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!
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.
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.
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”
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.
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”.
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.
THE CAMPBEDS were brought out of the Stormont store in preparation for any disruption marking the first anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. In a post-nuclear situation, civil servants without “abnormal domestic ties” would have helped run NI. And phone systems and scramblers occupied the NI Emergency Committee according to papers from the late 1980s released under the 30/20 Year Rule.
Back in 1989 the Department of Economic Development realised that Northern Ireland was struggling to attract conferences (partly due to a lack of accommodation) while the Republic of Ireland had invested in a Convention Bureau and was racing ahead with its ambassadors to attract ever more economically lucrative conferences and events.
DECLASSIFIED PAPERS from the Department of Economic Development in 1990 show that women accounted for just 1 in 6 of its public appointments. DETI figures for 2015 show that the proportion of female appointees had nearly doubled, and overall OFMdFM figures for 2015 show female appointments at 38%. There is a commitment for gender equality of in-year appointments by 2018, and of all appointees in post by 2021.
DECLASSIFED FILES released under the 30/20 Year Rule show that in 1991, Emergency Planning envisaged panic if the IRA placed a small nuclear device in Belfast or threatened to release anthrax germs. At the time the NI food stockpile was sufficient to bake 250 million scones (assuming there was a source of heat).
DESCLASSIFIED PAPERS record the NI emergency planning in 1988 when a Russian satellite was expected to fall to Earth and had the potential to scatter radioactive debris if its reactor core came down with it. While the risk was low, Home Secretary Douglas Hurd felt that the government should recommend that people stayed indoors if the satellite’s safety system failed and its final orbit passed over the UK.
SENIOR CLERICS appear to have been less than enthusiastic in the late 1980s when asked by government to consider the more fulsome involvement of church denominations in improving community relations. “Pressures on the church leaders’ diaries” were blamed for not finding “an opportunity to discuss the issue of the churches’ future role in community relations activities in depth” after months of delay.