A PAN-unionist forum announced by Peter Robinson three months ago was unveiled by Jim Molyneaux in 1981 but came to little.
Mr Robinson used a speech to a joint DUP-UUP Ulster Covenant centenary dinner in September to announce a ‘Council for the Union’, though since then there have been no further details about the proposed body.
Two weeks ago Mr Robinson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt announced another pan-unionist initiative, the Unionist Forum, in an attempt to defuse the flag protests.
It is not yet clear who will sit on that body, what, if any, its powers will be nor when it will first meet.
However, a page in one of the files released in Belfast under the 30-year rule refers to a body proposed by Mr Molyneaux with exactly the same name as that put forward by Mr Robinson three decades later.
A restricted note from Stephen Leach in the NIO’s political affairs division to colleague David Blatherwick said that Mr Molyneaux had in November 1981 announced that the UUP “would be forming a ‘Council for the Union’. This body ... would be open to ‘the widest possible spectrum of pro-Union opinion both in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom’.”
Mr Leach said that the proposal had “rapidly dropped out of the headlines” and “little has been heard of it since” but added that it was to be “resuscitated” and there was a plan to hold a conference in mid-1982.
In September, referring to his version of the body, Mr Robinson said that it was “not as an electoral monolith to defend ourselves against all-comers, or to retreat into the safety of our numbers, but as a movement to extol and project the benefits of the Union”.
Setting out his plan, he said: “This ‘Council for the Union’ could entwine all strands of unionism and people who are pro-Union and who agree on a common set of democratic principles.
“I see it as containing people of all backgrounds. From those who can trace their ancestry to before the plantation, to those who have lately come to our shores and for whom English was not the language of their birth.”