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Thirty years ago, a Fine Gael government was worried that Sinn Féin 'could deliver'

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Barry didn’t like that Sinn Féin representatives were being listened to.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams with then Labour councillor Ken Livingstone in 1983.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams with then Labour councillor Ken Livingstone in 1983.
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

“WHATEVER THE FACTS were, the word was being spread across Northern Ireland that Sinn Féin could deliver.”

That’s according to Minister for Foreign Affairs Peter Barry speaking to UK’s Secretary of State in late 1983.

Secret notes on the meeting have been released under the 30 Year Rule with Barry questioning Secretary James Prior on the level of access the Northern Ireland Office was giving to Sinn Féin representatives.

‘The access which the NIO was giving to Sinn Féin was allowing them claim credit for things the SDLP had been pressing for in the past,” Barry was noted as saying.

Barry made particular reference to renovations that were being made to the Rossville Flats in Derry, work which the minster said was being carried out after lobbying from Martin McGuinness.

McGuinness had been elected as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly the year previous. Like the SDLP, Sinn Féin representatives did not take up their seats in the assembly however.

Barry warned his UK counterpart not to work with Sinn Féin representatives because “they were a dangerous organisation”.

Prior denied that Sinn Féin were being given “undue access” to Northern Ireland institutions, saying that they could “never refuse to work with elected representatives at some level”.

He said that a decision had been taken to work with their representatives “on constituency matters and not constitutional matters”.

“Dreadful bunch”

Both ministers also spoke about Unionists politicians with the UK Secretary referring to them as a “dreadful bunch”. Prior made the comment while the discussing the prospect of allowing Unionists support a Conservative-led Government in Westminster.

Prior said the UK Government would “go to the stake rather than depend on Unionist support” and would rather work with the SDLP.

He added that Ian Paisley was “the ablest politician on that side and was the only one one with charisma.”

Prior said that the DUP was “changing as a party” and that Paisley “was trying to get power on Northern Ireland”.

He said current Northern Ireland First Minster Peter Robinson had “all the worst characteristics of the Unionists and was very bigoted”.

Read: Fine Gael wants to set the election agenda by hammering Sinn Féin… and ignoring Fianna Fáil >

Read: Kenny: SF would ‘absolutely wreck’ economy. Adams: Resign and ‘let the people decide’ >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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