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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 2 September, 2014

Iran’s ‘championing’ of Bobby Sands in the 1980s was concerning to the Irish Government

Iranian sympathies towards the IRA would not develop beyond a symbolic level, the Irish Government believed, adding that the renaming of the road along side the British Embassy after the hunger striker was not to be taken seriously.

Iranian media report from 1981.
Iranian media report from 1981.
Image: State papers

STATE DOCUMENTS FROM the 1980s reveal that the government had concerns about Iran opening an embassy in Dublin and about their sympathies towards the IRA.

A “confidential” document on political observations between Ireland and Iran states there were concerns about Iran’s “championing” of Bobby Sands. The document points out that the issue could be “brought under control fairly quickly” as it was mainly due to their “ignorance” of the Northern Ireland situation.

Bobby Sands

The briefing adds that the hunger striker’s championing was being used as a “convenient outlet for anti-Britishness, as it is a zeal for the Provo cause”.

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Hostages

It also states that there was a “chill of western relations” after the taking of hostages from the US embassy in Iran in 1979, which affected Ireland too. The state document adds that the hostages, which were released in 1981, stopped off in Shannon “en route home”. The release allowed other western countries like Ireland to build up a relationship with the country.

It was also expected that if an embassy was opened in Dublin, “the interactions with existing embassies… the French, US and Egyptian embassies… may be frosty…”.

Addressing the issue of Middle Eastern students in Ireland, the point was made that the embassy might try to “spread the gospel of Khomeini’s revolutionary Islam among this group”. Other concerns were that there would be Iraqi protests outside the embassy .

The brief recommends to put “no obstacle” in the way of Iran opening an embassy in Dublin.

Iranian Embassy

In another letter, dated 8 September 1981, to the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, diplomat Niall Holohan, who is currently Ireland’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, stated he had met with Mr Taghavi, the then Director of the Third Political Division in the Foreign Ministry in Tehran who voiced their interest in opening an Iranian embassy in Dublin.

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Holohan said he did not respond to the query, but added that given the attacks on Iranian embassies in several European countries at the time, it was “probably fortunate that there is no official Iranian presence in Dublin at this present time”.

He said during his phone call with Mr Taghavi, he was asked to explain Ireland’s position on the happenings in Northern Ireland and stated that Iran’s “sympathy for the IRA” was well-known, although he understood the organisation was “illegal”.

Holohan stated he explained that “however honourable the aim of the IRA might be, their methods were repugnant to the Irish Government and to the vast majority of the Irish people”. He said he pointed out that the Irish Government would not look favourably on any foreign government giving aid to the IRA. He said Mr Taghavi said that often accurate reporting on the Troubles in Northern Ireland was difficult to come by and appreciated his account of the situation.

The IRA

In another document relating to the coverage of the IRA in Iran, the Department of Foreign Affairs was forwarded on some of the media reports from Tehran. It states that the “Foreign Relations Officer” for Sinn Fein sent condolences to the Iranian Government following the death of a number of their senior ministers.

It stated the favourable attention being given to the IRA and the hunger strikers was due to “Britain being treated as the béte noir of world of imperialism” adding that the imperial role of Britain in Iran and their closeness to the US, was reasoning why the Northern Ireland situation was “being used as a further stick with which to beat the British”.

While another document revealed that a British Foreign Ministry diplomat stated they did not think the Iranian sympathies towards the IRA would develop beyond a “symbolic level,” pointing out that the road running along side the British Embassy compound in Tehran was renamed after the hunger striker Bobby Sands, but was not to be taken too seriously.

Here are some media clippings from Iran about Bobby Sands that were sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland:

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