Newly released cabinet papers from 1982 released under the ‘30 year rule’ reveal that former SDLP leader John Hume warned the British government that the security forces had lowered themselves to the same level as paramilitaries.
Mr Hume made the remark when he raised concerns about the ‘shoot to kill’ policy of the security forces with British ministers in 1982.
At a meeting with the then secretary of state, Jim Prior, and his deputy, Lord Gowrie, at Hillborough Castle to discuss the security situation, Mr Hume voiced concerns that a political solution to the problems of the North was no nearer than when direct rule began ten years previously.
“Indeed the situation was deteriorating and was highly dangerous,” he said.
Mr Hume called for fresh political thinking and said his party had been working with the Dublin government to set up a council for a new Ireland which, he said, would “bring a dose of reality to help desloganise the argument since its purpose was to put forward a nationalist solution.”
The then SDLP leader also said that many in the nationalist community had lost faith in the Prior Assembly. “Young people are more inclined to accept the blandishments of paramilitary organisations,” he told the secretary of state.
Referring to the ‘shoot to kill’ policy, Mr Hume warned that “recent police tactics of shooting terrorists had brought the security forces down to the level of the terrorist. They had replaced law and order with war,” he said.
Mr Prior rejected Mr Hume’s allegation but acknowledged that specialist units were working in a number of areas. Mr Hume’s claims were prompted by a number of high profile incidents where the British army and the RUC shot dead a number of IRA and INLA members, often in controversial circumstances where the victims were unarmed.
The state papers also show that an influential back bench Conservative MP, David Waddington, proposed that the bodies of hunger strikers should be buried at sea.
The MP, who was later promoted to the cabinet, called for a prison ship for paramilitary prisoners at the height of the hunger strike. “Any of the terrorists who passed away could be buried at sea, removing the publicity which they appear to seek.”
His suggestion was rejected by NIO prisons minister Michael Allison.
Another peer, Baron Hylton, called for prisoners to be buried inside prisons in low key ceremonies with only a church representative and a limited number of family members present.
This suggestion was also rejected by the British government.