State Papers 1987: ‘Cowardly’ Robinson was ‘taken down a peg’

Peter Robinson’s reputation for cowardice was shown up by his backfired “invasion” of a small village on the Irish border, Northern Ireland’s most senior civil servant said at the time.

State Papers 1987: ‘Cowardly’ Robinson was ‘taken down a peg’

Kenneth Bloomfield privately told an Irish diplomat he was delighted the senior DUP figure had been “taken down a peg” over the Clontibret affair, newly declassified government files reveal.

The head of the Northern Ireland civil service at the time said he shared the view of many unionists that Mr Robinson’s position in the community was damaged as a result of pleading guilty in a southern court.

“Robinson has always had a reputation for cowardice and that reputation has now been underlined,” he said, according to a note of his dinner in 1987 with Irish diplomats in Belfast.

“Bloomfield was delighted that he had been ‘taken down a peg’,” the file reveals.

Questions were also asked about the amount of money raised to fund Mr Robinson after being charged over the 1986 loyalist incursion into the Co Monaghan village during anti-Anglo-Irish Agreement demonstrations.

Mr Robinson, who led the “invasion”, was deputy leader of the DUP and an MP at the time.

John Carson, a former unionist MP and Lord Mayor of Belfast, told a diplomat many DUP supporters “even in east Belfast where he has been on a few occasions since the end of the trial, were openly critical of Robinson’s ‘cowardly’ admission of guilt in a southern court”. Differences in his treatment and other “less important figures in the unionist fold” who got into trouble over anti-Anglo-Irish Agreement protests were “striking” and had “not been lost on the unionist community.” He noted one DUP member who was fined £275 for assaulting a policeman outside the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast.

“Finding difficulty in paying the fine and worried about his position as a teacher, he first approached Ian Paisley for help and was turned away,” he said.

The man was then told by the anti-Agreement Ulster Clubs to “take his punishment like a man” and he became totally disillusioned with his “erstwhile friends and deeply regrets ever having been involved with them”. “Meanwhile, the DUP has placed ads in the newspapers seeking contributions to pay for Robinson’s fine and defence,” he added.

“A £100 per head dinner in the Mons Restaurant outside Belfast netted some £30,000.

“Alan Wright, chairman of the Ulster Clubs, contributed £14,000 and Sammy Wilson, Lord Mayor of Belfast, has committed himself to raising a further five-figure sum.

“They expect to raise a total of £100,000 through all of their efforts.

“Nobody has been questioned as to why so much is being raised.” Mr Robinson was fined IR£17,500 over the affair — earning him the nickname “Peter the Punt”.

Alban Maginness, then SDLP chairman and a solicitor, said his understanding “from the legal grapevine” was that barrister Desmond Boal “seeing his chance to reduce the leadership threat to his old friend Ian Paisley” used the case to take Mr Robinson “down a peg”.

Mr Boal had warned Mr Robinson that only by pleading guilty to an unlawful assembly charge would he avoid a jail sentence.

Mr Robinson “decided to opt for the easy way out” after fretting over the loss of his Westminster seat, a possible long sentence and “the loss of a very comfortable lifestyle,” said Maginness.

More in this section