John Major secretly feared that as Prime Minister the IRA could never be defeated militarily

John Major did not believe the IRA could be militarily beaten, he admitted privately when he was prime minister.

He told Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds that it was “very difficult” and could prove impossible to defeat the IRA by force, a memo from their February 1992 meeting on Downing Street revealed yesterday.

The Irish Government’s note was part of a tranche of official documents relating to the Northern Ireland Peace Process released by the National Archives.

John Major told Albert Reynolds that he was unsure whether the IRA could be defeated militarily and warned the British not of battle fatigue, according to newly released documents from the National Archives.  Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey (left) with former British Prime Minister John Major (right) during an interview visit to Dublin in 1991

John Major told Albert Reynolds that he was unsure whether the IRA could be defeated militarily and warned the British not of battle fatigue, according to newly released documents from the National Archives. Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey (left) with former British Prime Minister John Major (right) during an interview visit to Dublin in 1991

The thousands of files contained an assessment by British intelligence that Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in Libya had sent more than $ 12 million in arms and aid to the IRA – the equivalent of £ 34 million today.

Another memo revealed that the government believed that Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams was on the IRA Army Council at the time of the first truce in 1994 – which he always denied.

And a confidential note from an Irish diplomat rated Boris Johnson – then a journalist for the Daily Telegraph – as a eurosceptic who was “naive” in his writings on Northern Ireland politics.

Mr Major’s doubts about the prospect of military success against the IRA were expressed in a memo of his meeting with newly elected Mr Reynolds in which the Irish leader asked the Prime Minister directly, “Do you think we can defeat the IRA ? “

Mr. Major replied: “Militarily it would be very difficult. I wouldn’t say that publicly, of course, but privately I would say maybe no. ‘

The memo revealed frustration on both sides over the lack of progress in talks between major political parties in Northern Ireland. Mr. Reynolds said, “My own impression is that the talks are not getting through.”

He said he felt the IRA was “serious” about peace. Mr. Major replied: “If you are serious, you are certainly going the wrong way.”

The two men met a year after the IRA launched a mortar attack on Downing Street while Mr. Major was holding a cabinet meeting.

John Major (left) and former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds (right) during a press conference at 10 Downing Street in Westminster in 1993

John Major (left) and former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds (right) during a press conference at 10 Downing Street in Westminster in 1993

Both were cautiously optimistic about the prospect of an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Mr. Reynolds said, “Peace may be in sight.”

Mr. Major told the meeting, “We are walking down a path and we cannot stop: we cannot stop talking or walking.

“Twenty-two years is a long time… there are many corpses in between. I’m unlucky not to be Irish, but I understand the importance of the symbolism. We have to be ready to do unconventional things. ‘

A separate file released under the 30-year rule revealed that the IRA had received six major arms shipments from Libya, including Kalashnikov rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers.

During a private meeting between Mr. Major and former Irish leader Charles Haughey in 1991, Mr. Haughey said, “The problem is that Gaddafi is insane.”

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