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Sam McBride

Civil servants saw from the outset in 1998 that Stormont was built on sand

Sam McBride


When most focus was on tribal issues, declassified files show concern about whether our system of governance could work

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Beginnings: Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble (left) being elected first minister with SDLP’s Seamus Mallon (right) elected as his deputy of the Northern Ireland Assembly in July 1998. Credit: Alan Lewis

Beginnings: Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble (left) being elected first minister with SDLP’s Seamus Mallon (right) elected as his deputy of the Northern Ireland Assembly in July 1998. Credit: Alan Lewis

Parliament Buildings at Stormont. Credit: Peter Morrison

Parliament Buildings at Stormont. Credit: Peter Morrison

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam

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Beginnings: Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble (left) being elected first minister with SDLP’s Seamus Mallon (right) elected as his deputy of the Northern Ireland Assembly in July 1998. Credit: Alan Lewis

A century ago, as Northern Ireland’s governmental institutions were built from scratch, members of the fledgling Northern Ireland Civil Service carried guns, smuggled government papers across the border from Dublin, and found ingenious ways of making the boring business of government continue amid constitutional upheaval.

Twenty-three years ago there were no guns and no cross-border smuggling by officials, but the requirement for ingenuity lived on. After the Belfast Agreement was struck on Good Friday 1998, much of the public and media focus was on the high politics — the referendum campaign, prisoner releases, the first Assembly election, who would be First and Deputy First Minister, decommissioning, and a plethora of other massive developments.


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