State Papers1992-2002

IRA arms shipment from Libya would have caused ‘civil war in Ireland’, diplomat told

Gerry Collins said Libya could have retaliated against Margaret Thatcher by transferring trade to Ireland rather than smuggling arms to the IRA

An Irish government minister told a senior Libyan official in 1991 that if the huge shipment of explosives and guns aboard the Eksund had got through four years earlier there “would have been civil war in Ireland”.

Then minister for foreign affairs Gerry Collins also remarked that if the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gadafy wanted to really retaliate against British prime minister Margaret Thatcher he should have shifted trade to countries like Ireland rather than supplying guns and explosives to the IRA.

Mr Collins met Libya’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York in the autumn of 1991. An account of the meeting is contained in a confidential Department of Foreign Affairs file that has been declassified and released to the National Archives. The document was written by Noel Dorr, then secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Libya’s permanent representative, Abuzed Omar Dorda, was described by Mr Dorr as “a person of considerable influence in Libya”.


The main concerns raised by Mr Collins during the meeting were the fact that the Libyan market was closed to Irish cattle and beef because of the BSE crisis, and a request for reassurance from Col Gadafy that there would be no support from Libya for the IRA.

Mr Dorda remarked that Britain was Libya’s second largest trade partner and he could see no reason for his country not to have good relations with the UK. However he said that on the political side, relations were very bad.

Mr Collins said the reason for that had been because of Libyan support for IRA terrorism in the past.

Mr Dorda replied that this had stopped two years ago. Mr Collins said that if the shipment of arms from Libya aboard the Eksund trawler had got through in 1987 “there would have been civil war in Ireland”. He added: “Libya was doing damage to a friendly country.”

The Libyan diplomat said that this had simply been a reaction to Mrs Thatcher’s attitude to Libya. He repeated it had now ceased.

Mr Dorr wrote: “The Minister asked if Libya wished to retaliate, why did they not simply shift their trade to countries (like Ireland) which were friendly in principle. He (Mr Collins) and the Taoiseach had visited Libya.”

Mr Dorda asked if Ireland could supply equipment for the oil industry. Mr Collins said it could not but had “a good deal to sell including in particular beef and cattle”.

Mr Dorr continued: “The Minister said that we have been good friends of Libya. The Taoiseach and he had visited that country and were received by Colonel Ghadaffi [sic].

“They had explained that Ireland wants good relations with Libya but that Libya must stop supplying weapons for the IRA. Ghadaffi [sic] had agreed at the time but had changed his mind because of the American bombing attack on Libya. Already before any attack in 1985 and 1986, guns had been supplied to the IRA.

“The Permanent Representative said he could assure the Minister that Libya had now completely stopped this. He thought the Irish Government could play a role in helping to improve relations between Libya and the UK.”

Mr Dorr wrote that Mr Collins had argued “vigorously” on the issue of the IRA, and also on the issue of beef.

Mr Dorda returned to Libya in 1993 and later became Col Gadafy’s spy chief. He was arrested in 2011 during the military coup. Both his legs were broken when he fell from a window during his capture. He was imprisoned for eight years before being released. He died in Cairo last year. (National Archive file reference: 2022/24/1)

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times