State papers: Northern Ireland Office’s paperwork irked 10 Downing Street official

Civil servant urged NIO colleague to administer more ‘humane treatment’

Sometimes it just got too much. An exasperated senior civil servant from 10 Downing Street wrote a late-night pleading letter to his colleagues at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) urging them to lay off the paperwork and administer more “humane treatment”.

The letter from Roderic Lyne, then private secretary to prime minister John Major, gives a subtle dressing down after he received a 21-page report at 7.36pm on a Friday evening.

"May I please ask for more humane treatment of your colleagues in No 10 in the future?" Lyne asks Jonathan Stephens from the Northern Ireland Office. "It would help greatly if your papers were shorter – by at least half. And it would help even more to receive them at a civilised hour."

Frustrated missive

The frustrated missive was written at the end of July 1994, one month before the IRA declared a ceasefire. Lyne recognises that the NIO was dealing with urgent events and called it a “small and hardworking department” but singled it out as the worst offender in keeping him in the office late.


“Of the many offenders who send us work late at night, and very often late on Friday nights, I think the Northern Ireland Office has been consistently the highest scorer over my year and a half here.”

Lyne then tells Stephens of new deadlines for getting papers in – 7pm during the week and 5pm on Fridays. “Sorry to be so bilious – but not without reason,” said Lyne.