Declassified files: Robinson’s resignation as DUP deputy leader ‘paid off handsomely’

Peter and Iris Robinson in September 1987 after Mr Robinson was freed from  jail. He had refused to pay road tax in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement

Peter and Iris Robinson in September 1987 after Mr Robinson was freed from jail. He had refused to pay road tax in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement

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A Government file released at the Public Record Office in Belfast refers to the unionist Task Force Report, a significant document which led to Peter Robinson briefly resigning as DUP deputy leader.

The report, entitled ‘An End to Drift’, had been drawn up by Mr Robinson and two senior UUP figures - Harold McCusker and Frank Millar - as an analysis of the pan-unionist opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The 1987 report said that support for unionism’s anti-Agreement protests was waning and that unionists would have to enter talks about negotiating a better deal.

Ian Paisley and Jim Molyneaux were less than happy at the report, which they saw as an attack on their leaderships.

Among the files released in Belfast is a November 4, 1987 document, which seemingly was an internal government paper on the impact of the Anglo-Irish Agreement after two years of its operation.

The document said that the Task Force Report “in an unpublished section, was apparently highly critical of unionist tactics and the published section went on to suggest that some form of exploratory talks should be undertaken with HMG to look into ways forward.

“These ‘talks about talks’ have been in progress between senior government officials - on one occasion along with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - and the leader of the UUP, Mr James Molyneaux, and the leader of the DUP, Dr Ian Paisley.

“As yet no results have been made public from these discussions, however, it is clear that some effort is being made to examine ways that negotiations can proceed, on some basis, which allows unionists to escape from their impossible precondition that the Agreement be suspended before substantive discussions begin.”

The NIO’s restricted quarterly paper for January to March 1988, which dealt with major political developments in that period, mentioned Mr Robinson’s position.

Referring to a January meeting which involved the DUP and UUP leaders and a delegation which included Peter Robinson and Harold McCusker, it said: “The inclusion of Messrs Robinson and McCusker was seen by some as an exercise in rehabilitation, following the cool reception given to last year’s Task Force Report by the two party leaders.

“Around the same time Peter Robinson returned as deputy leader of the DUP (having resigned in October).

“It is widely believed that the political gamble which led to his resignation has paid off handsomely, with his greater influence underlined by his membership of the new unionist panel and his return to the DUP’s deputy leadership.”