The ‘Royal Visits General Policy’ file released under the 20 Year Rule at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland this morning (CENT/3/131A) also contains a chain of correspondence caused by a kerfuffle in June 1983 when the Assembly Speaker Jim Kilfedder complained that he was not given his “proper place” when the Queen Mother visited Northern Ireland.
The supposed snub to the Assembly was mentioned by the Speaker during its next sitting and questions went down into the root system of the civil service to ascertain the circumstances that led to the ill-feeling. Ultimately Permanent Secretary and Head of the NI Civil Service Sir Ewart Bell discovered that it was a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy, although that wasn’t quite how the correspondence phrased it.
Due to the limited space in St Patrick’s Barracks in Ballymena, Assembly Members had not been invited to this ‘military’ visit. Dr Paisley was invited as MP for the area. “Those at HQNI [Army Headquarters] issuing the invitations did not realise the significance of the nomination by a TA unit in Newtownards [102 Squadron] of the Speaker of the Assembly, Mr Kilfedder, but only in his capacity as MP for that Unit’s area.”
Apparently difficulties arose with Mr Kilfedder on his arrival at Ballymena as he did not have a ‘sticker’ on his car for admission to the Barracks. However his car was admitted and he took his allotted place in the stand but when the VIPs moved to lunch Mr Kilfedder found that his ticket did not admit him to the Officers Mess [seating limited to 78] where the Queen Mother was dining. He refused to join other VIPs (Lord Lieutenants etc) [in the adjoining overflow marquee] and left Ballymena stating that “the TA would never again be allowed to fire a 21 gun salute from Stormont grounds”.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.