In 1971 the UK Government Representative in Northern Ireland, Howard Smith oversaw the acquisition of Laneside, a house in North Down where the UK representative could live, work and entertain more easily.
When direct rule was imposed in March 1972, Laneside became formally Division 3 of the Northern Ireland Office, Belfast. Smith remained in Northern Ireland for a short time as Special Adviser, in which role he was replaced by his deputy Frank Steele. With a small staff drawn from the Foreign Office, Steele and his successor James Allan continued to have unofficial contacts and informal meetings with politicians and others, especially those (both nationalists and loyalists) who might not wish to be seen talking to the Northern Ireland Office. This was particularly important during the negotiations leading to the Sunningdale Conference and the establishment of power sharing in 1973-4. When necessary, Laneside staff were joined for meetings by ministers and more senior officials. Laneside staff also assisted in external affairs, particularly relations with the Irish Republic, reporting to the Foreign Office.
In early 1976 the work of Laneside was taken over by a division of the Northern Ireland Office, Belfast, known as Political Affairs Branch (PAB). This carried on the same kind of work but the closer identification with the department meant that more of its activities consisted of meetings and entertainment away from the office. The decline in political activity after the Constitutional Convention reduced the need for this type of work, although PAB still existed in late 1979.
According to Ed Moloney:
- Dealings between the IRA and MI6 go back to the early 1970s when the intelligence agency operated out of a house in Hollywood, Co Down known as Laneside. In 1974 and 1975 a Foreign Office diplomat, James Allen and a senior MI6 man, Michael Oatley regularly met IRA leaders there during what became known as "the Feakle ceasefire".
- UK Representative and Northern Ireland Office: Registered Files (UKR series), National Archives, accessed 16 February 2012.
- IRA-MI6 relationship protected spy HQ, by Ed Moloney, Sunday Tribune,24 September 2000, via nuzhound, accessed 11 April 2008.