UUP leader Jim Molyneaux privately expressed concern that conflicting answers to media questions could derail unionism’s tentative foray back into talks with the government and later with the SDLP.
In an August 1989 meeting between the secretary of state, officials, Ian Paisley and Mr Molyneaux, it was discussed how unionists could begin talks with the SDLP and the government on a mechanism to replace the Anglo-Irish Agreement prior to it being suspended.
Dr Paisley said he was “anxious to get going” with the talks but that “his experience was that the SDLP were extremely slippery customers to negotiate with, which is why it was essential for the government to be involved in the talks to help pin down and define what the SDLP position actually was”.
A minute of the meeting recorded that Mr Molyneaux said “if a round-table discussion took place before adequate ground-clearing and preparation had taken place in private bilateral meetings, then it would be doomed to failure. The volume of destructive media attention focussed on Northern Ireland parties known to be involved in public discussions could not be underestimated; before that stage was reached, the parties needed to be very sure of their mutual positions in order to resist the ‘Eamonn Mallie factor’”, a reference to the political correspondent known for his forthright style of questioning.