Belfast Telegraph

State papers: Trimble surprised officials by agreeing to sell compromise arrangement to Orangemen

David Trimble during dispute in 1996
David Trimble during dispute in 1996

By David O'Dornan

David Trimble "undertook to work actively to sell a compromise" over the Drumcree stand-off, a newly opened top secret file on mar ches has revealed.

Officials admitted to surprise that the Ulster Unionist leader was open to the idea at a meeting with NIO Minister Sir John Wheeler on May 20, 1996.

The summary said: "Sir John and [NIO official] Mr Steele made several key points which seem to have had an important impact on Mr Trimble's position."

It added: "There appeared to be real movement from Mr Trimble who undertook to work actively to sell a compromise to local Orangemen with a view to taking the moral high ground."

It noted: "The Minister had seen no evidence in intelligence assessments that there would be a ceasefire in the immediate future and he feared that PIRA/Sinn Fein would attempt to take advantage of the marching season to provoke loyalists into giving them the excuse for a return to violence in Northern Ireland.

"Mr Trimble was very concerned at the scope for large scale disorder and Sinn Fein's part in an attempt to heighten tension over parades.

"Mr Trimble said the word on the street was that PIRA were briefing the rank and file for a return to violence in Northern Ireland as well as London.

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"The key controversial parades were likely to clash with a decisive period of the talks, providing PIRA/Sinn Fein with its excuse.

"Mr Trimble's difficulty was that if the RUC continued to re-route controversial parades, then a build-up of re-routing with no indication of any contested parades being allowed to go ahead would create an explosive situation within the loyalist community."

Sir John appealed to Trimble to use his position to broker a deal.

The note said that "Mr Trimble appeared to be, perhaps surprisingly, open to this line of argument" and "undertook to speak to local Orangemen" about a compromise.

The memo noted that "Mr Trimble's attitude is in marked contrast to that of last year" when he and Ian Paisley walked triumphantly hand-in-hand along the bottom of the Garvaghy Road.

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