Secret Irish government file examined prospect of redrawing Border, State papers show

State papers: 60% of Northern Ireland would be incorporated into the Republic, leaving just one of the North’s six counties fully intact, under proposal

The scenario was drawn unit by the government’s inter-departmental unit on Northern Ireland as part of a series of discussion papers on the future of relationships on the island of Ireland

A secret paper prepared by the Irish government of the day envisaged as much as two-thirds of the land area of Northern Ireland being integrated into the Republic by way of a negotiated repatriation.

All of Co Fermanagh, all of Derry city and most of the west of the county including Strabane, Omagh, Castlederg, Dungannon, Cookstown and their hinterlands in Co Tyrone, south Down and south Armagh would be transferred to the Republic leaving Co Antrim as the only intact northern county.

Almost 500,000 people living in the North in the mid-1970s would be transferred to the Republic constituting a population of 284,000 Catholics and 201,000 non-Catholics.

A minimum area consisting of 40 per cent of the land area of Northern Ireland made up of 323,000 people, 205,000 Catholics and 118,000 non-Catholics was envisaged as an alternative scenario.

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The issue of who could live where would be decided by plebiscite – an option that was ruled out during the Boundary Commission negotiations of the early 1920s which was set up to draw the boundaries between the 26 and six counties entities.

Those who wished not to be part of such arrangements would find the costs of repatriation borne by the British and Irish states.

The scenario was drawn unit by the government’s inter-departmental unit on Northern Ireland as part of a series of discussion papers on the future of relationships on the island of Ireland.

The paper was similar to an exercise carried out by the Boundary Commission in the 1920s which sought to redraw the Border in line with the wishes of the inhabitants, but shocked the Irish Free State by recommending only minimal changes including parts of the Republic that would be transferred to the North. The commission’s findings were shelved and the present Border remained intact.

The cost of redrawing the Border in the 1970s was estimated at between £226 million (€1.7 billion today) and £652 million (€5.3 billion) depending on the amount of destruction that would be done to existing homes as a result of the repatriation exercise.

The paper raised the possibility of an independent Northern Ireland rump state involving all the non-Catholic majority areas after repatriation. “One of the main attractions of such a solution for the loyalists would be the prospect of being masters in their own house,” the paper concluded.

An alternative majority area rump Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom would need to have its laws supervised by Westminster to ensure that human and civil rights were observed towards the minority Catholic population.

The paper was gloomy as to the prospects of such an undertaking being taken by peaceful means. It warned that it might end up in a civil war with more than 300,000 changing residences costing the Republic between £600 million (€4.8 billion) and £800 million (€6.4 billion). This was the equivalent of between a third and half of the total tax take in the State in 1975.

“There seems little possibility, on present indications, because of the lack of trust between the two communities that repatriation could emerge as an agreed settlement without the prelude of large-scale violence,” the paper concluded.

“Repatriation seems more likely to be adopted as a solution following large-scale inter-communal violence in the wake of British disengagement.”

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