Belfast Telegraph

State Papers revealed: Molyneaux believed SDLP had no interest in making NI work and wanted a nationalist police force for nationalist areas

Lack of optimism among political leaders for progress and fears about Government bias against the minority over quango appointments among the issues highlighted.

By Rebecca Black

Former Ulster Unionist leader Jim Molyneaux believed the SDLP had no interest in Northern Ireland making political progress and would rather Catholics felt like "Sudeten Germans", previously classified papers reveal.

He had little optimism for talks in 1984 and told then Secretary of State James Prior that the SDLP was too stuck on an Anglo-Irish element, which presented unionists with difficulties.

The details emerge in previously secret files held by the ­Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, which are released today.

Mr Prior held meetings with all the main political leaders in the summer of 1984.

In the NIO recorded minutes of a meeting on August 23, then Alliance leader Oliver Napier felt that most unionist politicians could be brought to accept and to operate some form of power-sharing, and "even to accept in addition some token acknowledgement of the nationalist identity", but "could not easily be seen to agree to any form of power-sharing, under whatever name".

"But Mr Napier thought that they (unionists) would be prepared to operate arrangements of that kind if they were imposed. Mr Napier thought that it was important to find ways of transferring some degree of responsibility for the administration of Northern Ireland to local representatives."

DUP leader Ian Paisley told Mr Prior that he'd had a very good meeting with SDLP leader John Hume in Strasbourg, but conceded he did not know whether their discussions might go anywhere, given that the divide between them was very wide - and also due to dissension within the nationalist party's ranks.

"Dr Paisley commented that one difficulty in the way of making any progress in discussion with the SDLP was the internal division within that party. He thought that some SDLP members would be prepared to come to the Assembly even now, but that there was a spectrum of opinion within the SDLP which reached at the other extreme to an affinity with Sinn Fein."

The NIO minutes also record that the Secretary of State felt that he thought Dr Paisley was "particularly well placed to help find a way to make progress". In turn, Dr Paisley responded that it would be very difficult to make any progress, although he was prepared to try.

In a meeting with the SDLP on the same day, it was recorded that Mr Hume felt he could not see anything very useful coming out of talks among the party leaders, since he thought that what was needed was an Anglo-Irish dimension, which other party leaders were not willing to discuss.

Meanwhile, Molyneaux gave a bleak outlook on political talks during a meeting he held with Mr Prior the day after, on August 24, 1984.

"Mr Molyneaux said that he found it difficult to have significant exchanges with the SDLP. The party would not treat the Forum Report and the 'Way Forward' document as complementary. Moreover, the SDLP insisting on discussing an Anglo-Irish framework as a first priority. That presented obvious difficulties to Unionists.

The Secretary of State suggested that discussion of an Irish dimension need not be an impediment to find a solution within Northern Ireland, and that in particular it might be helpful to security. Mr Molyneaux replied that he regretted suggestions of joint security.

He thought the SDLP wished to see a separate Catholic police force for Catholic areas, or alternatively joint control of security forces by London and Dublin. Mr Molyneaux thought that such ideas were quite impossible, even in a practical sense.

The note of the meeting also recorded that Mr Molyneaux said many unionists felt that UK Governments was too innocent and well meaning, and "thus liable to be taken in by republican stratagems".

"Mr Molyneaux said that he recognised it was the Secretary of State's constitutional duty to protect his civil servants but that it had to be accepted that some officials favoured moves towards a united Ireland, irrespective of the policies of the government of the day.

The Secretary of State said that he was not aware of any evidence of treasonable activity, or official conspiracy, and that he resented the allegations. Mr Molyneaux said that the Secretary of State was mistaken to take the matter so much to heart, since "the English used in Ireland was not to be interpreted in the same way as the English used in England", the notes of the meeting recorded.

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