Ian Paisley was described as a schizophrenic ready to adopt the IRA’s “Brits out” mantra if he did not get his way on Northern Ireland politics, newly released state papers claim.
According to a report marked secret and released under the 30-year rule, the then Northern Ireland secrtary, James Prior, believed that the Democratic Unionists were less prone to splits and division because of the leader’s domination.
Prior was reportedly angered after being targeted by DUP figures in a Derry city hotel.
His hardline views on Mr Paisley were recorded in Department of Foreign Affairs files following a meeting with minister for foreign affairs Peter Barry at Hillsborough on 19 October 1983.
“Mr Prior said that there were people like Paisley who were schizophrenic,” a report of the meeting shows.
“The DUP had attacked him some time ago at the Everglades Hotel in Derry in the same fashion as the Forum delegation were treated.
“They had screamed at him “Brits out” and had so badly damaged his armoured car that it had to be completely resprayed.
“The DUP were loyalists only so long as they got their own way and would as a last resort get the “Brits out” and go it alone rather than seek accommodation with the minority.”
The remarks were made in a wide-ranging discussion which included everything from support for Margaret Thatcher in the Conservatives to conditions in the H-blocks and the possibility of using water cannons instead of plastic bullets in riots, which Mr Prior said would cause more injuries.
Mr Prior also told Mr Barry that both the Irish and British governments were up against right-wing Tories such as Sir John Biggs-Davison and “an MP called Murphy” whom the secretary of state described as a “despicable twerp”.
In the same file, a briefing note for the then taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, from November 1983, ahead of a meeting with Mrs Thatcher, revealed the Irish government considering having to negotiate with Sinn Fein.
The party’s growth was said to be creating “difficulties for the credible presentation of a moderate Dublin policy both in Ireland (particularly among more fervent nationalists) and abroad, eg in the US and Britain”.
The document went on: “The emergence of Sinn Fein as the predominant nationalist political voice within two years would increase those difficulties qualitatively and create new and more daunting problems for our government: for example, would we be forced to “deal” with Sinn Fein?
“And what would the effects (be) of such a development on the stability of our own state?
“The government was contemplating that Sinn Fein would overtake the SDLP as the biggest party on the nationalist/republican side of politics in Northern Ireland within a year or two.”
Elsewhere, under a heading marked “Room for Manoeuvre”, advisers remark that Mrs Thatcher trusted Mr FitzGerald.
It also noted that the only “decisive leverage” the Irish government has over the British PM is the pressure that can be put on her from US president Ronald Reagan and Washington DC.