Billy Wright murder: Dublin was concerned about loyalist’s prison transfer

Irish side feared ‘King Rat’ had requested move to the Maze for sinister motives

The Irish government expressed its concern about the transfer of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader Billy Wright from Maghaberry prison to the high-security Maze, eight months before he was assassinated inside the latter jail.

The Irish joint secretary David Donoghue noted in April 1997 that Wright had requested the transfer for his own safety. However, Donoghue “emphasised Irish side concerns about Prisoner Wright’s motives being sinister, and its implications for the CLMC (Combined Loyalist Military Command) ceasefire”.

Defending the decision to transfer the notorious loyalist, Donoghue’s British counterpart, Peter Bell, described the move by the Northern Ireland Prison Agency as having been made “on pragmatic grounds and for the maintenance of good order within the prisons system as a whole”.

Throughout 1997 threats from Wright’s LVF and other factions had an impact on the routine of British and Irish officials working at the Anglo-Irish secretariat Maryfield, outside Belfast. One note in April 1997 reports that a meeting had to be downgraded “because of preoccupations earlier this week with the reported threat to staff working at Maryfield and the absence of Irish side staff installing security equipment on their homes in Dublin”.


There is also a reference to another meeting being disrupted by helicopter noise, as Irish officials chose to fly directly to Maryfield more often rather than travel overland.

In October 1997 the LVF gave “members of the Maryfield secretariat ... 48 hours from midnight tonight to resign or become legitimate targets”. The threat was “utterly condemned” by minister for foreign affairs David Andrews, who pledged his “strong support to any action taken by the British government, in conjunction with us, to assure their safety”.

In December 1997, eight months after having requested a transfer to the Maze, Billy Wright was murdered inside the jail by INLA gunmen who climbed over a roof to target the loyalist as he was being transported to a visiting block to see his girlfriend.