Irish News

Sunday 31 August 2014

Nationalist concessions considered

Published 28/12/2012 | 09:35

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Sammy Wilson indicated the DUP would consider an expanded role for nationalists during 1982 talks with the Northern Ireland Office

The Democratic Unionist Party was prepared to endorse a meaningful role for nationalists at Stormont as early as 1982, the archive reveals.

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A fresh-faced Sammy Wilson, 27, not long out of Queen's University Belfast and teaching economics at Grosvenor Grammar in the city, gave a confidential briefing on party thinking to the political affairs section of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

"The question was not whether concessions should be made to the minority but when and how much," the NIO file on the meeting said.

According to Mr Wilson, DUP leaders at that time were considering establishing a small cabinet in charge of strategic issues drawn solely from the unionist community. This would sit above departmental committees which would continue to be drawn proportionately from all parties represented in the Assembly and would be responsible for day-to-day running of departments.

"This arrangement would enable unionists to say that there was no power-sharing in the cabinet while at the same time allowing nationalists a meaningful role," the note of the lunch meeting said.

Although Mr Wilson came from a fundamentalist background, his father was an evangelical preacher, he had no sympathy for the sectarian bias which affected many of his colleagues, the document said.

His undoubted abilities and strong concern for social and economic issues seem to have compensated for any damage which his relatively moderate approach to divisive issues could have caused to his prospects within the DUP, it said.

At that time he was a Belfast councillor and candidate for the 1982 Assembly, alongside Peter Robinson.

He claimed that most senior people in the party, including Ian Paisley, realised the Assembly offered an opportunity to regain devolved government.

"In private DUP leaders accepted the need for flexibility if devolution was to be achieved."

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