A document released into the National Archives in Dublin under the 30-year rule records a meeting between an Irish government minister and then Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher. The memo, carrying a note attributing it to Ireland`s Foreign Minister Garret FitzGerald, shows he told senior Tories the political realities meant Mr Paisley was the main obstacle to a settlement in October 1976.
It appears from this memo of a meeting with Thatcher and Whitelaw that Paisley refused to attempt to work or share any form of power with the catholic minority of the time because he was under the impression from Airey Neave that a majority Unionist government could be returned to Stormont.
I said I thought the major problem was Paisley,” the memo (by Garrett Fitzgerald) stated.
“She (Mrs Thatcher) seemed extremely surprised at this, though Whitelaw assented with my view.
“I said that while certainly the continued activities of the IRA made it difficult for politicians in Northern Ireland to reach agreement on joint government, this was not in my view the main obstacle to agreement – the main obstacle was Paisley because of his dominant position and because of the fact that he had brought down successive leaders of the Unionist Party who seemed willing to compromise with the minority.‘
I don’t think any of the cynics out there should ever for a moment doubt how far we have come.