Churches were privately offered £100,000 a year by a Government minister if they would work more closely together in the interests of community relations, a declassified file has revealed.
A memo from Tony McCusker in the Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU) in January 1991 set out details of a meeting at which the issue was raised.
He wrote: “At the last meeting with the church leaders in May, Dr Mawhinney [the minister] offered the churches a substantial financial package (around £100,000 per annum) to promote inter-church contact which did not impinge on theology or conscience.
“CCRU was to take discussions forward with the individual church leaders to agree a programme, but with the death of the cardinal and the change in leadership in the Presbyterian and Methodist churches, nothing happened. Now that Archbishop Daly has taken up office an initiative could again be considered.”
But Mr McCusker went on to warn: “Whatever structure emerges, it is important to realise that it is not simply a question of dangling money in front of the churches in the expectation that they will co-operate just to get it. If that motivation had existed, there have been plenty of opportunities for them to get funds from CCRU or the Community Relations Council.”
He added: “Whatever suspicions churches may harbour about each other, they are probably slight compared to the suspicions they have about Government’s agenda in seeking to get them to co-operate.”