Declassified files: David Trimble and Jeffrey Donaldson open to compromise over Drumcree

Jeffrey Donaldson and other senior Orangemen appeared to government officials to be “trying desperately to find a compromise” about Drumcree without being “humiliated” in the eyes of their supporters.

By Sam McBride
Monday, 30th December 2019, 8:00 am
Jeffrey Donaldson (right) with Ian Paisley and Ian Paisley Jr at Drumcree
Jeffrey Donaldson (right) with Ian Paisley and Ian Paisley Jr at Drumcree

A confidential May 31, 1996 memo from NIO minister Sir John Wheeler’s private secretary recorded details of a dinner which the minister hosted for senior loyal order figures.

Present were Apprentice Boys’ governor Alistair Simpson, Orange deputy grand chaplain Rev Brian Kennaway, Orange assistant grand master Jeffrey Donaldson and both the Rev Victor Ryan and William Logan from the Royal Black Preceptory.

The civil service minute described it as “an extremely positive dinner”. It said: “The representatives of the loyal institutions gave the impression of people who were (a) confronting their own prejudices (b) under pressure from hard-liners within their movement (c) aware of the ‘no win’ trap which was being set by Sinn Fein to draw them into conflict with the RUC (d) deeply suspicious that Maryfield [the Irish Government] approved parade routes.

“One very positive aspect of the dinner was the tone struck by Jeffrey Donaldson who was clearly under instructions from David Trimble to attempt to find a compromise at Drumcree.

“It was apparent that the sort of deal which the minister had mapped out during his recent meeting with Trimble had been put to the Portadown Orangemen; (1) the 12 July parade would re-route so that it did not go down the Garvaghy Road (2) the Drumcree church service would only involve local Orangemen, thus excluding David Trimble and others (3) the parade would be silent with no bands.

“Mr Donaldson indicated that he had taken on board the need to win a PR victory over the unreasonable position of the Sinn Feiners who had infiltrated the residents’ groups, and the Portadown Orangemen intended to call a press conference closer to the time announcing their compromise up front.

“What Mr Donaldson feared was that having brokered a very significant compromise on the part of the Orangemen, the RUC might still re-route the parade under threat of a law and order breach from those who wished to block the parade.

“The result of such a re-routing would be explosive.”

The minute described Mr Donaldson as “the most progressive dinner guest”.

It went on: “The extent of threat from hard-liners within the movement was brought home by the Rev Kennaway.

“He had been at a meeting in the Ulster Hall where there had been inflammatory ‘fascist’ speeches and members of the ‘Spirit of Drumcree’ group had hackled [sic] that Rev Martin Smyth should be shot.”

The minute concluded: “This group largely gave the impression of people who were trying desperately to find a compromise without being humiliated in the eyes of their respective organisations.”