Unionist unity after the Anglo-Irish Agreement had left the DUP in “a state of disrepair” and something of an internal rebellion against leader Ian Paisley, according to a declassified government document.
The DUP and the UUP had worked closely together to oppose the 1985 agreement but the pairing had made it increasingly difficult for the DUP, as the smaller party, to persuade unionists to vote for it rather than its larger rival.
In council elections in 1989, the DUP lost almost a third of its 156 councillors.
According to the minutes of a meeting of a small team of senior NIO officials which included the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Sir Ken Bloomfield, on September 8 1989, “Within Northern Ireland, the DUP was in a state of disrepair.
“There was fairly widespread concern among the ranks that unless the party soon became involved in a devolved administration, its support would continue to fall. Paisley had been heavily defeated (42-1) at an Executive Council meeting on the issue of why the DUP had done badly in the local government elections.
“The unanimous view (Paisley apart) was that the DUP was seen as clinging too much to the coat-tails of the UUP. It was therefore now looking at ways of creating division between the two parties, but without jeopardising the pact. Paisley was, at least on political matters, sticking rigidly to the joint approach, involving Molyneaux in his major public announcements.”