An April 15 1986 note by the Political Affairs Division of the NIO noted the inability of some senior unionist politicians to outrightly condemn loyalist attacks on the RUC.
The note, contained in a file which has been declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast, said: “The UUP continues to condemn attacks on the RUC and their families and homes. [Leader Jim] Molyneaux has called for the attacks to halt immediately, and North Belfast UUP MP Cecil Walker has spoken of ‘mindless attacks by criminal elements using the cloak of a loyalist protest as a cowardly attempt to intimidate RUC officers and their families’.
“Others, however, have been more equivocal. John Taylor deplored ‘the sectarian attacks and the damage they are doing to our cause in Britain and Europe’ but pointed out that the ‘RUC could not expect to fire plastic bullets at Protestants during the daytime and live peacefully in Protestant areas at night’.”
It went on: “In [Ian] Paisley’s absence in United States it fell to [Peter] Robinson to articulate the DUP’s reaction to the attacks. He found it impossible to condemn them. ‘Loyalist violence against the RUC was inevitable. Everybody must regret the turn of events, but the British Government looks on the RUC as being the instrument for imposing the Anglo-Eire Agreement.’
“The implication that the RUC were therefore ‘legitimate targets’ was not missed, and Robinson has predicted a continuing campaign of violence and has said that any increased deployment of the Army was likely to increase tension.
“On his return from the US, however, and moved perhaps by evidence of strains in the UUP/DUP pact, Paisley was quick to state his ‘unequivocal and unreserved’ condemnation of the attacks. But this did not prevent him from joining in the trenchant criticism of the Chief Constable; ‘I am asking Sir John to get out ... any Chief Constable who has harshly policed Protestant parades because of the influence of southern politicians is not fit to be a Chief Constable.’”
Later, the document said: “Robinson’s recent manoeuvrings and his sudden emergence as a self-appointed mediator are purely pragmatic. The return of his leader threatened to push him out of the limelight and he therefore decided on a change of role. This does not demonstrate any softening of attitude on Robinson’s part, but a cynical manipulation of current events for his own political motives. His influence within the unionist camp remains considerable.”
One file recounts how, at the dissolution of the Assembly in June 1986, the 18 DUP members and the UUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson and Frazer Agnew had refused to leave the chamber until, at the request of the Assembly clerk, the RUC “moved in to eject them” at 2am. Dr Paisley and Mr Robinson were the last to be carried out, with Dr Paisley infamously telling the RUC men “not to come crying to me if your houses are burned”.
At a press conference on June 24, Dr Paisley warned that Ulster was on the verge of civil war, and added “we are going to organise and mobilise the forces of those opposed to this Anglo Irish Agreement”.
MORE FROM THE DECLASSIFIED FILES