Northern Ireland Office praised Bruton for ‘stepping out from under nationalist cloud’

Newly declassified papers show positive reception in 1997 for speeches by taoiseach

Taoiseach John Bruton speaks at a Fine Gael dinner in the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, in April 1997. File photograph: David Sleator

Taoiseach John Bruton speaks at a Fine Gael dinner in the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, in April 1997. File photograph: David Sleator

 

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) voiced its “pleasure” in March 1997 at the tone of recent speeches made by taoiseach John Bruton, this year’s newly declassified papers from Stormont show.

The comments were made by Peter Bell, a key NIO official and the British secretary of the joint Anglo-Irish Secretariat at Maryfield, at a private meeting with his Irish opposite number, David Donoghue, on March 6th, 1997.

In a report on the conversation to NIO officials, Mr Bell wrote: “Egged on by Mr [Michael] Ancram [NIO minister of state] it was suggested that, a few slips here and there apart, we took great pleasure in noting how the taoiseach, in recent speeches had been stepping out from under the nationalist cloud.”

According to the account, Mr Donoghue “winced” but, as the remarks were translated into “warm appreciation at what Mr Bruton had been saying”, the official undertook to pass on the compliments.

Mr Bell informed his colleagues that he had separately commended some of what Mr Bruton had said recently “as a model of material which our own ministers might adopt to their purposes in forthcoming major speeches”.

In a somewhat discordant note, Mr Bell informed the NIO that he had “warned Mr Donoghue that his staff were treating mine in a way that was not conducive to the success of his own tenancy at Maryfield”. Referring to a case of sectarian harassment in the office of Baroness Denton, the NIO minister for agriculture, Mr Bell had quipped: “Harassment is not only a sectarian issue.” Mr Donoghue had taken his point, he concluded.