A current Sinn Féin TD who represented the party in its first meetings of “exploratory dialogue” with NIO officials in 1995 delivered a “crisp lecture” about how the British would have to pay “reparations” after Irish unity.
Files declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast under the 20-year rule include detailed minutes of the fourth meeting between six civil servants and the Sinn Féin team.
Sinn Fein’s Caoimhghin O’Caolain told the officials that his party had proposals for “the economics of transformation”. In what officials described as a “crisp lecture”, the Sinn Féin man told them that “the fundamental point was for the British to withdraw from Ireland, but there would have to be a continuing economic commitment – he suggested the term ‘reparations’ as appropriate – to prevent dislocation and to repair the disadvantages and discrimination caused by British rule.”
In another note of the meeting by Jonathan Stephens, a mid-ranking NIO official who took part in the talks but who is now the NIO’s most senior civil servant, he said that the Sinn Féin man had said that Britain, after withdrawing from Northern Ireland, “should subsequently continue its economic subsidy as reparations for the effects of British involvement”.
In the same meeting Martin McGuinness pressed the officials again on the refusal of ministers to meet them. He said they had to avoid the process being seen to be “a charade”.
A minute of the meeting said: “Mr McGuinness apologised for putting this point to the government team forcibly. ‘This is not aimed at you personally,’ he said, but to those who send you. Frankly it was quite ludicrous that after each of the meetings he himself went out and talked to the press outside Parliament Buildings and was followed some time later by Michael Ancram commenting on a meeting he had not been at.”
Mr McGuinness emerges from the minutes as the central Sinn Féin figure who could be truculent and aggressive one moment, then humorous and polite the next.