September 2016: 1989 Government war plans released

To mark the annual release of records for 1989, PRONI has selected as its September document of the month a Government file entitled ‘War Plan’.

PRONI Atrium

This is a Department of Finance (DOF) file detailing plans and activities that would take place if there was a conventional or nuclear war during 1984 to 1988 at the height of the Cold War.

Andrew Toland from the Public Services section said

“I came across this file as part of the PRONI annual release when I was looking for material relating to the Portadown bunker, which was open to the public for this year’s European Heritage Open Day on 10 September. I was particularly struck by the confidence of officials that Government could continue to function in the event of a nuclear attack on Belfast.

I also discovered that the DOF would be relocating to the south building of the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Alternative Headquarters were identified as the Ulster Savings Branch in Coleraine and any Valuation and Lands offices remote enough from Belfast to avoid blast and heat damage which could have potentially been up to a 13 mile radius around the city. 


The document goes on to state that even Coleraine might not be far enough to escape the effects of a Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse, which had the potential to cripple computer and telephone communications over a much wider area than the blast area.”

The document also details some Departmental policies such as ‘Life Saving and Survival’ and ‘Maintaining the Financial System’, to lower priorities such as provision of food stocks and rationing schemes for food and petrol for Government employees.

Also amongst the papers was a Home Office report entitled ‘Civil Preparedness Plan’ from 1987 which highlighted some deficiencies, for example, the lack of public shelter against blast and radiation and the lack of a food stockpile for the population for a period of 60 days. In addition it was noted that an ‘acceptable state of readiness’ in the water industry was ‘unlikely to be realised before the end of the century’.


In a chilling conclusion, the document surmised that it would be many years, if ever, before the nation’s civil preparedness for conventional, chemical or nuclear war can be assessed as ‘acceptable’ and, following a wide-spread nuclear attack, the ‘basic necessities of life’ could not be guaranteed to as many as 40 million people”.

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