Belfast Telegraph

Files show Paisley's Stormont fears

Ian Paisley believed the Stormont assembly which collapsed amid unionist protests against the Anglo Irish Agreement (AIA) would be the last one he would sit in, official files from 1986 showed.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and Peter Robinson were carried from Parliament Buildings by members of the RUC following the dissolution of the devolved institutions during that strife-filled summer. Twenty years later he would be first minister and sharing power with Sinn Fein.

Marching season violence, a rates strike and unionist day of action disrupting factories and shops marked the period after the signing of an accord between the Republic and the UK which gave Ireland a consultative role in Northern Ireland affairs for the first time.

Mr Paisley felt democracy was dead and he could take to the streets with "impunity", according to an Northern Ireland Office official. He said Ulster Unionist head James Molyneaux did not view the crisis as the end of the democratic process.

"Both leaders nevertheless seem pessimistic about the future. Molyneaux said that the doors could close on all hopes of a peaceful and just political settlement in Northern Ireland, whilst Paisley thought it would be the last assembly he would sit in; that there would not be another in his political life time."

The file was published by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).

Mr Paisley had opposed every political initiative to bring power-sharing to Northern Ireland for the previous 30 years.

His brand of religion and politics inspired loyalty from his supporters and hatred from his detractors.

The AIA was signed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald at Hillsborough Castle on 15 November 1985.

Unionists were vehemently opposed, protesting against the involvement of the Republic's government in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Mr Paisley was in the vanguard of opposition, warning that Northern Ireland was on the verge of civil war.

The NIO dissolved the Stormont assembly after non-cooperation from unionists but Mr Paisley and his supporters remained in the chamber, railing against the "iniquities" of the AIA, the archived document noted.

Eventually the police were called and in the early hours of the morning the hard liners were taken from the building.

The NIO official, writing in June 1986, noted continuing signs of hardening attitudes among unionists, particularly the DUP.

"If events in Northern Ireland itself were not sufficiently worrying and depressing, the departure of Northern Ireland from the World Cup and the defeat of Barry McGuigan in Las Vegas have done little to boost morale."

Economic woes formed the backdrop, with hundreds of jobs axed as a Carrickfergus factory decided to move to England.

But just over a decade later the Good Friday Agreement was signed following republican and loyalist ceasefires, entailing an Irish dimension, a role for Sinn Fein at a newly-devolved Stormont and far-reaching reforms to policing.

In 2007 Mr Paisley took power as first minister. Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness was his deputy first minister.

The pair struck up a relationship marked by bonhomie, known in some quarters as the Chuckle Brothers.

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