Archive (Northern Ireland Office)

Northern Ireland: MT meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary (record of conversation) [authorises communication with PIRA over hunger strikes] [declassified 2009]

Document type: Declassified documents
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Northern Ireland Office FOI release AP/07/50 (documents released to Liam Clarke of the Sunday Times )
Editorial comments: Following the meeting record is a second, undated document released as the second item in the file. The NIO held back sections of these documents where deemed irrelevant to the request and retyped the originals. These have been retranscribed for this site, but PDFs of their versions are available on request. Some minor transcription errors would seem to have been made by the NIO.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 1p
Themes: Northern Ireland, Terrorism

Extract from a letter dated 8 July 1981 from 10 Downing Street to the Northern Ireland Office

The Prime Minister met your Secretary of State at 0015 this morning to discuss the latest developments in the efforts to bring the hunger strike in the Maze to an end. Philip Woodfield was also present.

Your Secretary of State said that the message which the Prime Minister had approved the previous evening had been communicated to the PIRA [Editorial addition: Provisional IRA]. Their response indicated that they did not regard it as satisfactory and that they wanted a good deal more. That appeared to mark the end of the development, and we had made this clear to the PIRA during the afternoon. This had produced a very rapid reaction which suggested that it was not the content of the message which they had objected to but only its tone. The question now for decision was whether we should respond on our side. He had concluded that we should communicate with the PIRA over night a draft statement enlarging upon the substance of the previous evening but in no way whatever departing from its substance. If the PIRA accepted the draft statement and ordered the hunger strikers to end their protest the statement would be issued immediately. If they did not, this statement would not be put out but instead an alternative statement reiterating the Government’s position as he had set it out in his statement of 30 June and responding to the discussions with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace would be issued. If there was any leak about the process of communication with the PIRA, his office would deny it.

The meeting then considered the revised draft statement which was to be communicated to the PIRA. A number of amendments were made, primarily with a view to removing any suggestion at all the Government was in a negotiation. [Editorial addition: sic] A copy of the agreed version of the statement is attached.

The Prime Minister, summing up the discussion, said that the statement should now be communicated to the PIRA as your Secretary of State proposed. If it did not produce a response leading to the end of the hunger strike, Mr Atkins should issue at once a statement reaffirming the Government’s existing position as he had set out on 30 June. [end p1]

Extract from a Telegram from the Northern Ireland Office to the Cabinet Office


MIPT contains the text of a statement which SOSNI [Editorial addition: Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins] proposes to authorise should be released to the hunger-strikers/prisoners and publicly. The statement contains, except on clothing, nothing of substance which has not been said publicly, and the point on clothing was made privately to the provos on 5 July. The purpose of the statement is simply to give precise clarification to formulae which already exist. It also takes count [Editorial addition: sic] of advice given to us over the last 12 hours on the kind of language which (while not a variance with any of our previous public statements) might make the statement acceptable to the provos.

The statement has now been read and we await provo reactions (we would be willing to allow them a sight of the document just before it is given to the prisoners and released to the press). It has been made clear (as the draft itself states) that it is not a basis for negotiation.

[Editorial addition: document undated]