A ‘moderate’ SDLP member who would go on to hold a senior position within the party verbally savaged an NIO official in 1984, according to a declassified Government document.
Rosemary Flanagan, who would go on to become SDLP chairman but resigned from the post earlier this year, made an impact on the civil servant who travelled to Fermanagh to hear her views on Government policy.
In a December 4 1984 memo, RS Reeve in the NIO’s Political Affairs Division recounted the uncomfortable meeting in the border constituency.
He said: “Rosemary Flanagan, a teacher, fought the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency for the SDLP in the 1983 General Election.
“Despite a vicious campaign of intimidation and harassment, she obtained over 10,000 votes, thus ensuring Ken Maginnis’s election in preference to Owen Carron of Sinn Fein.
“She has largely been regarded as a moderate in the SDLP.”
Mr Reeve went on: “In the event, I was subjected to the most intemperate tirade of abuse that I have received since my posting to Northern Ireland.
“Mrs Flanagan was joined by her husband, a civil engineer, who acts as her agent in the constituency.
“Both said that they had serious doubts as to whether they would see me or not but decided that the ‘British Government’ should be told directly and forcefully about the feelings of the nationalist community in the border areas.”
He said that the themes of their complaints were familiar, but “the tone was, however, very different”.
“Despite their ‘moderate’ labels the Flanagans were convinced that the only path open to them was to withdraw from all the institutions of Northern Ireland and set up their own councils in opposition.
“Violence was the only message understood by the British and it would be difficult to persuade nationalists not to support Sinn Fein in the months ahead.”
Mr Reeve said that the couple had been unwilling to discuss possible ways forward. “They just wanted me to sit and listen to their point of view.
“They saw absolutely no point in talking to unionists who dominated the political, economic and social life of the Province.”
He said it had been “a most uncomfortable session” and added: “What is worrying, however, is the attitude taken by ‘moderate’ nationalists at grass roots levels.
“Both groups have always worked well in Fermanagh where unionists have traditionally accommodated the needs of the minority.
“For the Flanagans to feel the way they do shows how deep has been the impact of the events over the last two weeks.”