A 1983 proposal for ‘legislative devolution’ from the then senior DUP figure Jim Allister was savaged by an official in the NIO’s Political Affairs Division.
Unlike previous years, Mr Allister features much more prominently than the then DUP deputy leader, Peter Robinson, in the 1983 and 1984 files released at the Public Record Office in Belfast.
Repeatedly, it was Mr Allister, rather than Mr Robinson, who accompanied Ian Paisley to key meetings with the Secretary of State.
The now TUV leader made the devolution proposal – which civil servant RS Reeve said would have seen legislative powers devolved to Assembly ministers but executive powers retained, for the time being, with NIO ministers – at the DUP conference that year.
Mr Reeve said that “Mr Allister seems to have in mind a system not dissimilar from that which operates in the United States where the executive (the President) and the legislature (Congress) are separate.
“Under his scheme, which he emphasised should be seen as a first step towards full devolution, the Assembly would be given the power to legislate in the ‘transferred’ field while the Secretary of State and his team of ministers would retain all executive functions.
“This would, as Mr Allister pointed out, give the Assembly considerable influence over the activities of Government.”
However, Mr Reeve went on to highlight what he saw as “a number of significant drawbacks”.
He argued that it would be a “recipe for tension between the Assembly and Westminster” and would be “totally unacceptable to the minority community” while also appearing to unionists as a “pale and unattractive imitation of Stormont”.
He went on: “Mr Allister’s ideas are not new. In January of this year, he expounded them to my predecessor, David Blatherwick, stressing then that they were entirely personal and had not been discussed with the rest of the DUP.”
The memo says that Mr Blatherwick had pointed out problems with the proposals and “Mr Allister apparently agreed, albeit reluctantly”.
He added: “Since Mr Allister is aware of the impracticability of his proposals, it is not immediately obvious why he should have chosen to air them at the DUP conference.”
He went on to speculate that, given the split within the UUP about devolution, Mr Allister may have used it as “a tactical weapon” in an attempt to re-open divisions within the DUP’s main rival.
Paisley told Government in 1984 that he wanted a local deal
Showing glimpses of the pragmatism which 23 years later would take him into power with Sinn Fein, Ian Paisley privately told the Secretary of State in 1984 that he wanted local politicians to reach a deal.
Dr Paisley, who asked to meet the Secretary of State at Westminster without officials present, told him that in light of the security and economic difficulties he “thought it important that every effort should be made by Northern Ireland politicians to reach an accommodation among themselves”.
And, surprisingly, the note added: “By the same token, articles two and three of the [Republic’s] Constitution [which laid claim to Northern Ireland] were described by Dr Paisley as an ‘irritant’ rather than as a substantive obstacle.”
The note added: “Generally, the Secretary of State had been surprised and pleased by Dr Paisley’s apparent wish to be conciliatory, although it was of course impossible to know how long this would continue when difficult decisions came into closer prospect.”
Eighteen months later, Dr Paisley would lead furious protests against the Government over the Anglo-Irish Agreement, making his famous ‘Never, never, never’ speech outside Belfast City Hall.