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SDLP man's attack on 'sly and devious' Needham

State papers

By Ed Carty

Published 31/12/2015

One of the longest serving British ministers in Northern Ireland was branded sly, devious and unionist-minded.

State papers from 1985 reveal the late Eddie McGrady took the swipe against Sir Richard Needham in a confidential briefing with Irish diplomats. The incident took place a week before the signing of the Anglo Irish Agreement at Hillsborough.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs' documents, the SDLP chief whip launched a savage attack after the British minister compared unionist councils with Sinn Fein councils.

"McGrady was appalled by Needham, whom he found sly, devious and unionist-minded," diplomat Daithi O'Ceallaigh reported to ministers.

"McGrady was also very critical of (former UK secretary of state for Northern Ireland Tom) King and said he was very much a unionist by comparison with his predecessor (Douglas) Hurd."

Sir Richard served as under-secretary of state for Northern Ireland between 1985 and 1992, but his relations with nationalists got off to a bad start when he ignored a tradition of meeting Mr McGrady on his appointment.

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