Declassified files: Fears that litigation may offer a ‘PR field day’ to Paisleyites

Ian Paisley in 1985
Ian Paisley in 1985

A senior NIO official wanted to encourage individuals to begin lawsuits against anti-Ango-Irish Agreement leaders such as Ian Paisley a declassified file has revealed.

Details of the civil servant’s original proposal are not contained in a file which has been released at the Public Record Office (PRONI) in Belfast; however, a strong rebuttal of the suggestion is found in one of the hundreds of files which have recently been made public under the 30/20 Year Rule.

A confidential memo from AJE Brennan to the head of the NIO, Sir Robert Andrew, addressed the suggestion.

Mr Brennan declared that his own view was “diametrically opposite”.

“I can see no merit in encouraging those affronted by unionist criticisms to litigate,” he said.

“We are currently congratulating ourselves that the unionists have not succeeded in challenging the Agreement in the courts.

“That is partly because litigation would interfere with the implementation of the Agreement but also because we do not want the Agreement, and the processes that led to is, put under scrutiny in a court hearing.

“Leaving aside the dubity about whether any libel proceedings would succeed (the plaintiff would obviously have to meet the defence of ‘fair comment’) the litigation – say, against Dr Paisley – would potentially give the defence a public field day.”

Clearly alarmed, he went on: “Heaven knows what view the courts would take if the defence asked for discovery of all documents bearing on the making of the Agreement in order, for example, to search for evidence of US complicity; heaven knows who might be subpoenaed to give evidence: it is not unrealistic, I fancy, to think that it might include the Secretary of State and members of the UK negotiating team.”