PRODUCING SAUSAGE MEAT – This is my favourite item from my mid-December stink looking through government papers that would be released on Friday 30 under the 20 Year Rule. The title could have been referring to a report on the state of the pork industry. The papers could have been an evaluation of how best to heat pig farms in the 1980s. It could have pointed to an unbeknownst – or forgotten – health crisis affecting sausages. Instead …
Hidden amongst the thousand or so government files released on Friday under the 20 Year Rule are some black and white photographs from the 1960s of the M1 motorway and its Sprucefield junction. Long before the days of early morning congestion at Junction 7! If you call into the Public Records Office and ask to see file DRD/5/1/9, you can flick through the large set of images.
RELATIONSHIP COUNSELLING – Reading through two newly released files documenting “Political Developments in NI” from 1989 and 1990, you get a feel for the sheer number of documented conversations between senior SDLP figures and officials in the NIO about the tensions in the leadership around the talks process.
EIGHTEEN MEMBERS were removed from the Assembly Chamber at the behest of the Speaker after anti-Sunningdale members refused to move from the Executive’s front benches and disrupted proceedings. A 1974 letter describing events from the Sergeant-at-Arms to the Clerk of the Assembly has now been released.
BREVITY AND CLARITY – that’s what the head of the NI Civil Service asked of government communications in a ‘Plain English’ memo circulated in May 1988. “It is an important skill to be able to present complex issues in clear and simple ways … Even in simple letters, a good short word is generally to be preferred to a mediocre longer one.”
DUP ALL OUT FOR DEVOLUTION says NIO official in his report on the DUP’s 1989 conference. The DUP was seen to be relaunching itself as the main unionist. Analysis suggested the UUP were finding it difficult to maintain their position faced with the twin electoral threats of a resurgent DUP and Conservative growth.
DE LOREAN DEBACLE – With an eye on the Renerable Heat Incentive scheme, are there lessons for Government today? You’ll need to set aside a few hours if you visit PRONI and request file CENT/3/103. A large reinforced cardboard box will be wheeled out on a trolley to your desk. Inside it you’ll find Kenneth Bloomfield’s personal papers relating to the ill-fated De Lorean affair which reveal a project with an over-optimistic start and a very depressing finish.
ROYAL VISITS to Northern Ireland in the early 1980s were subject to much head-scratching. The file of internal correspondence and briefings between 1982 and 1984 released this morning gives an insight into the government sensitivities and sensibilities. Should a senior Royal visit a particular military unit? Why would the Ordinance Survey NI only be a suitable visit for a male VIP? How neutral would the BBC be as a potential venue? Is a school speech day sufficiently important to warrant a visit?