IRA cannot be defeated militarily, John Major privately admitted
John Major privately admitted in 1992 that he did not believe the IRA could be defeated militarily.
The British Prime Minister also warned that Republicans were wrong if they thought Britain was suffering from “combat fatigue”.
According to a memo from the Irish government, the British Prime Minister made the comments at a meeting in Downing Street in February 1992, where he hosted the new Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and senior Irish ministers.
The meeting, which took place a few weeks before the UK general election, took place against the backdrop of ongoing talks between the main political parties in Northern Ireland.
During the meeting, the Taoiseach directly asks Mr. Major, “Do you think we can defeat the IRA?” “
He replies: “Militarily, it would be very difficult: I wouldn’t say that in public, of course, but, in private, I would say, maybe not. “
The note reveals the frustrations felt by both sides at the lack of progress in talks between the main political parties, while also revealing the Irish side’s early efforts to push for the inclusion of Sinn Fein in any negotiations on a future regulation.
“My own impression is that the talks are getting nowhere,” Mr. Reynolds said.
The Prime Minister, referring to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said: “Peter Brooke thinks they have a bit of life.
Mr. Reynolds replies, “I would say that here … but not outside.”
The Irish leader told the Prime Minister he believed the IRA was “serious” about peace.
A few days earlier, Sinn Fein had published a document entitled Towards a lasting peace in Ireland.
Mr Major, according to the Irish memo, said: ‘If we pursue this we might meet very serious opposition here: you know more bombs are threatened in Whitehall. If they are serious, they are certainly on the wrong track.
The IRA had attacked 10 Downing Street during a Cabinet meeting the year before.
Mr Major continues: ‘They will not get peace by putting bombs in Whitehall – on the contrary. Why are they behaving the way they behave now if they want peace? “
Mr Reynolds told the British Prime Minister that ‘they always do this’.
“Before the violence stops, they become more and more active. They always like that it seems that if a ceasefire comes along, then they haven’t acted out of weakness. “
“Is there a way to look at the language, in order to get things done? Mr Reynolds asks, appearing to refer to Sinn Fein’s text.
Mr. Major says, “I know that Gerry Adams and a couple of others are involved in this matter. They think we suffer from fatigue in combat. They are wrong. They could be engaged in a very cynical game.
At the meeting, Mr Reynolds said he believed “peace may well be in sight”.
In a candid assessment of the current situation in Northern Ireland, the Taoiseach warns that the two governments are dealing with “a divided community”.
He said, “We need to develop structures to accommodate these differences; and these structures must inspire confidence. I’m talking about the longer term – there is no quick fix.
Mr Major, who says he agrees, tells the Irish Prime Minister: “We cannot suddenly move on to an end product, but we are walking a path – and we cannot stop: we cannot not stop talking – or walking.
“Twenty-two years is a long time: there are a lot of corpses in between. “
The note of the meeting, still in the early days of the peace process, indicates the close ties forged between the British and Irish governments on the issue.
Mr. Major told the assembly: “I’m unlucky not to be Irish but I understand the importance of symbolism. We have to be prepared to do unconventional things.