State Papers

Former top civil servant warned of 'deep divisions' and 'unionist alienation'

Former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Sir Kenneth Bloomfeild. Picture by Mark Marlow
Éamon Phoenix

A FORMER top civil servant warned of "deep divisions" and "unionist alienation" in his valedictory letter, released by the Public Record Office.

In correspondence to secretary of state, Peter Brooke, dated April 12 1991, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service Sir Kenneth Bloomfield reviewed his 38-year career in public service.

In a terse six-page paper, the senior Stormont official said he left office with "a real sense of sadness", having lost many friends during the Troubles and witnessed the failure to establish local devolved institutions.

As someone "who had drafted the resignation statements of the last three Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland", he did not underestimate the difficulties politicians faced in "hard and confused times".

He voiced concern that "the basic political division in NI remained a fundamental one".

Reviewing key events in which he had played a shaping role, he identified a number of "critical errors", some of which he claimed he had "to perpetuate myself".


Turning to the Troubles, he felt that direct rule should not have been delayed until 1972 but should have "accompanied the commitment of troops in 1969".

Of Sunningdale, in which he had played a key part, he felt that "in the Sunningdale Agreement (1973) the concept of executive functions for a Council of Ireland represented a bridge too far for Unionists".

In dealing with Republicanism, it was his view that "the distinction between a legal Provisional Sinn Féin and a proscribed PIRA" was "farcical".

Turning to the Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA), he said he felt it was "seriously flawed" while acknowledging its benefits for wider Anglo-Irish relations and in the US.

In a swipe at the Agreement and Dublin’s consultative role under it, he told Mr Brooke: "Anything which does not serve to reduce that division is not likely in the long-term to contribute to peace, stability and reconciliation".

In particular, the Irish government’s stance as "an advocate for the nationalist community" was, in his view, "the antithesis of that which will begin to reconcile the Unionist community to the rest of Ireland".

Sir Ken stressed that there was no immediate prospect of early Unionist consent for a united Ireland.

He believed the British government "would be making a very fearful and very costly mistake" if they read the dying of unionist protests against the AIA as representing "any kind of tacit consent to the inevitability of such unity".

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