The decision to allow an early-morning Twelfth of July parade in 1986 to pass down the Garvaghy Road brought Anglo-Irish relations to their lowest point, according to declassified files released this week.
But after negotiations with Orange and unionist leaders, the RUC allowed the Garvaghy Road route – to the delight of the Orangemen and the anger of the residents, especially as the police had refused a consultation request from the residents.
In a confidential report, J.E. McConnell of the Northern Ireland Office said that the only winners in the situation were the DUP and its leader Ian Paisley “who gained kudos for having led the successful negotiations with the RUC, while upstaging UUP politicians who were trying to reach an acceptable compromise”.
The most worrying aspect of the July 12 parade and its accompanying violence, he noted, was the inevitable increase in community tension across Northern Ireland and “the re-emergence of vicious sectarian attacks” in north Belfast, Rasharkin and south Down.
The biggest fall-out was between the Republic’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Peter Barry and Tom King, where relations - according to the NIO – had reached their lowest point. Mr Barry claimed that expectation had been raised among the Catholic population that Twelfth and Thirteenth parades would not be allowed through nationalist areas in the light of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, signed the previous November.
He added that the Garvaghy Road parade had “treacherously breached” assurances by the police and that “members of the minority community had been left unprotected”.
A release from the NIO said that the Barry statement and a riposte from Mr King, supporting the RUC, had dragged relations between Britain and Ireland to their lowest ebb, especially in view of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald at Hillsborough Castle.