DUP founding member Desmond Boal was rumoured to have “deliberately tried to ‘set up’” Peter Robinson in the legal advice which he gave him over his infamous 1986 invasion of Clontibret, according to Irish Government papers declassified in Dublin.
Mr Boal, who by the mid 1980s had long left the DUP and was a leading criminal barrister, was a long-standing friend of Ian Paisley’s.
According to prominent Belfast solicitor PJ McGrory – whose son Barra would go on to become Northern Ireland’s top prosecutor – there was a rumour that Dr Paisley and Mr Boal had “deliberately tried to ‘set up’ Robinson” by persuading him to enter a plea of guilty over his trial for Clontibret.
“Thus, Robinson could be attacked for having fallen below the standard set by Paisley, who never pleaded guilty whenever he was arrested,” the report said.
According to another Dublin file, reported yesterday by the Irish Examiner, the then SDLP chairman and lawyer Alban Maginness had said that his understanding “from the legal grapevine” was that Mr Boal, “seeing his chance to reduce the leadership threat to his old friend Ian Paisley”, used the case to take Mr Robinson “down a peg”.
The papers also reveal that Dr Paisley was left cowering in a car as he waited for a burger and Diet Coke outside a takeaway near the banks of the Boyne, out of fear that he would be recognised.
The unedifying scene played out as the DUP leader was nervous about being spotted by locals in Slane, Co Meath, as he journeyed to Dublin for the trial of Mr Robinson.
Inside the burger joint Mr Boal felt it necessary to deny it was the firebrand preacher and staunch unionist leader.
“Nervous that he might be recognised, Paisley huddled inside the car in the car park while Boal went in to order hamburgers and Diet Coke for the DUP leader,” an Irish government official reported.
“In the meantime two local youths spotted Paisley in the car. Hotly denying (to their obvious amazement) that the occupant of the car was Paisley, Boal was forced to grab the food and to flee the scene without further ado.”
But one Irish diplomat went on to criticise how the entire Clontibret affair had been handled by the Republic’s authorities.
In a note for his superiors he said Mr Robinson was shrewd and clever and that the charges and the “extraordinary bail” set down in Ballybay District Court had reinforced unionist prejudices about the Republic.
He said it made Robinson “a hero among his own”. The officials said it would have been more sensible for gardai to have released Robinson after he had been caught.
“This would have sent him off with his tail between his legs,” he said.