The Northern Ireland secretary in mid-2002 told a cabinet meeting that “elements in the security services” were part of a potential “coalition” trying to frustrate the peace process.
John Reid was briefing fellow ministers a day after Tony Blair had told MPs that the IRA’s ceasefire was not enough.
“We could be approaching a watershed in Northern Ireland,” notes from the meeting record Reid as saying on 24 July 2002. “In the past, coalitions of forces had come together to damage attempts to find solutions to Northern Ireland’s problems. It was possible to see the reactionary elements of unionism, the Ulster Defence Association, elements in the security services, some members of the House of Lords and the opposition building such a coalition now.”
Reid added: “It required a steady nerve to handle the situation. The prize was huge.”
The meeting came days before the House of Lords – which, prior to the formation of the supreme court in 2009, held judicial powers – made its judgment on an ultimately unsuccessful challenge by the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) against the re-election of David Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist party (UUP), as first minister of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive.
Distrust between the parties sharing power had grown after the IRA was blamed for a break-in at Castlereagh police headquarters, while doubts remained about the republican movement’s intentions despite an IRA announcement that it had put a second tranche of its weapons “beyond use”.
The same note record Blair as telling ministers that the opposition were making it hard for Trimble and “would pay an enormous price if they helped to destroy the peace process”.
Reid’s inclusion of Britain’s security services in the coalition of forces hostile to the peace process would have been likely to raise eyebrows if it had been stated publicly.
For some time, Sinn Féin had been claiming that what it described as British “securocrats” posed a serious threat to the peace process.