Belfast Telegraph

State papers: Peter Robinson's 'cynical manipulation' of events 'a threat to Ian Paisley'

1986 State Papers

By Staff Reporter

Peter Robinson was privately viewed as a growing threat to Ian Paisley's leadership of the DUP as far back as the 1980s.

The party's then deputy leader was seen in government circles as the most influential voice within unionism. Those suspicions increased after Mr Robinson led a now infamous loyalist invasion of Clontibret in Co Monaghan in August 1986.

The crowd entered the village Garda station, daubed slogans on walls and assaulted two officers.

The invasion occurred while DUP leader Ian Paisley was in the United States attending a funeral.

It was aimed at highlighting what Mr Robinson said were inadequate security measures along the border following the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Mr Robinson, now DUP leader and First Minister, was arrested and fined £17,500 after pleading guilty to unlawful assembly.

An NIO report stated it was "another example of his choosing to raise his profile during his leader's absence abroad".

It explained: "His role thus far during the marching season had been only peripheral.

"He has now won a considerable propaganda coup and prompted Dr Paisley to cut short his tour of the USA ostensibly to show support for his deputy and to accompany him to his court appearance in Dundalk but also, without doubt, to reassert his own position as the man in the driving seat."

Mr Robinson was held in custody for 36 hours following the Clontibret episode. The memo notes he refused food, instead preferring "the wholesome Ulster food brought to him by his wife".

The incident re-emerged earlier this year in an interview which Mr Paisley gave to the BBC.

Mr Paisley, who died in September, said the episode "shouldn't have been done".

When asked if there was a feeling within his family then that Mr Robinson was making a leadership challenge, he replied: "Everybody has a right to decide for themselves what their answer to that is. I think he (Mr Robinson) thought that there was going to be a tremendous uprising as a result of all that, and that didn't happen."

Mr Robinson dismissed the comments as "a failure of recollection".

A separate memo discusses Mr Robinson's role during the violence which flared in Portadown in March 1986.

A planned Apprentice Boys march through the town was banned, sparking serious rioting which continued on and off for several weeks.

The memo noted that Mr Robinson found it "impossible" to condemn attacks on the RUC, instead remarking how violence was "inevitable".

However, it notes that when Mr Paisley returned, he was "quick to state his 'unequivocal and unreserved' condemnation of the attacks".

The same memo discusses Mr Robinson's offer to mediate with dissenting loyalists.

It speculates it was a "cynical manipulation" for his benefit.

"The return of his leader threatened to push him out of the limelight and he therefore decided on a change of role," officials remarked.

"This does not demonstrate any softening of attitude on Robinson's part, but a cynical manipulation of current events for his own political motives."

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