Northern Ireland

NI Paper review: State papers reveal secret histories

Newspaper Review
News Letter Image copyright News Letter
Daily Mirror Image copyright Daily Mirror

"British government sought to influence Vatican's choice of Armagh archbishop," is the front page headline in Friday morning's Irish News.

The story relates to information revealed as formerly secret government papers are released.

A memo written by Brian Mawhinney, then a direct rule minister, asked officials to contact the Vatican regarding the appointment of a successor to Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, who had died suddenly.

Documents also reveal that during a meeting between the British Ambassador to the Holy See (the Roman Catholic Church in Rome) that the then Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland (effectively the Vatican ambassador), Archbishop Gerada, gave assurances that all candidates for the role were "well regarded" by the government.

Like the Irish News, the News Letter also gives extensive coverage to the contents of the released documents.

Image caption Cardinal Cahal Day favoured the SDLP politically

They reveal that Cardinal Cahal Daly, who succeeded Cardinal Ó Fiaich as Catholic primate of Ireland, supported the SDLP politically.

He wrote in a letter to the secretary of state in 1990 that it was "highly desirable" that the SDLP win the West Belfast seat in Westminster held by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

Compromise or betrayal?

One of the other stories which the News Letter has dug up from the archives is that unionist leaders were "prepared to make huge concessions" during political talks being held in 1990, despite taking a hard-line in public.

A Northern Ireland Office letter to Downing Street warned, however, that compromise would be "easy to represent... as betrayal" and that the unionist parties had "every incentive" not to make their willingness public knowledge.

Image caption Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey feared Sinn Féin would benefit from IRA bodies being flown into Dublin

In contrast to its two main rivals, the Belfast Telegraph devotes less than a page to stories emanating from the tranche of released documents.

It reveals that the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) in 1998, Charles Haughey, urged the British government to fly the bodies of three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar directly back to Belfast, and not fly them to Dublin.

He feared that Sinn Féin would benefit from a "propaganda coup", according the Telegraph, if the remains were brought to the Republic of Ireland.

Language and health

The Irish News gives half a page of coverage to the death of IRA informer Sean O'Callaghan, who died whilst swimming in Jamaica earlier this week.

Image caption Sean O'Callaghan was an informer who confessed to two IRA killings

The story makes the front page of the two unionist leaning papers, however, and is the lead story in the Belfast Telegraph.

"MP hails agent who prevented countless deaths," is its headline.

Billed as an exclusive, the paper carries comments from DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson praising Mr O'Callaghan's role, saying he had lived the end of his life "as a man of peace".

As well as the front page, the Telegraph has a further three pages of coverage and analysis of Mr O'Callaghan's life and impact.

The News Letter devotes its second and third pages to Mr O'Callaghan's death, with mostly positive views of his legacy being expressed.

The paper's editorial says informers such as Mr O'Callaghan were "crucial in countering the IRA in the Troubles".

"They will be crucial against the dissidents too," says the paper, "although there is no shortage of 'human rights' activists who are determined to make it almost impossible to run informers".

The News Letter's lead story is based on comments from DUP MLA, and former health minister, Edwin Poots.

Mr Poots says "Sinn Féin 'are putting Irish before hip operations'", referring to the Irish language issue which is one of the main sticking point preventing the return of a Northern Ireland executive.

Mr Poots believes that a local minister would not "sign off" on cuts being implemented in Northern Ireland's health service.

The Daily Mirror's lead is a shocking racist attack in Newtownards, County Down.

"Sick thugs order Muslims out as pig's head left at prayer centre," is the sub-headline.

Graffiti was also painted on a wall of the building and the incidents are being treated as hate crimes.

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