Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of targets across Libya in 1986, in response to the La Belle discothèque bombing in West Berlin by Libyan agents. The British government supported the American strikes, although public opinion was significantly divided. Gadhafi was set on a course of revenge against Thatcherite Britain following the death of his adopted daughter Hana in the raids. His blood lust was manifested in terrorist atrocities in Lockerbie and an untold number of murders and bombings in Northern Ireland.
The war against Britain was established in Libyan support for the Provisional IRA, with money, guns and training. Tonnes of munitions flooded into arms dumps in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Gadhafi had first shipped weapons to the IRA in 1973. An intelligence success led to the interception of 5 tonnes of arms. By the mid-1980s the scale of Libyan support for the IRA became clear when the ship MV Eksund was seized by the French Navy. The vessel contained 120 tonnes of weapons, including heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, service to air missiles, Semtex and 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition. Four previous shipments to the IRA got through. This put thousands of weapons, millions of pounds and over a tonne of Semtex at the disposal of callous insurrectionists. The diseased hand of the Libyan regime and its IRA proxy touched many.
In 2009, Scotland’s Justice Minister Kenny Macaskill made a crude and politically misguided decision to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison. Humanitarianism was offered as the official storyline, but many viewed this as a sop to Gadhafi and the rich oil contracts he controlled. It was an act of clemency never afforded the victims of Lockerbie, La Belle or the IRA.
Each year I pay my respects at the memorial to WPC Yvonne Fletcher at St. James’s Square in London. WPC Fletcher was gunned down outside the Libyan embassy in 1984. She was 25, an unarmed guardian of the right to protest against Gadhafi’s repression. The perpetrators, with diplomatic immunity escaped justice.
Libya has been freed from the despotism of Gadhafi through the bravery of rebel fighters, the actions of the UN Security Council and the Arab League. Sadly for many in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the United States, Gadhafi’s legacy of pain persists. Justice for the slaughter of innocents in a proxy war against the Thatcher and Reagan governments, the senseless murder above the skies of Lockerbie, and Libyan state sponsored terrorism is largely unsettled.
Lord Empey, former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in a recent statement said:
Colonel Gaddafi sent boat loads of arms and explosives to Ireland in the 1970’s and 1980’s, as he sought to undermine democracy in the Western World and seek revenge for the assistance Margaret Thatcher had given to President Reagan when she allowed American aircraft to use UK bases on their bombing raids on Libya.
Lord Empey recognising the progress being made in the WPC Yvonne Fletcher case highlights the need for inter-governmental talks to resolve the impasse.
The Government says it wants to negotiate with the new Libyan authorities to see what progress can be made in persuading them that some settlement should be made to recognise that their former government had encouraged terrorism that resulted in many UK citizens being killed or wounded. I support HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) in this goal, but I do not understand why London goes on to say that it will also facilitate claims against Libya by individuals seeking compensation.
In 2008, Italy agreed to $5bn in reparation payments to Libya. This was the supposed price of Italy’s ’32-year occupation’. There is cruelty that Italy paid billions to Gadhafi. In the meantime, the maimed and bereaved of Libyan proxy terror in Great Britain and Northern Ireland go without even meagre restitution. There must be atonement for this dark chapter in Libya’s past.