convention, as see Dublin 237.5) Provos believed IRA must be represented in negotiations as obviously important force and Wilson accepted this, as Americans have accepted negotiations with Viet Cong. Wilson believes, at same time, that it will be easier achieve negotiations between elected representatives of people. Provos plan overcome this problem by running their men under Nationalist Party label in next NI election. In meantime, [Page 608] if necessary, they could be represented by someone like Northern MP McManus.

6. Source indicated that most of top Provisional “Army Council” was present at meeting, but was not specific on this point. In another context, however, he gave us following five names as members of Army Council, with comment on each:

A) Ruairi O Bradaigh, Sinn Fein President. Politically sensitive. Favors Provos’ new soft position.

B) Daithi O Conoill (David O’Connell). Same comment.

C) Patrick Ryan. Same comment.

D) Joe Cahill. Basically military rather than political strategist, but quite reasonable.

E) Sean MacStiofain John Stephenson). Mentally unstable and fanatically anti-British despite fact that his father was English. Does not [know?] any tactic except brute force.

7. O’Connell believes that IRA truce was not rpt not motivated by any weakness, although Provisionals have undoubtedly sustained many losses. They could probably make life in NI intolerable as long as Catholic minority continues support them. O’Connell also believes Catholic support will continue as long as British attempt deal with political problem by military measures.

8. By way of comparison, following is comment on Wilson’s Dublin trip by GOI source. Trip was highly political, aimed at keeping Wilson in center stage as only British politician able cope with Irish problem. Most of his points in TV interview were similar to those he proposed in Nov, though there were some useful variations. (Emb note: Lynch may well feel that he has been outflanked or at least upstaged in his own backyard, and he has.) All current positions are undoubtedly pre-negotiating postures, and hence a bit strong. On issues, Lynch, Wilson, and Provos are not far apart, and NI opposition (Catholics) are also close. Unionist positions, however, are hardening by the hour, and it is easy understand PM Heath’s concern.

9. Comment: Believe above is important political development in Irish problem. After months of human violence and political paralysis, such movement is inevitably welcome, but we note two aspects of concern:

A) British Govt is much the most important element in problem, and it has not yet been able announce political initiative.

B) Expectations of Irish Nationalists, north and south, have been raised by conspicuously wide area of agreement between British Labor, Dublin, and IRA. This makes it even more unlikely that long-range so[Page 609]lution will work if it does not open door to some approximation of Irish unity.6

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 UK. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to London and Belfast.
  2. Not found.
  3. Lynch proposed a 3-point plan for peace in Northern Ireland on February 19. (“Lynch Proposes a 3-Point Plan For Peace in Northern Ireland,” New York Times, February 20, 1972, p. 14) On November 25, 1971, Wilson presented a plan in the House of Commons for a united Ireland. (“Wilson Resists Party Pressure, Backs Conservatives on Ulster,” New York Times, November 26, 1971, p. 19)
  4. Not found.
  5. Not found.
  6. In telegram 2440 from London, March 17, the Embassy commented on the impact on British politics of the Wilson visit to Dublin and its implications when, as seemed likely in the Embassy’s view, news of Wilson’s meeting with the IRA became public. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 13–10 UK)