The Secretary of State was advised against agreeing to lengthy sit-down interviews around the time that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was to be signed, newly declassified Government papers reveal.
A October 14 1985 secret and ‘personal’ memo from D Gilliland to Tom King’s private secretary warned of the potential for “detailed and lengthy cross-examination by the media”.
He said that the media would focus on “the latest political statement by party leaders or the wildest allegation”.
He advised: “However unattractive the ‘door-stepping’ technique may seem, I remain convinced that it is the safest course for the Secretary of State to take over the coming weeks ... I do not believe that it would be in his best interests to be exposed to set-pieces in public such as press conferences or lengthy structured TV or radio interviews (such as the BBC’s ‘Spotlight’ or UTV’s ‘Counterpoint’ or indeed the more major national programmes).
“The emphasis in all of these would beyond doubt be on the progress of talks and our refusal to comment would simply contribute to the growing unease within the Northern Ireland community.”
Mr Gilliland advised that “we should concentrate heavily on background briefings, off the record, with the media at large”.
He reminded the Secretary of State that he was to have lunch with the editorial board of the Belfast Telegraph on October 22 and suggested that he should also arrange a dinner or lunch with the News Letter editorial staff, as well as inviting the proprietor of the News Letter to dinner at Hillsborough,
He said that the Secretary of State should also have lunch with the editor and political correspondent of the Irish News, agree to a dinner invitation from David Nicholas of ITN and arrange dinner or lunch with the leader writers of the Guardian and The Times, as well as lunches with US correspondents.
Although such a programme “will make very considerable demands on the Secretary of State’s diary”, Mr Gilliland added: “I think it is worthwhile”.