RUC’s reluctance to remove DUP protestors alarmed officials

DUP Assemblymen in May 1986 after they had seized control of the switchboard room at Stormont
DUP Assemblymen in May 1986 after they had seized control of the switchboard room at Stormont

Senior DUP figures, including the now First Minister Peter Robinson, barricaded themselves in the Stormont telephone room in 1986 – but told those phoning the building that they controlled all of Parliament Buildings, a declassified file records.

A file released at the Public Record Office in Belfast revals that senior civil servants were alarmed by the initial refusal of RUC officers to evict the politicians.

A report compiled by N Glover on May 15, the day of the incident, said that late in the afternoon of the previous day “word was received ... that there could be problems on 15 May”.

The private office [it is not clear which department is referred to] were asked to lock all doors overnight and the door to the roof was checked.

He said that at 8.35am, private office staff “became aware of a number of individuals in the corridor outside their office and phoned Personnel Services”.

When the group was approached, the then DUP Assemblyman Jack McKee (now a TUV councillor) refused to discuss the intentions of the group who were carrying flags.

Fifteen minutes later, two senior civil servants “came upon Mr S Wilson (DUP press officer) on the fourth floor. He was asked who he was and what he wanted. He did not identify himself but he said he was up on a message. He left the fourth floor.”

A meeting was held with police officers in Stormont, but as that meeting was taking place at 9.25am, “a call was received from the telephonist indicating that her room had been occupied by Assembly Members”.

Accompanied by the two police officers, the civil servants made their way to the room but found that the door was locked. They found two Assembly Members, one of whom is identified as ‘S McCrea’ — seeimngly South Belfast representative Stuart McCrea — standing outside.

The report went on: “Assembly Member S McCrea indicated that the switchboard room had been occupied as a protest against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

“[Civil servant] Mr Glover produced his authorisation card and requested Assembly Member S McCrea to leave.

“Assembly Member S McCrea indicated that he was aware of the Public Order procedure and he was not going to leave but would have to be carried out by the police.

“Mr Glover then directed the police to remove Assembly Member S McCrea. The police stated that they would have to take further instructions from their senior officers.”

It said that the DUP Assemblyman had “tried to engage Mr Glover in conversation, stating that he (Mr Glover) was in for a long day”. Mr McCrea then “exchanged some words through the locked door with his colleagues and left”.

The report said that an RUC inspector then approached the door and informed those inside that he was an authorised officer and asked them to leave but there was no response.

One of the civil servants went to try to find a key for the door but in the meantime “it was clear from sounds inside the room that the door was being barricaded”.

By 10.50am, a call from the Secretary of State’s office instructed that “Assembly members were to be ejected if necessary by the police using whatever means necessary”. However, the police said that they “had not sufficient men to comply”.

Additional police resources arrived over the following half an hour. Then, as police outside the door of the telephone room asked the protesting politicians to leave, Mr McCrea reappeared and requested to speak to the people in the room. But, after the police allowed him access, Mr McCrea “simply asked those in the room what they wanted for lunch”.

Although by this stage an RUC deputy divisional commander was present, he asked that they wait until Assistant Chief Constable Steenson arrive before moving in.

After repeated warnings from civil servants and police, the RUC eventually forced the door open, using a sledge hammer, at 11.52am and those occupying the room left.

The report lists those present as being “Assembly Members Peter Robinson, Jim Wells, Rev Ivan Foster, Rev William McCrea, Rev Beattie, J McKee, A Kane, G Campbell, J Allister, D Vitty, C Cousley and S Gibson.”

A later note states that “two other Assembly Members, Cecil Calvert and Ivan Davis, were also present in the room”.

In a subsequent memo, the DoE permanent secretary, D Barry, expressed “surprise and concern that a police officer of inspector rank was unable to act without seeking instructions from his more senior officers”.

Mr Barry also registered his unhappiness at “the lack of decisiveness and apparent reluctance to act on the part of the police. I am left with the impression that had we not been in the position to apply the pressure of the Secretary of State’s express instruction the position would have been even worse.”

Another memo suggests that the DUP members present had rather exaggerated the scale of their invasion.

The note from an RH Robinson states that anyone phoning Parliament Buildings during the occupation had been informed that “the DUP had taken over the building”, when in fact the party occupied just a single room.

The note also stated that the DUP protestors had “filed out quietly” after the incursion.

More from the declassified government files

‘Burning out Fenians’ discussed at Ulster Club meeting, say files

Water charges necessary but ‘politically unacceptable’, say files

Top civil servant proposed all-Ireland anti-terror police force

Troops were on standby for two contentious 1986 Orange parades

Paisley condemned attacks on RUC after Robinson would not

NIO feared that Paisley might push for an independent NI

Fears over reintroducing juries for terrorism trials

DUP Assemblyman briefed against ‘cold and calculating’ Robinson

Allister ‘unmoved’ at prospect of 1986 Assembly collapse

Ex-UUP leader Harry West feared party could split

Dublin lobbied for Irish language ‘out of hatred for SF’

Peter Robinson urged US firms not to invest in Northern Ireland, says declassified file

DUP MP William McCrea wanted ‘Libya-type airstrikes’ against Dundalk and Drogheda

The attitudes and nature of the DUP are frightening, said head of the Civil Service

RUC tipped off the Garda about Robinson’s ‘invasion’ of Clontibret

In 1986, Paisley believed he’d never be in another Stormont

Stormont Speaker reacted with fury when officials queried his questionable hospitality claims

Video: Archivist says Stormont politicians can’t block declassification of files