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Assassination of Airey Neave

On 30 March 1979, Airey Neave, British Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Army with a bomb fixed under his car. The bomb detonated in the car park of the Palace of Westminster in London and mortally wounded Neave, who died shortly after being admitted to hospital.[1]

Assassination of Airey Neave
Part of the Troubles
Assassination of Airey Neave - London - 30 March 1979.jpeg
The wreckage of Neave's car on the ramp of the House of Commons' car park
LocationCity of Westminster, London, England
Date30 March 1979
14:58 (UTC)
TargetAirey Neave
Attack type
WeaponBooby trap bomb
DeathsAirey Neave (died a few minutes after arrival at hospital)
PerpetratorIrish National Liberation Army


The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), and its political wing the Irish Republican Socialist Party, was formed at a meeting in a Dublin hotel in December 1974.[2][3] In 1975 it began carrying out a paramilitary campaign in Northern Ireland on British Government facilities and officials with the strategic objective of removing Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, using the front names of the "People's Liberation Army",[4] and the "Armagh People's Republican Army".[5]

Through the 1970s Neave, an influential Tory Member of the House of Commons, had been advocating within British political circles for an abandonment of the British Government's strategy of a containment of Irish paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland against the British State, and for the adoption of strategy of waging a military offensive against it seeking its martial defeat. This brought him to the attention of both the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the INLA as a potential threat to their organizations and activities. A member of INLA's leadership later stated:

"He (Neave) was coming in on the heels of Mason to settle the Northern problem, and made Mason look like a lamb. He wanted to bring in more Special Air Service, and take the war to the enemy".[6]

After the Labour Government's defeat in the House of Commons on a vote of no confidence on 28 March 1979, a general election was called in the United Kingdom, and with the Conservative Party expected to win the election, Neave, as the party's Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was set to become the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, which would place him in a position of governmental executive authority to bring his military strategy for the province into fruition.


A political source in Westminster hostile to Neave's statements on the security situation in Northern Ireland is believed to have passed on information to the INLA which gave it the means to carry out the assassination attack upon him within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. The information it had received gave it a means of access to the House of Commons' car park, and INLA decided to use a bomb with a mercury-tilt switch detonator which would explode when the device was at a certain acute angle on the House of Commons' car park ramp, as it lacked information on Neave's movements with the car to allow the effective use of a time bomb device.[7]

On Friday 30 March 1979 two INLA paramilitaries gained entry to the House of Commons' underground car park posing as workmen, carrying the bomb in a tool box. Once inside they identified Neave's car, and fixed a 16-ounce explosive device with a mercury tilt detonator on to the floor panel under the driver's seat.

Neave left the House of Commons a few minutes before 3 P.M. As he drove up the underground car park's exit ramp the angle tilted the bomb's mercury switch and it exploded, the blast knocking Neave unconscious, severing his legs and trapping him in the mangled wreckage of the vehicle. Neave was cut free from the wreckage by the emergency services, and rushed to Westminster Hospital by ambulance, dying there a few minutes after arrival, not having regained consciousness.[8][9]


The INLA issued a statement regarding the attack in the August 1979 edition of its publication The Starry Plough:[10]

In March, retired terrorist and supporter of capital punishment, Airey Neave, got a taste of his own medicine when an INLA unit pulled off the operation of the decade and blew him to bits inside the 'impregnable' Palace of Westminster. The nauseous Margaret Thatcher snivelled on television that he was an 'incalculable loss' – and so he was – to the British ruling class.

Neave's death came just two days after the vote of no confidence which brought down Callaghan's government and a month before the 1979 general election, which saw a Conservative victory and Thatcher come to power as Prime Minister. Neave's wife Diana, whom he married on 29 December 1942, was subsequently elevated to the House of Lords as Baroness Airey of Abingdon.

Neave's biographer Paul Routledge met a member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (the political wing of INLA) who was involved in the killing of Neave and who told Routledge that Neave "would have been very successful at that job [Northern Ireland Secretary]. He would have brought the armed struggle to its knees".[11]

As a result of Neave's assassination the INLA was declared illegal across the whole of the United Kingdom on 2 July 1979.[12]

Neave's body was buried in the graveyard of St. Margaret's Church at Hinton Waldrist, in Oxfordshire.[13]

See alsoEdit


  • Jack Holland, Henry McDonald, INLA – Deadly Divisions'
  • The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party, Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, ISBN 1-84488-120-2
  • CAIN project
  • Coogan, Tim Pat, The IRA, Fontana Books, ISBN 0-00-636943-X
  • The Starry Plough – IRSP newspaper


  1. ^ "1979: Car bomb kills Airey Neave". 30 March 1979 – via
  2. ^ Jack Holland & Henry McDonald: INLA Deadly Divisions pp 6
  3. ^ "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1974".
  4. ^ Jack Holland & Henry McDonald: INLA Deadly Divisions pp 63, 64
  5. ^ Jack Holland & Henry McDonald: INLA Deadly Divisions pp 84
  6. ^ Jack Holland & Henry McDonald : INLA Deadly Divisions pp 137
  7. ^ Jack Holland & Henry McDonald : INLA - Deadly Divisions pp 138
  8. ^ Jack Holland & Henry McDonald : INLA - Deadly Divisions pp 138,139
  9. ^ "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths".
  10. ^ Holland, Jack; McDonald, Henry (1996). INLA Deadly Divisions. Poolbeg. p. 221. ISBN 1-85371-263-9.
  11. ^ Routledge, p. 360.
  12. ^ Wharton, Ken (2014). Wasted Years Wasted Lives: British Army in Northern Ireland 1978–79 v. 2. Helion & Company. p. 214. ISBN 978-1909982178.
  13. ^ Entry for Neave's grave in the Findagrave website.