Derry’s west bank could have gone south in 1971 peace bid

Lord Peter Carrington who was the British government's Defence Minister in December 1971. [220711SML 51 ]
Lord Peter Carrington who was the British government's Defence Minister in December 1971. [220711SML 51 ]

Derry’s west bank could have gone south of the border 40 years ago as part of a secret plan to secure peace in the North.

According to classified documents - which were first alluded to during the Saville Inquiry hearings - senior British government officials floated plans to redraw the border using the River Foyle as a new boundary.

It’s believed the government seriously considered the move after concluding that Derry’s west bank had become too problematic and was under the control of the IRA.

A record of the Northern Ireland Policy Group meeting predicted that sending the British Army into the Bogside and Creggan to forcibly regain control of the ‘no go’ areas would “set back hopes of a political solution.”

The meeting took place in London in December 1971 - just weeks before the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry - with Lord Carrington, then British government Defence Secretary, reporting directly to Prime Minister Edward Heath.

The “top secret” document has been seen by Ciaran McAirt, of the McGurk’s Bar campaign group, which is trying to uncover the truth surrounding the deaths of 15 people in a loyalist bombing in Belfast in December 1971.

Referring to Derry, the document states: “The revival of community and commercial life there would only be possible with the support of the Dublin government and of the Roman Catholic hierachy.

“There was no incentive for the IRA to give up its position there since its control of the Bogside and Creggan areas was based not on physical intimidation but on its generally good administration.

“One solution to this is to redraw the border along the line of the River Foyle.”

Ciaran McAirt says the documentation provides a “startling insight into how the British elite actually viewed the worsening situation in Northern Ireland in late 1971.”

“So dire was the situation that they even discussed ceding most of its second city to the Republic of Ireland to help rid itself of a foe,” he said.