Monday, 28 August 2017

Declassified files: former DUP politician Peter Robinson was in regular contact with NIO.

Peter Robinson 
(Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Declassified files show that Peter Robinson privately briefed the Government multiple times in 1990 and that the NIO identified him as its “chief hope” within the DUP.

The DUP deputy leader, who just three years earlier had come to national prominence as a seeming hardliner but leading the ‘invasion’ of the border village of Clontibret, was in regular contact with NIO officials behind the scenes by 1990 and 1991.

In some of the conversations, Mr Robinson’s rocky relationship with his leader, Ian Paisley, is clear as he informed officials that he was kept in the dark about significant internal developments.

And one document appears to show that the future First Minister of Northern Ireland used Dr Paisley’s daughter, Rhonda, as a conduit to the leader.

Documents released at the Public Record Office in Belfast under the 20 Year Rule include a ‘confidential and personal’ July 18, 1990 memo from JE McConnell – by then an established NIO official – recording a phone call from Mr Robinson the previous evening.

Mr McConnell wrote: “He is clearly unsighted as to the current position mainly as a result of his leader’s inability to touch base with him and bring him up to date.

“He asked whether it would be possible for me to see him either tomorrow or Friday of this week to (a) update him on proceedings and (b) to give him an opportunity, having assessed the latest information, of examining whether further room for manoeuvre was possible with his leader.”

The following year, in a conversation with another NIO official, DG McNeill, Mr Robinson told the Government that party colleague William McCrea – along with the UUP’s Mr Molyneaux and Josias Cunningham – was opposed to the talks process.

During the May 1991 conversation, Mr Robinson said that if the Government had a proposition to put forward he would be “prepared to put it to Ian Paisley and come back to us on a confidential basis”.

A confidential memo of their conversation went on: “He said to me that he had already had two thoughts on alternatives – which he would not tell me about at this stage – and said that he had put these to Paisley through Rhonda Paisley. Paisley was now considering those.

“If either of those found favour with Paisley, Peter Robinson said that he would pass these on to me so that I could pass those on to the Secretary of State and the Minister of State.”

A confidential September 3, 1991 NIO analysis of the parties’ positions by DG McNeill in the NIO highlighted the complex internal nature of the DUP.

He said: “The DUP is not a structured political party. With Paisley as its founder and leader the only meaningful division is between the religious and the secular members.

“But Paisley is currently volatile and the very lack of a formal structure on occasions renders him open to pressure from within.

“However, his position depends on not moving too far away from his grass roots supporters and religious followers.
“Taking the secular members first, it is now apparent that Robinson, despite (or perhaps because of) what he is prepared to say to us in private, cannot shift Paisley as much as we had thought, at least in the short term.

“Nevertheless, he remains our chief hope of keeping Paisley in play.

“Dodds is highly intelligent, and wants moment not least to further his own career; but he is not a positive leader and will not break with Paisley, on whose patronage he depends.”

It added that the Rev McCrea “now seems to be emerging as the heir apparent (Robinson certainly believes so) and [he and Denny Vitty] represent trustworthy hard-line loyalism in contrast to those who are mavericks or political careerists.”

By Sam McBride.

Culled from News.

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