Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Hardline loyalist called for ‘Libyan-type’ air strikes on Crossmaglen

The release of state papers by the Public Record Office under the 30 year rule have revealed startling details of calls for air strikes on Crossmaglen and other towns deemed to be republican strongholds in the 1980s.

The demand was made by hardline DUP MP William McCrea who called for the “Libyan-type strikes” on Crossmaglen, Carrickmore, Dundalk and Drogheda in April 1986, just days after the US government unleashed air strikes on Libya, killing at least 100 people in the capital Tripoli and the Benghazi region.

Briefing papers based on a mixture of press reports and information from party insiders at the DUP annual conference in Belfast on April 19th, 1986 reveal that Rev McCrea made the extraordinary demand alongside an “extravagant contribution” from another senior DUP member, Gregory Campbell, calling for the demolition of “even the foundations of Maryfield,” the Belfast base for officials from the Republic’s Department of Foreign Affairs.  The presence of civil servants from the Republic working in the Maryfield offices as part of a permanent secretariat for the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, incensed unionists at the time.

Gospel singing Free Presbyterian minister, Rev McCrea is known for his hardline views.  He served as DUP MP for Mid-Ulster between 1983 and 1997, and has been MP for South Antrim since 2000.

The conference report also outlined that DUP opposition to the Anglo Irish Agreement remained “as strong as ever, if not stronger” and that main speaker Peter Robinson had outlined two alternative solutions to the agreement – negotiation or confrontation which he said would be “devastating, terrible and bloody.”

Meanwhile, a separate report from August 1986 revealed how DUP MPs Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley claimed they had “narrowly escaped with their lives” during a court appearance in Dundalk after Mr Robinson had been charged with leading a loyalist incursion into the village in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Earlier that month, Robinson had marched with a group of around 150 loyalists, “some wearing paramilitary uniforms and carrying cudgels”, invading the County Monaghan village of Clontibret in protest against what he claimed were inadequate security measures along the Irish border following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

They daubed slogans on a Garda station and injured two officers. The files revealed that the loyalists dispersed when Gardaí – acting on a tip off from the RUC – fired shots in the air.

Mr Robinson was fined £15,000 / IR£17,500 for unlawful assembly.  His subsequent court appearance in Dundalk courthouse over the incident sparked a riot and he, along with Paisley, made a formal protest at the Foreign Office about what they said was “totally inadequate protection” afforded to Mr Robinson during his court appearance.

The pair alleged that £100,000 worth of damage had been done to cars belonging to Mr Robinson’s lawyer and supporters “because of the Garda’s failure to protect them”.

The report also revealed a further complaint from the men that Irish authorities had failed to keep their promise to repay the difference between the Sterling and Punt values of Mr Robinson’s fine and that a deliberate attempt had been made to prevent Mr Robinson’s release from custody when a bail hearing was set after banks had shut and the judge then raised the bail to IR£10,000.

The foreign office undertook to relay the concerns to the Irish authorities and “to remind them of the need to provide suitable security for Mr Robinson’s next court appearance in the Republic” in October the same year.