Paisley ‘schizophrenic’ on Northern Ireland

Ian Paisley was described as a schizophrenic ready to adopt the IRA’s “Brits out” mantra if he did not get his way on Northern Ireland politics, state papers claim.

According to a report marked secret and released under the 30-year rule, secretary of state for Northern Ireland James Prior believed the Democratic Unionists were less prone to splits and division because of the leader’s domination.

Prior was reportedly angered after being targeted by DUP figures in a Derry city hotel. His hardline views were recorded in Department of Foreign Affairs files following a meeting with Peter Barry, the minister for foreign affairs, at Hillsborough on Oct 19 1983.

“Mr Prior said that there were people like Paisley who were schizophrenic,” a report of the meeting shows.

“The DUP had attacked him some time ago at the Everglades Hotel in Derry in the same fashion as the Forum delegation were treated.

“They had screamed at him ‘Brits out’ and had so badly damaged his armoured car that it had to be completely re-sprayed.

“The DUP were loyalists only so long as they got their own way and would as a last resort get the ‘Brits out’ and go it alone rather than seek accommodation with the minority.”

The remarks were made in a wide-ranging discussion which included everything from support for Margaret Thatcher in the Conservatives to conditions in the H-Blocks and the possibility of using water cannons instead of plastic bullets in riots, which Prior said would cause more injuries.

Prior also told Barry that both the Irish and British governments were up against right-wing Tories such as John Biggs-Davison and “an MP called Murphy” whom the secretary of state described as a “despicable twirp”.

In the same file, a briefing note for taoiseach Garret FitzGerald from Nov 1983 ahead of a meeting with Thatcher revealed that the Irish government was considering having to negotiate with Sinn Féin.

The party’s growth was said to be creating “difficulties for the credible presentation of a moderate Dublin policy both in Ireland (particularly among more fervent nationalists) and abroad, eg in the US and Britain”.

The document went on: “The emergence of Sinn Féin as the predominant nationalist political voice within two years would increase those difficulties qualitatively and create new and more daunting problems for our Government: for example, would we be forced to ‘deal’ with Sinn Féin? And what would the effects [be] of such a development on the stability of our own State?”

The government was contemplating that Sinn Féin would overtake the SDLP as the biggest party on the nationalist/republican side of politics in Northern Ireland within a year or two.

Elsewhere, under a heading marked “Room for Manoeuvre”, advisers remark that Thatcher trusted FitzGerald. It also noted that the only “decisive leverage” the government has over the British prime minister is the pressure that can be put on her from US president Ronald Reagan and Washington DC.

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