Declassified Files: Protestants starting to thank God for paramilitaries, Paisley told NIO

Protestants were beginning to thank God for loyalist paramilitaries who were seen to be “getting the right people”, Ian Paisley privately told a government minister in 1992.

Ian Paisley led the DUP delegation to meet NIO minister Brian Mawhinney to discuss security in February 1992
Ian Paisley led the DUP delegation to meet NIO minister Brian Mawhinney to discuss security in February 1992

Among files declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast today is a confidential February 1992 minute of a meeting in which the then DUP leader made the comment to NIO minister Brian Mawhinney.

During the same meeting, Dr Paisley said he believed that both the UDA and Sinn Fein should be banned by the government.

However, when the government ultimately acted several months later to outlaw the UDA by adding it to the list of proscribed terrorist organisations, Dr Paisley led a DUP delegation to the government to express concern about the decision, telling ministers that “the Protestant community would not rise up and defend the UDA; but there was a clear feeling that they were being discriminated against” because Sinn Fein was not also being banned.

The February 1992 meeting to discuss security involved DUP MPs William McCrea and Peter Robinson.

A minute of the meeting recorded that the Rev McCrea “spoke at some length about problems caused by the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to allow their property to be searched and the huge numbers of arms and explosives hidden on church property”.

Dr Paisley added that this was a serious point. Common sense dictated that terrorists were based in west Belfast, and that these were the areas which should be searched.

Dr Mawhinney said that he could not comment on operational matters but that “he had no reason to believe that the security forces played public relations games” and that as far as he was concerned “there were no areas where searches and follow-up operations could not take place”.

However, “Dr Paisley regretted that he was unable to accept Dr Mawhinney’s first point. It was a fairly widely held perception. He reiterated that searches and security measures should be going on all the time”.

“He said that if the UFF or the UVF had been carrying out the attacks in the city centre, east Belfast would have been filled with police. It was getting to the stage were [sic] the Protestant people were beginning to say ‘thank God’ for the paramilitaries.”

Dr Mawhinney responded that 400 people had been tried for terrorist activities in the last year, with 150 of them facing charges of murder or attempted murder and that four out of five terrorist attacks were now being thwarted.

The Rev McCrea questioned that, claiming that the IRA “were tougher and better equipped than ever before”.

Dr Paisley went on to say that “he believed that the situation was becoming increasingly serious. The loyalist community’s perception was that the police could not touch the Provisionals.

“This meant that more would turn to the loyalist paramilitaries who were seen to be ‘getting the right people’. We must demonstrate that the security forces were effective.”

Dr Mawhinney responded by pointing out “that the distinction between the paramilitaries and the security forces was that the latter must operate within the law, and needed evidence.

“This was precisely why they needed the support of MPs. The getting of evidence was sometimes very difficult, and Dr Paisley’s frustration was shared by all, but the government would not change the policy to allow the security forces to operate outside the law.”

Dr Paisley went on to say that “the government’s whole security strategy needed to be changed. It had failed. The situation was worse than it had ever been.

“Protestants were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the government. He could only hope that the next time they met the minister to discuss the security situation, things would have been done to change this.

“Dr Mawhinney said that he could not promise to act in a way that the DUP wanted, but he would promise to consider their suggestions carefully.”