1986: Enforcement of prohibition on liquid milk imports into NI (but not buttermilk) #20YearRule

A slim green file AG/15/60A (selective scans) released under the 20 Year Rule and available to peruse at the Public Records Office deals with the vexed issue in 1986 of milk being illegally imported across the border from the Republic of Ireland and sold in Northern Ireland shops. Buttermilk wasn’t covered by the same import ban!

1988: Home Office leaves NI emergency team in dark as satellite falls to earth #20YearRule

While there was a flurry of activity to plan for the unlikely event of a Russian satellite crash-landed on Northern Ireland soil in 1988, the alerting procedures failed and the NI emergency planning heard the ‘all clear’ on the midnight radio news when London colleagues failed to notify them that the satellite had missed the UK and they could stand their staff down.

Government recalcitrance over refugee resettlement in early 1990s #20YearRule

Between 1989 and 1992, local civil servants responded to two requests for Northern Ireland to offer accommodation for refugees from two regions of the world: Vietnam and the former Yugoslavia. In the second instance, the internal response lacked enthusiasm with officials unwilling to state publicly that they were willing to accept in families to NI as part of the UK-wide programme.

Reading Peter Robinson’s 1990 vision of devolution in light of today’s political deadlock #20YearRule

Peter Robinson’s influence on unionist politics can be clearly seen in government papers that were recently released under the 20 Year Rule. In one file the NIO considered that Robinson was worried that his party leader Ian Paisley was in the pocket of UUP leader James Molyneaux as they analysed a constituency speech that was forcefully in favour of devolution.

1989: Should an Irish Medium education report be published bilingually? #20YearRule

A civil service file released under the 20 Year Rule shows how the potential bilingual publication of a report about Irish Medium eduction provoked one civil servant to comment that “given the small and gossipy world of serious Irish language enthusiasts in Northern Ireland, I think we could assume that a refusal to publish this report in Irish would leak sooner or later”

1991: Negotiating a Strand 2 talks venue + complaints that Paisley was locked out of his toilet #20YearRule

One single buff-coloured file, three or four inches thick, contains the stapled minutes of NIO meetings with political parties in May 1991 as they negotiated about the strand one, two and three talks. While perhaps the single most frustrating file I’ve flicked through in PRONI over the last couple of years, the level of detail in the civil service minutes of meetings is incredible, and the retention of humorous asides provides a lot of colour about the characters involved and their relationships.

1989: Civil service chief: Alliance’s “usefulness as a party has been as a catalyst rather than a main player” #20YearRule

Files released today under the 20 year rule contain Sir Kenneth Bloomfield’s August 1989 proposals for ‘a model of consensus government’ – with a structure ’management committee‘ to help set departmental policy under direct rule – included a damning assessment of the Alliance Party, “their usefulness as a party has been as a catalyst rather than a main player”.

1990: Tory & Unionist pressure group proposed two month terrorist amnesty for offences short of murder #20YearRule

The pressure group – The Monday Club – for which membership of either the Conservative Party or the UUP was a prerequisite to be a member recommended in 1990 to the Secretary of State Peter Brooke that there should be a two month amnesty for terrorist activities (short of murder) and that the Union should be made permanent as the provision to leave only encouraged terrorists.

DUP promise “a balanced deal” at conference that lacked its normal spark #dup17

The religious zeal and fervour normally on show at the November DUP conference was missing from much of today’s proceedings. The banter, jeering and spontaneous bursting into song was muted, actively discouraged (or forbidden). The flags, normally already laid out on seats when the delegates arrive, were only distributed after lunch. It seem that with supposed power in Westminster comes responsibility.

Long: “a battle of hope over expectation [but] good work is never wasted” #NWAP17

In her speech to the party’s autumn conference held in Derry, Alliance leader Naomi Long this afternoon called for a way to be found through the current political impasse to “[demonstrate] through words and actions, mutual respect for both British and Irish Identity and our commitment to share this space together, in co-operation rather than conflict”.

No Stone Unturned – a film that finally lifts the Loughinisland stones the RUC wouldn’t touch

New documentary examining the Loughinisland massacre goes deeper into the evidence that any existing investigations, naming the chief suspects. An exemplar on how to tell an investigative story in a manner which gives dignity to the victims and their families, No Stone Unturned avoids politicisation and politicians, and exposes the messy ‘dirty war’ that was thoroughly intertwined with the paramilitary action during the Troubles.

Swann calls for a ‘new unionism’ of ‘radical moderates’ at strident conference #UUP17

Sustained anti-Irish Language Act rhetoric was an effective smokescreen that diverted attention from any focus on the UUP’s disappointing election results. Robin Swann confidently delivered his first speech to conference as party leader with a call a new unionism and the desire for radical moderates (though he was light on detail).

Greens thankful for consolidation and plan for further growth

GREEN PARTY NI hired a larger room this year in the Clayton Hotel for their annual party conference. As well as hearing from Clare Bailey who was stepping down as deputy leader, party leader Steven Agnew spoke about his thankfulness for volunteer commitment and stable finances that had sustained the party through unexpected elections and a desire to see the professionalism of their ground campaign continue to grow. The morose political mood across society was less evident than I expected.

Slow diplomacy, women’s suffrage, Brexit & urban beekeeping – Mount Stewart Conversations

Maybe a dose of distance and diplomacy is what the NI political talks need? Country estates like Mount Stewart offered hospitality and privacy to decision makers. It was an age of slow diplomacy. Something that the National Trust are celebrating in their second year of hosting the Mount Stewart Conversations at their lough shore property.