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Records reveal British criticism of Irish state's response to Gibraltar deaths

EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY DECEMBER 28 Undated file photo of the three IRA members who were shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar (left to right) Sean Savage, Mairead Farrell and Danny McCann. State papers have revealed that the British government was critical of the Irish state's response to the killing of three IRA members in Gibraltar. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday December 28, 2018. See PA story RECORDS Gibraltar. Photo credit should read: PA Wire

Secret documents released today have revealed that the British government was critical of the Irish state's response to the killing of three members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Gibraltar.

The controversial military operation saw three IRA members shot dead by the British Special Air Service in Gibraltar on March 6, 1988.

The killings of Sean Savage, Daniel McCann and Mairead Farrell were part of Operation Flavius, the British military operation targeted at preventing a planned bombing by the IRA on the Rock.

A secret memo addressed to the Taoiseach Charlie Haughey from Dermot Nally, the Secretary to the Irish government, on September 5 of that year notes that Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe had asked that a message be conveyed by Ambassador Fenn to the Irish government about their statements regarding engagement in Northern Ireland.

"The message was to the effect that the British are concerned the Irish are imperfectly precise in the use of the word 'violence',” the memo says.

"The British have no reservations about the legitimacy of Irish aspirations to unity.”

"They do, however, ask that the Irish government should recognise the difference between violence used by those whose aim is to overthrow the state and violence arising in the operations of the security forces, within the law and for the public good."

Mr Nally goes on to say he told the Ambassador that "they were being unduly sensitive about the use of the word 'violence'".

Despite the fact the three were unarmed, a subsequent inquest in September 1988 into the deaths returned a verdict of "lawful killing", a decision that was subsequently appealed by the deceased's families to the European Court of Human Rights, which decided that the operation had been in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.