The British government had a secret plan to split Northern Ireland

IRA Car Bomb

In 2002, the Guardian reported on declassified papers Ted Heath’s produced at the height of the Troubles.

Revealed in official papers released today by the Public Record Office, the plans reflect the crisis in the province fol lowing the Bloody Sunday shootings, the torching of the Dublin embassy and the imposition of direct rule from London. The violence, which appeared to be spiralling towards civil war, claimed 476 lives in 1972.

The report to the prime minister, marked top secret, encompassed a number of politically unpalatable options. “The course we have been asked to consider is one of… removal of arms and explosives by means of massive reinforcement of troops accompanied by searches, interrogation and probably [more] internment.” The operation would target both loyalist and republican paramilitaries.

If, as civil servants anticipated, it was unsuccessful, “the imposition of a political settlement would be considered” including “a redefinition of the border and compulsory transfers of population within Northern Ireland or between the Six Counties and the Republic”.

Other radical suggestions were also circulating at the highest level of government. In March that year the foreign secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, sent Mr Heath a “secret and personal” note effectively urging British withdrawal.

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