DIPLOMATIC DITHERING between Britain and Ireland cost the life of a canoeist on Lough Swilly in February 1985.
It was also a contributing factor in the death of musician Phil Coulter’s brother Brian near the same spot months earlier.
Had the protocols in place now been in place then, both men could have been saved.
According to confidential National Archives documents to be released on January 4 about search and rescue mission protocols, there was a delay before a British Royal Air Force helicopter could get permission to fly into Irish airspace to rescue the canoeist.
The teenager had got into difficulty on the Co Donegal lough but diplomatic delays took more than half an hour and, documents show, they ’cost a canoeist’s life’.
This is despite the fact that the helicopter that could have been used to rescue him was based a few minutes flying time from the lough.
The incident happened on February 11, 1985 at a time when there was growing calls for a more streamlined system of search and rescue in the area.
The RLNI base that now exists on the lough was set up in 1988 after a campaign was launched following the death of the canoeist and Brian Coulter.
Some 47 lives have been saved since.
Kate Heaney, a Donegal News journalist who helped campaign to get the station established with her husband Pat, said last night: ‘Brian Coulter, who was a friend of mine, and that poor canoeist have left a great legacy.
‘Their deaths were the catalyst for the setting up of the life boat station on Lough Swilly.
‘All of us involved with the campaign had always been completely frustrated by the problems involved in calling in help for people in trouble on the lough.
Dithering also delayed the emergency rescue of a seaman who had fallen sick aboard a merchant naval vessel docked in Irish territorial waters the day after the teenage canoeist died on Lough Swilly.
As a result of the two incidents, the British appealed to the Irish government to help make the process behind clearance for reciprocal search and rescue missions simpler.
They asked if it could be ‘possible to look at ways whereby the requirement for prior diplomatic clearance might, on a reciprocal basis, be waived for these “missions of mercy”?’
In a confidential Department of Foreign Affairs document from the British Embassy in Dublin dated August 19, 1985, it was noted that ‘there were two incidents earlier this year.
’The first (involved) canoeists in County Donegal, and the second, (a) crewman of a British ship who was taken ill when his vessel was at the mouth of Carlingford Lough.
‘In the first incident, a request for help for canoeists in trouble on Lough Swilly came via the RUC from the Garda Siochana to headquarters Northern Ireland on 11 February.
‘An RAF helicopter was tasked but was delayed by at least half an hour in reaching the scene because of the need to obtain diplomatic clearance to enter Irish airspace.
‘The helicopter eventually found an empty canoe on the lough and it was felt that the delay cost a canoeist’s life.
‘The second occurred on 12 February in the form of a direct request from the master of the ship anchored off Greenore Point.
‘Again, diplomatic clearance had to be obtained before a helicopter could lift off a sick crew member.’
The official, according to documents due to be released on January 4 under the 30-year rule, asked: ‘Is it possible to look at ways whereby the requirement for prior diplomatic clearance might, on a reciprocal basis, be waived for these “missions of mercy”?
‘The Department of foreign affairs would, of course, instantly be notified as soon as a search and rescue mission in the Republic of Ireland’s airspace was mounted.
‘And under the arrangements envisaged, all the Irish Air Corps would need do no more than notify the United Kingdom authorities of any emergency Search and Rescue mission in British waters.’
In December 1985, agreed proposals for new protocols led to a system of co-operation that exists today but which was too late for the estimated eight people who died on the lough between 1974 and 1984.
GARRET FITZGERALD warned he would not sign the Anglo Irish Agreement if Margaret Thatcher didn’t agree to a joint courts system.
And he said that if she didn’t agree to judges from both sides of the border officiating in terrorism trials, he’d look like a ‘fool’ who had been ‘led up the garden path’.
After the British Prime Minister refused to agree to the joint courts system, Dr FitzGerald warned her: ‘There could be no agreement’.
The issue of joint courts was one of a number of ‘confidence-building measures’ Dr FitzGerald had in May 1985 wanted tacked onto agreement between the two sides.
These measures, which also included reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, were designed to reassure the minority Nationalist community in the North.
But at their meeting on June 29, just months away from the signing of the 1985 Agreement, Mrs Thatcher – according to secret Department of the Taoiseach documents to be released on January 4 by the National Archives – observed: ‘There is no possibility of agreeing in advance to joint courts.’
In reply, Dr Fitzgerald said: ‘If I didn’t know that a system of this sort would come into existence under the agreement, (then) I could not go ahead with the agreement.
Again, the Prime Minister insisted that the British ‘just cannot undertake to institute a system of joint courts’.
Dr Fitzgerald persisted, telling her: ‘This question has to be considered now. People have been saying that I have been led up the garden path.
“They would say this even more strongly.
‘They would say that we have been fooled by the British again.’
But Mrs Thatcher told him that for their part, she believed Unionists will say a joint courts system ‘is a foot in the door’.
Dr Fitzgerald said: ‘This is a very real problem.
‘I have to be able to say, if this whole thing is to be considered, that it can happen.’
And later, he said that unless measures such as a joint court system were to be agreed to, he felt ‘we have been wasting our time’.
And he warned: ‘There just could be no agreement in those circumstances.’
The Prime Minister conceded that the British could introduce a code of conduct for the RUC and other things ‘but they must have a low profile: that is the best line’.
Dr Fitzgerald was insistent that more needed to be done by the British to reassure the minority Nationalist population.
He told her: ‘We have been saying for six months we can’t get the minority to back this agreement unless there are changes in the UDR and the RUC.
‘We can’t get the minority support without these.
‘They just cannot sell an agreement, without these changes, to their own people.’
And, again he warned her: ‘By the time the measures you mention are put in force in the way you were speaking the whole effect of the agreement will have evaporated.
‘I have put my personal authority on the line here.
‘This whole negotiation has been viewed by very many people in the south with the deepest scepticism.’
He also told her: ‘For the last Six months, the government has been increasingly sceptical about these negotiations.
‘They have been saying that unless these associated measures take place simultaneously, then they just cannot back the agreement.
‘I have persuaded them to go along with what is happening but with difficulty.
‘If things break down now it will be very damaging.’
GARDA BOSSES are claimed to have criticised detectives weeks before a tribunal investigated their handling of the infamous Kerry Babies case investigation.
In cabinet briefing notes from November 1984 and to be released by the National Archives on January 4 for the first time, the then Garda Commissioner is said to have described the actions of his detectives as ‘grossly negligent’.
At the time, gardai were criticised over allegations they either assaulted or physically coerced members of a Kerry family to admit to their respective roles in murdering and disposing of one of two new-born babies found in Co Kerry in April 1984.
Kerry Babies Tribunal Judge Kevin Lynch would later find these allegations to be untrue.
Joanne Hayes was charged over the death of one of the babies, who had been stabbed in the heart and found wedged between rocks on a beach in Cahirciveen and later named Baby John before being buried.
The 25-year-old receptionist’s initial statement that she gave birth to an illegitimate baby boy in a field on her parents’ farm 70km away in Abbeydorney and could show gardai his body was not initially believed.
Detectives instead believed she gave birth to her baby in her bed and stabbed him to death before members of her family disposed of his body.
But the day after she was charged with the Cahirciveen baby’s murder, her own baby was found on her parents’ farm.
Subsequent tests on a section of lung taken from the Cahirciveen Baby showed he had a different blood group to Ms Hayes, the man she had been having an affair with and the baby she gave birth to.
The charges against her and her family were withdrawn a few months later. A few weeks ago, an appeal was launched to encourage someone to come forward with information about the death of Baby John.
The infamous case led to a controversial 82-day tribunal set up to look into the events leading up to charges being made against and then later withdrawn against Ms Hayes and members of her family.
It was also established to look into allegations the Hayes family made about them being allegedly coerced into making incriminating statements.
However, the tribunal focused in detail on the morality of Ms Hayes having a relationship with a married man and on inconsistencies in statements and claims made by members of the Hayes family about the way they were say treated by gardai.
By the end of it, gardai were exonerated of the allegations that they assaulted or physically abused members of the Hayes family.
However, some gardai would later be transferred out of the Investigation Section of the Garda Technical Bureau.
A lawyer involved in the original case said last night that had the results of the internal garda enquiry been known, there might not have been any need for the IR£1.6 million tribunal that followed.
The tribunal report would find in October 1985 that Ms Hayes’ baby was born in the family home, not in a field – although this was strongly refuted by her defence team.
The tribunal heard evidence, which was also strongly disputed by Ms Hayes’ defence, from a family member claimed to have been at the birth.
Her lawyer Patrick Mann said last night: ‘I do not recall ever being sent or seeing
the results of that internal garda enquiry.
‘It puts a whole new light on things and shows that garda management were already
unhappy and concerned about the conduct of their own detectives.
‘To have described them as “grossly negligent” is very strong stuff.
‘It does now beg the question: why on earth did we then need to have a big tribunal
to look into garda conduct when in fact the garda and the government already knew what they were dealing with.’
The Kerry Babies Tribunal was established in December 13, 1984.
In a memorandum for the government eight days previously, on December 6, Michael Noonan – the then Minister for Justice – laid out his proposal for a judicial enquiry into the case.
He referred to the fact that the then Garda Commissioner Larry Wren had forwarded to him on November 26, 1984, a report on the internal Garda investigation into the allegations by members of the Hayes family of misconduct by detectives in the Kerry babies case.
At the time, that it had been completed had not been made public.
On December 6 – just before the setting up of the Kerry Babies Tribunal – a memo from the Office of the Ministry for Justice and Equality to government was written up on the ‘Proposed judicial inquiry into the “Kerry Babies” case.
It set out the Minister for Justice Michael Noonan’s case for a tribunal.
He is at all times referred to in the third person in the memo.
And in addition, the briefing note to his government colleagues on what the Commissioner concluded is all in note form.
There are no direct quotes from the Commissioner.
The memo says that Commissioner Wren said the investigation had not been able to arrive at any conclusion in relation to allegations of garda misconduct made by the Hayes family.
He is also reported to have said all the gardai involved denied the allegations and that there was no independent corroborating evidence.
The fact that the Hayes family had refused to be interviewed by the internal Garda investigation investigators was highlighted, as was the refusal by a small number of gardai involved in the case to make full statements or answer specific questions.
The Commissioner concluded, according to Minister Noonan, that ‘some aspects of the original criminal investigation were being concealed’.
Mr Noonan’s outline of some of the main conclusions of the internal garda enquiry are then detailed in the memo.
‘Although tests on the blood grouping of Ms Hayes, the man she was associating with and both babies showed (she) and the man could not be parents of the Cahirciveen Baby, gardai (did not explain) why they persevered with the murder (charge) against Miss Hayes,’ it states.
‘In the opinion of the state pathologist, the knife produced to him was unlikely to have caused most of the wounds on the baby’s body.
‘Notwithstanding that there was some evidence to support the statement of Ms Hayes
that she had given birth in a field and disposed of the baby on the farm . . . Ms Hayes was not invited to point out to gardai the spot where she had disposed of the body.
‘To all intents and purposes, active investigation of the case ceased once the charges
had been preferred against of the Hayes family, notwithstanding the finding of the second baby.
‘The conclusion of the investigating gardai from the finding of the second baby seemed
to be that Ms Hayes must have had twins, although the results of the forensic tests on the blood groups threw serious doubt on this.
‘The Commissioner has concluded that, whatever about the truth of the allegations of the Hayes family, the report clearly indicates that the officers conducting the criminal investigation into the death of the Cahirciveen baby were grossly negligent in their handling of the case.
‘And he considers that some form of sworn enquiry is required to establish what really
Minister Noonan then told Cabinet that he considered that ‘in all the circumstances he has no option but to proceed with the holding of a sworn enquiry into the case’.
And he added: ‘The issues involved are clearly of major public importance and warrant the most searching investigation
‘Moreover, as a result of all the publicity the case has received, there is a very large public interest dimension to the case
‘In addition the Minister has already indicated in statements made in the Dail in relation to the case that, if the Garda investigation failed to clear the matter up he would think it probable that a sworn enquiry would be justified.’
However, in a very prescient observation, given that the identity of either Baby John or his killer remains unknown more than 30 years on, he also had his own reservations about the efficacy of a tribunal.
He said: ‘It must be borne in mind, however, that there can be no guarantee that the sworn enquiry will succeed in satisfactorily resolving the conflicting versions of the events that have already been given.
‘But, at the very least, it will bring the facts of what happened out into the open so that people can make up their own minds about them.
‘There is also the possibility that the examination and cross-examination of witnesses on both may make a difference.’
THE STATE supported the transfer of military cargo by both Singapore and the UAE over Irish airspace but stopped the Israelis doing the same.
National Archive documents due to be released on January 4, 2016, detail the hoops the Israelis had to go through to get permission to fly military transporter planes over Ireland on their way to America to load up with armaments.
Israeli Air Force planes were permitted fly empty transporter aircraft over Ireland to the US, where they loaded up with arms and ammunition.
But they were banned from flying back over Irish airspace laden with their deadly cargoes.
For example, in March 1984, the Israeli Embassy in London was informed that because a flight planned for March 28 would be carrying ‘material de guerre’, it would not be allowed.
‘However, permission is granted for the overflight on March 26, 1984.’
A request for another overflight on June 28 was also rejected.
‘This request was refused on grounds of the cargo being spare parts for tanks and Israel’s position in an area of tension’, noted an official in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
A flight from the US to Israel over Irish air space planned for August 22, 1984 was also refused permission because it was to carry ‘explosives’, while the earlier August 20 flight to the US to collect that same material was permitted.
In contrast, civil servants tasked with granting permission for overflights supported an application by Singapore to fly over Ireland an aircraft laden with military hardware.
On board were ‘two missiles and warheads’.
All officials seemed interested in was that the plane being flown met all the necessary safety standards.
One wrote in the side of confidential documents about the planned flight: ‘We are not, in principle, opposed to granting this Singaporean request.’
Another said: ‘Our relations with Singapore are good.
‘I feel we ought to not refuse this request but we might want to make sure that proper safety measures will be taken.’
A request by the United Arab Emirates Air Force to fly a plane over Irish airspace from the US that contained ‘military stores’ was also considered favourably.
An official said in memo marked ‘Urgent’: ‘All other things equal, we would not in principle be opposed to the overflight by UAE, given the military stores in question are not in themselves dangerous or unstable (unlike warheads etc).’
But they added: ‘We are reserved about granting the overflight given that the Gulf is clearly an area of tension and that, as a general rule, we are cautious about granting overflights to areas of tension.’
However, permission for the November 1984 fly-over was eventually granted.
SECRET DOCUMENTS have confirmed for the first time that the British spied on Irish Embassy officials during the negotiations leading up to the Hillsborough Agreement.
Garret FitzGerald was sent a warning about intelligence bugging in March 1985, some two years before he denied his diplomats in London were being spied on.
Documents released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule reveal a senior Irish Embassy official claimed the 2nd Earl of Gowrie, a former Northern Ireland minister, told him about the bugging.
His warning was just eight months before the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed at Hillsborough on November 15, 1985 and it came during a period of intense negotiations between both sides.
The details of the warning were relayed in a secret document that was brought from London to Dublin by a courier – possibly an Aer Lingus pilot – and hand delivered to Dr FitzGerald.
The then Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Barry and the then Tanaiste Dick Spring were also on the distribution list for the document embassy official Richard Ryan sent on March 27, 1985.
It followed a lunch meeting he said he had had with the 76-year-old Donegal-born peer.
At that meeting, Lord Gowrie is said to have referenced an incident in which the contents of a coded telex Mr Ryan had sent from the Irish Embassy ended up in the hands of agents at the UK’s intelligence centre GCHQ in Cheltenham.
The telex had referenced something Richard Needham, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Prior’s private secretary from 1983 until 1984, had told Mr Ryan.
It was, Mr Ryan said, intercepted by British intelligence agents and appears to have got Mr Needham, who had to apologise to Mrs Thatcher years when he was caught referring to her as a ‘cow’ in a bugged phone call, into trouble.
In Mr Ryan’s letter, which will be made public by the National Archives on Monday, January 4, the embassy official said Lord Gowrie ‘mentioned the difficulty which I had caused for Richard Needham last year (when a coded telex came back to the Government via Cheltenham) and asked that we should do our reporting in a secure way for his sake.’
And he revealed: ‘He (Lord Gowrie) asked that the Ambassador and I should be very aware of blanket eaves-dropping in our communications with Dublin and that we should not allow our special relationship with him (which is known to the Prime Minister and may well be one of the reasons for him being brought in at this time) to lead to difficulties.’
Detailed claims that the Irish Embassy in London was being bugged were first made public in a 1987 article by a UK newspaper.
But in a subsequent Glasgow Herald article on January 26, 1987, it was reported that Dr FitzGerald had ‘firmly stamped on the speculation of a diplomatic incident over Britain’s alleged bugging of his London Embassy’.
The report said that ‘he stressed there was no evidence that the British Secret Service had listened into the embassies operations and questioned whether they would want to bother “spending time listening to what we are saying to each other”.’
Elsewhere in Mr Ryan’s letter, he said: ‘(Lord) Gowrie feels honoured that the Prime Minister has asked him to join the Cabinet sub-committee which has just been set up.
‘He has thought for some time that a certain suspicion attaches to him on Irish affairs and, while delighted with the invitation from her, he feels he must proceed with great care in order not to compromise in any way the objectivity that is essential to the job.’