Northern Ireland

NI state papers reveal government focus on public image of the UDR

Inspecting the troops at Ballykinler in 1992 Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Inspecting the troops at Ballykinler in 1992

State papers from the 1970s and 1980s have revealed how much the British authorities discussed the public image of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

This was just one issue among many aspects of social, political and sporting life in Northern Ireland, covered by the documents released by the Public Record Office.

The papers cover several different years up to and including 1990.

At present, state papers are released for public consumption twice a year.

The period of time for which they are usually kept secret is gradually being reduced.

They have been examined and analysed for BBC Northern Ireland by the historian, Dr √Čamon Phoenix.

'Public image'

Dr Phoenix said many papers discussed the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and the public's view of it.

Most citizens saw its soldiers either as protectors from terrorists, or as a sectarian force which aided, or acted, for loyalist paramilitaries.

The regiment existed for just over 20 years and some of its member were convicted or murder, kidnappings and bombings as well as other offences.

Arguments followed the repeated calls for a tougher vetting procedure.

'War dance'

Another document contained an account of a stormy day at the Stormont power-sharing assembly in January 1974.

The assembly was led by Brian Faulkner and Gerry Fitt, and collapsed later that year after the Ulster Workers Council strike.

There were details of what happened inside the chamber when the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was called to remove Dr Ian Paisley and his supporters, and even details how one protester climbed onto a table and did what the account terms "a war dance".

'All-Ireland Final'

In a quite different series of notes and memos, it emerged that the Northern Ireland Secretary in 1989, Peter Brooke, was keen to attend a Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) match of some kind.

His officials debated the practicalities of this by reading the colourful and entertaining report of the British Ambassador to Dublin, who had attended the All-Ireland hurling final that September.

Sir Nicholas Fenn's day out, his admiration for the Tipperary and Antrim teams and his respect for the man of the match, Nicholas English, make entertaining reading, and were thought to be a small step forward in Anglo-Irish relations.

The papers gave no indication if Mr Brooke ever managed to attend a match.

The papers gave an insight into political matters such as the Hume/Adams talks in 1988, and tensions within the SDLP in 1990.

There were also interesting notes on security and judicial matters through the 1980s.

These include concern about cross-border fuel smuggling, segregation in prisons, and alleged bias in the Northern Irish judiciary.

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