Ian Paisley worked behind the scenes to get his protégé Nigel Dodds elected as Belfast Lord Mayor – almost three decades before he would accuse Mr Dodds of an attempt to oust him as DUP leader.
A confidential May 6, 1988 memo from JR Alford in the NIO’s political affairs division was based on discussions with several Belfast unionist councillors, among them Dixie Gilmore and Joe Coggle.
As part of the DUP-UUP campaign to jointly oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the parties’ leaderships agreed not to oppose each other for the Lord Mayor’s position and instead rotated it. In light of that, UUP leader Jim Molyneaux agreed to back Mr Dodds.
Mr Alford said this led to “general UUP annoyance” and a group of renegade unionist councillors had nominated Dorothy Dunlop in opposition to Mr Dodds. Under Mr Molyneaux’s instructions, Mr Dodds won by 23 votes to 14.
Mr Alford wrote: “Coggle told me privately that Paisley was so determined to get his protégé elected that he phoned Coggle before the election to see if his vote could be relied upon.
“Coggle apparently told him no because the job of mayor required more time than Dodds would be able to devote to it if he were to continue with his European commitments for Dr Paisley. Paisley told Coggle that Dodds would be free for all official purposes associated with the office of mayor and eventually persuaded Coggle to support Dodds.”
Mr Alford added: “There is also a great deal of concern about Dodds having the post. Not so much on grounds of ability or stature (all agreed that he is clever and looks the part; certainly more so than Sammy Wilson ever did) but more because of the close links between Dodds and Dr Paisley.”
Last year, Dr Paisley accused Mr Dodds of having a hand in attempts to remove him as DUP leader in 2008 – something Mr Dodds denied – with Baroness Paisley disparagingly referring to the now DUP deputy leader as “the mighty Dodds”.