Declassified files: Peter Robinson ‘desperately wants to enter talks’

Peter Robinson in the House of Commons in 1991
Peter Robinson in the House of Commons in 1991

Peter Robinson was someone who “desperately wants to engage in talks”, an NIO official who was privately briefed by the DUP deputy leader in 1991 told colleagues.

Mr Robinson, who throughout his career alternated between behaviour such as the ‘invasion’ of Clontibret which put him on the extreme right of unionism to far more pragmatic positions which left other DUP members suspicious of him, comes out of the files declassified at the Public Record Office as someone who by the early 1990s was eager to do a deal which would end the Anglo-Irish Agreement by restoring devolution.

In a confidential November 1991 memo to senior NIO officials, Danny McNeill in the NIO’s Political Affairs Branch relayed a conversation with Mr Robinson after a press conference by Ian Paisley in which he stated that “his party wished to pursue political development at Westminster”.

Mr McNeill recorded: “Peter Robinson informed me that Paisley’s position was much further advanced than had been reported in the press conference.

“Robinson said that Paisley had now agreed that the DUP could engage in bilaterals separately from the UUP – and without a suspension of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

“He had agreed that these bilaterals should deal with matters of substance up to but not including final negotiations.”

He added: “This development represents, in Robinson’s eyes, a recommitment by Paisley to the continuation of dialogue ... however the SDLP (and Alliance) are unlikely to agree to engage in a bilateral exchange of any substance,

Mr McNeill was sceptical about Mr Robinson’s proposal and suggested it might show Mr Robinson as someone “who desperately wants to engage in talks ... clutching at straws”.