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State papers: Beware of the rabid Press, Margaret Thatcher warned by her staff

By Shane Hickey

Margaret Thatcher's staff wanted to severely limit her access to the Press in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s - as the media here were judged too aggressive and uncooperative.

One well-known journalist and commentator in Northern Ireland, Eamonn Mallie, was singled out by Bernard Ingham, the Prime Minister's Press secretary at the time.

In a series of notes to the Prime Minister, Ingham advises her that her previous willingness to be door-stepped instead of holding a Press conference had angered the print media.

He said that the "effect of this has been to give maximum offence to the writing Press and to provide a platform" for certain journalists.

He cited Mallie, then of Downtown Radio, as an example, describing him as someone "who gets close to choking you with his microphone".

Thatcher agreed to just doing a straight to camera statement at the end of the next visit. "After all, your objective is to be seen there," said Ingham - and not be doorstepped.

The media in Northern Ireland had been a recurring issue for Ingham, as seen in a memo from December 1983 to Thatcher.

"The media has always been a problem in Northern Ireland because of their aggressiveness, refusal to pool resources and propensity for abusing help," he wrote.

"Your interests are largely served if you are seen moving among and talking to the security forces and the public. There is therefore a great deal to be said for restricting access and for resolutely refusing to be doorstepped. Such an approach to the media would not be popular and there would be complaints, but you do not go to Northern Ireland for the media's benefit."

Commenting on the letters, which were released by the British State archives, Mr Mallie said: "I didn't take Bernard Ingham too seriously but I bear him no ill.

"I was always aware I came 'with a health warning' when it came to Prime Ministers. Some might wear it as a badge of honour - I simply loved the story.

"My only motive was holding people to account."

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