‘Steam has run out’ of Ian Paisley, but Peter Robinson is ‘a dangerous man’

State Papers 1985: Sinn Féin ‘not a concern to us in our jurisdiction’, says minister

The "steam has run out" of then DUP leader Ian Paisley in 1985, but his deputy, Peter Robinson remained a "dangerous man", according to then minister for foreign affairs Peter Barry.

His assessment was contained in a secret note released under the 30-year rule taken at the first meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, held in Belfast on December 11th, 1985, weeks after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Barry co-chaired the meeting with then Northern secretary Tom King, who said there had been a "hostile reception" to the agreement from the unionist community, "which goes beyond what was expected".

However, Mr Barry said the unionist reaction was not any worse than he had anticipated. "The Irish Government is the hate organisation for unionists. I think the steam has run out of Paisley, but Robinson is a dangerous man. He appears to be taking over the DUP and is much harder than Paisley."


Paisley died in September 2014. He stepped down as the North’s first minister and DUP leader in 2008 and finally left politics in 2011. Robinson succeeded Paisley as First Minister and DUP leader. In November 2015 he announced he would step down from both positions.

At the 1985 meeting, Barry said the Official Unionist Party (OUP), as the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) was then known, was in "some disarray" but would probably recover and "feel their way back onto the centre stage".

He predicted an “extremely difficult” six months ahead. “But if we do not allow ourselves to be pushed off the agreement, then everything should be okay.”

Asked about Sinn Féin, Barry said the Irish side would have “nothing to do with Sinn Féin until they put down their guns”.

He added: “The best way to deal with Sinn Féin is to remove the crops they feed on. That is the alienation of the minority community.”

People needed to be shown that progress could be made by political means, he said. Barry insisted the party was “not a matter for concern to us in our jurisdiction”.

British minister Nicholas Scott pointed out Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams had spoken at the most recent party ardfheis about taking seats in the Dáil. "We have to be thinking ahead," Scott said.

Then RUC chief constable Sir John Hermon gave a briefing on his force's assessment of the threat posed by the Provisional IRA and INLA.

He said most of their activities were directed from south of the Border by people living there, “though many . . . were originally from the North”.

The main function of the Southern Command of the IRA was to keep the Northern Command supplied with materials and trained personnel, he said, while most of the explosives used in Northern Ireland came from the Republic.

Most of the IRA's training camps were in the Republic, especially in Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal. "These locations were secret even to some of the terrorists themselves." He said a number of escapees from the Maze prison were known to be active and three of them were suspected of having been involved in recent incidents.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times