358. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Northern Ireland—Recent Moves by London and Dublin

While bombings and killings continue in Northern Ireland, the Irish have joined the British in meaningful moves against the Irish Republican Army, as well as political moves that may possibly point toward a solution to Ulster’s seemingly intractable problems.

Recent Developments

In July, 1972, Prime Minister Heath and his able Minister for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, put Operation Motorman into effect sending British troops into the Catholic ghettos of Belfast and Londonderry to rout the IRA gunmen from their “no-go” safe havens. This successful UK maneuver increasingly has forced the IRA to operate from border areas of the Republic of Ireland.

On October 30, 1972, the British Government issued an official Green Paper (a preliminary review of considerations bearing on the political future of Northern Ireland, to be followed by a White Paper on

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the same subject early in 1973)2 which was very favorably received in the UK and Ireland as an even-handed and well-reasoned document. Of greatest significance the document seems to have had a very strong, positive effect on Prime Minister Lynch in that it takes great care to identify the “Irish dimension” of Ulster’s problems—namely, that Northern Ireland is a part of Ireland; no solution to its problems can be found without taking the interests of the Irish Republic into account; and this, in turn, includes obligations on the part of the Republic to reciprocate, taking interests of Great Britain and Northern Ireland into account. (Addressing itself to the Protestant majority in Ulster, the Green Paper pledges that there will be no change in Northern Ireland’s status without the consent of its people, coupling this pledge with a statement of the UK’s conditions for continuing support—the British Parliament will continue to have sovereign authority over Ulster; and Ulster should be internally at peace and not offer a base for any external threat to the security of the UK.)

Following publication of the Green Paper, there have been clear signs that Prime Minister Lynch is at last earnestly trying to come to grips with the social and political problems that are fundamental to any lasting solution to the trouble in Ulster—with moves against the IRA and toward Constitutional reform in Ireland.

In part because of the growing Irish fear that the bloodshed in Ulster might spread to the Republic, Lynch has cracked down on the IRA (Prime Minister Heath has repeatedly urged him to do so in their private meetings) with considerable support from his countrymen for this law-and-order move. By mid-November, the Irish had put IRA Chief-of-Staff Sean MacStiofain in prison, and on December 3, the Lynch Government’s Offenses Against the State Bill became law—a very tough measure that will, for example, make the word of a senior police officer sufficient for the conviction of an IRA member.

Of equal if not greater importance, in a December 7 referendum, the Irish electorate voted to delete the Catholic Church’s “special position” from the Constitution of the Irish Republic. This vote has been viewed as an important test of Ireland’s willingness to work toward unification in a gradual peaceful manner—taking into account the deep-seated fears held by Ulster’s Protestants of future Catholic discrimination.

Looking Ahead

The odds remain long with regard to ending the conflict in Northern Ireland in the near future. The violence of the past three [Page 1043] years—over 650 dead—has exacerbated traditional divisions to the point where one side’s minimum demands exceed the other’s maximum concessions. Nonetheless, the determined efforts by Prime Ministers Heath and Lynch offer cause for cautious optimism.

In the near future, the British Government can be expected to continue to display the initiative that has characterized its Ulster policy since direct rule was declared in March 1972. Work on the White Paper is well underway. Prime Minister Heath’s visit to Northern Ireland in mid-November launched a new round of consultations between London and the Northern Ireland political groups. Parliament, in its continuing spirit of bipartisanship on Ulster affairs, will complete work shortly on a bill calling for a plebiscite in Ulster. The plebiscite, which is expected to be held in late January, will ask whether northerners want to remain part of the UK or join the Irish Republic.

The purpose of this memorandum is to advise you of recent developments in Northern Ireland. There is no need for any action on your part at this time.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 694, Country Files—Europe, Ireland. Confidential. Sent for information. The original is not initialed by Kissinger and bears no indication it went forward to the President. In an attached December 8 memorandum, Sonnenfeldt recommended it be forwarded to Nixon. A notation on Sonnenfeldt’s memorandum reads: “January 29 [1973] Secretariat: This was filed with Ed—please close your files. Louise.”
  2. United Kingdom, Northern Ireland Department, The Future of Northern Ireland; A Paper for Discussion. The White Paper was issued as Northern Ireland: Constitutional Proposals (Cmnd. 5259).