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Leaked Northern Ireland Office Memo, from the Private Secretary to the Secretary of State, 4 June 1998

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Full text of a confidential Northern Ireland office memo written by the Private Secretary to the Northern Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, and circulated to Ministers and officials in the NIO, on 4 June 1998

CONFIDENTIAL From PS/Secretary of State (B)

4 June 1998

Run-up to the Announcement of the Independent Commission on policing

For the record, I should report the various telephone conversations (at least those of which I am aware) which the Secretary of State had with others in the 24-hour period before the Commission on Policing was actually announced.

Tuesday 2 June

At lunch-time I took a call from Mr Bell, who was attending the Liaison Group meeting in Dublin, who reported major Irish concerns about the continued speculation of an announcement on the Commission, despite assurances which the Prime Minister had given the evening before to the Taoiseach that he would consider further Irish representations carefully in conjunction with the Secretary of State. I was able to tell Mr Bell that the Prime Minister was at that very moment in discussion with the Secretary of State about the policing commission and therefore he was undertaking the commitment he gave to Mr Ahern the previous evening.

I alerted the Secretary of State to continuing Irish concerns and she chose then to speak to Dermot Gallagher who maintained that the Irish still had major concerns about the make-up of the Commission. Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP, he believed, would attack the membership and we were in danger of launching a very emotional issue at the start of the election campaign. He registered Irish worries about Cathy O'Toole - all he could say was that the Irish were getting bad vibes from the States about her - and argued that a nationalist with street cred within Northern Ireland was essential to balance the Commission. He, in particular, mentioned Angela Hegarty or Martin O'Brien. This was essential in order to provide balance to Peter Smyth who they clearly regarded as a UUP associate, if not member. The Secretary of State then said to Mr Gallagher that if she got both the SDLP and Sinn Fein not to be openly critical of the membership, which could include Gerald Lynch, then would the Irish be prepared to go along and support the Commission's make-up? Mr Gallagher said that personally he felt he could go along with it in such circumstances. That evening the Secretary of State attempted to contact both Sinn Fein and the SDLP, but I think without success, given her preoccupation with the dinner for the Prince of Wales. She did, however, take a call from Ted Kennedy, who described Gerald Lynch as very good news and he also had no objections to the appointment of Kathleen O'Toole.

Wednesday June 3rd:
In the morning, the Secretary of State contacted Seamus Mallon and went through the proposed membership with him. While not ecstatic, the Secretary of State believed that she had done enough to get the SDLP on board for the Commission's announcement. This was then followed by a discussion with Martin McGuinness who complained about the lack of consultation on the membership.

The Secretary of State acknowledged that perhaps more could have been done on the consultation process. She was, however, now under considerable media pressure to make an announcement and hoped Sinn Fein could give it at least a fair wind. While clearly not happy, McGuinness said he would do his best not to make the membership a public issue.

Having succeeded in bringing Sinn Fein and the SDLP as far as she could, the Secretary of State then spoke to Dermot Gallagher at 12.30 p.m. yesterday afternoon. She said to him that she had spoken to both Sinn Fein and the SDLP. While they were clearly not happy, she felt she had done enough to prevent them being overly critical of the membership. She was under extreme media pressure to get an announcement out and proposed to issue a press release at 12.30 p.m. At Mr Gallagher's request, the Secretary of State agreed to give the Irish a further hour in order for Mr Gallagher to inform the Taoiseach. The bottom line, however, was that she would go public at 1.30 p.m.

Ten minutes later, Dermot Gallagher telephoned to say that he had taken a very emotional and angry telephone call from Rita O'Hare. She had basically two points - that Sinn Fein did not agree with the membership and that an announcement should not be made just yet. The Secretary of State's reaction was to speak to Ms O'Hare herself while Mr Gallagher spoke to the Taoiseach. The Secretary of State explained to Rita O'Hare the pressures which she was under. She related that she had had an earlier call with Martin McGuinness and that he had seemed prepared to not go ballistic over the Commission's announcement. The Secretary of State repeated the message to Ms O'Hare that the media pressure was such that she had to go public soon. This call was then followed by two incoming calls from Seamus Mallon and Dr Hayes - the Secretary of State suspects they may have been prompted (by the Irish?) to phone her - both arguing the necessity of having a nationalist on the Commission with street cred. On the part of Dr Hayes, he said that he was not prepared to be described in the press release as a representative of any community, let alone the nationalist community and insisted it be changed. The Secretary of State agreed to do so and the press release was subsequently amended.

Waiting for the Irish to come back to us, the Secretary of State took the opportunity to phone Jim Steinberg to brief him on the position. She apologised if the Americans were less than satisfied with the process of consultation with them. He admitted to some degree of irritation - not least given the involvement of two Americans - `We have to live with it here'. But recognising the difficult position the Secretary of State was under, he undertook to ensure that the Americans would do their best with the Irish and particularly Sinn Fein and the SDLP to give the Commission a fair wind. At 1.25 p.m., the Irish not having come back to us, the Secretary of State telephoned Dermot Gallagher again to say that we would have to go public. She could not withstand the media pressure any further. In so doing she asked him to convey to the Taoiseach her apology for having to go public in this way. She undertook to have improved consultation in the future and hoped the Irish could put any difference over this issue behind them. This was the first of a number of difficult decisions which had to be taken, and it was important that both Governments continued to work together as close as possibly. The Secretary of State at least ended up on amiable terms with Mr Gallagher.

John McKervill

J.McKervill Private Secretary

cc: PS/Secretary of State (B&L) - O
PS/Mr Ingram (B&L) - O
PS/Mr Murphy (B&L) - O
PS/Mr Pilling (B&L) - O
PS/Mr Semple - O
Mr Steele - O
Mr Jeffrey - O
Mr Leach - O
Mr Bell - O
Mr Stephens - O
Mr Brooker - O

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