Secret files | 

Irish officials warned Libya that supplying arms to IRA could cause ‘civil war’

Irish officials also pressed Libya to buy Irish beef, with Minister Gerry Collins stressing that Ireland had “a good deal” of beef to sell


Secret files show how Ireland warned Libya its supply of Soviet weaponry, including the Czech-made explosive Semtex, to the IRA could have caused “civil war” in a friendly country.

Documents released as part of the State Archive show Ireland sought assurances from Libyan officials that the flow of arms and cash to the IRA had been permanently cut off.

Irish officials, led by Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Collins, also pressed Libya to buy Irish beef, with Mr Collins stressing that Ireland had “a good deal” of beef to sell.

Mr Collins, in a stark warning to a senior Libyan official in 1991, stressed that had a major arms shipment like that on the Eksund vessel successfully been landed in Ireland, the results could have been catastrophic.

Previous declassified documents released last year revealed the receipt of Libyan-sourced weaponry had transformed the operational potential of the IRA.

Mr Collins warned there “would have been civil war in Ireland” if a major shipment like the Eksund had reached IRA active service units.

He also challenged the Libyans over their controversial support for the IRA, saying Ireland had been “good friends to Libya”.

The Fianna Fáil TD also warned that Libya’s actions were doing damage to a friendly country.

Mr Collins, in a meeting with Libya’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Abuzed Omar Dorda, stated that if Libya wanted to retaliate against countries it had a difficulty with, trade was the alternative to opt for.

In a briefing note compiled by Department of Foreign Affairs secretary general Noel Dorr, Mr Collins focused firmly on Irish beef exports to Libya.

Mr Dorda highlighted Libyan upset at the attitude adopted by British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, as well as the decision of the US to launch air strikes against his country.

Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Collins (left) with Nelson Mandela at Dublin Airport in 1990. Photo: Part of the Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection

Mr Collins suggested Libya could use trade if it wished to send a clear message.

The note stated: “The minister asked if Libya wished to retaliate, why did they not simply shift their trade to countries which were friendly in principle?”

Mr Collins stressed that Ireland had “a good deal to sell, including, in particular, beef and cattle”.

The correspondence also stated: “The minister said that we have been good friends of Libya.

“The Taoiseach and he had visited that country and were received by Colonel [Muammar] Gaddafi.

“They had explained that Ireland wants good relations with Libya but that Libya must stop supplying weapons for the IRA.

“Gaddafi had agreed at the time but had changed his mind because of the American bombing attack on Libya. Already before any attack in 1985 and 1986, guns had been supplied to the IRA.

“The permanent representative said he could assure the minister that Libya had now completely stopped this.

“He thought the Irish government could play a role in helping to improve relations between Libya and the UK.”

Mr Collins acknowledged Libyan sensitivities over the BSE cattle disease (mad cow disease).

However, he stressed that Ireland had only a very small detection rate.

He pressed the Libyans to lift their embargo on beef and cattle imports from Ireland.

Mr Dorda – who died in Egypt earlier this year – served eight years in prison after being arrested following the 2011 coup against Gaddafi, who was captured and killed by rebel forces.

Today's Headlines

More Irish News

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos