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John Hume 'kept' for several days by IRA after 1985 meeting

Gerry Adams, John.Hume and Albert Reynolds pictured together in 1994
Connla Young

FORMER SDLP leader John Hume was "kept" by the IRA for several days after a failed meeting years before the start of the peace process, a new book has claimed.

The unprecedented sit-down between the Foyle MP and the republican group took place in 1985.

Ahead of the little-publicised meeting, the future Nobel peace prize winner was blindfolded and put into the back of a van before being driven more than 200 kilometers from Co Donegal to the west coast of Ireland.

He was then said to have been held for several days by republicans before eventually being set free after the planned talks failed to take place.

Details are contained in a new book by film maker Maurice Fitzpatrick.

John Hume in America, From Derry to DC charts how Mr Hume helped develop the peace process through his relationship with the White House and contacts in the US Congress.

Some consider a meeting and handshake between Mr Hume and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in January 1988 as the formal birth of the process.

However, there had been a series of secret meetings between the pair before that date which were mediated by west Belfast-based priest Fr Alex Reid.

The book recounts an encounter three years earlier when the pair met in Ballybofey, Co Donegal, after the SDLP man agreed to meet the IRA.

“There he was blindfolded, bundled into a van and taken to Louisburgh, in Co Mayo, to speak to the IRA,” the author writes.

“The IRA insisted that the conversation be videotaped.

“When Hume refused to grant permission to be videotaped the meeting was over.

“The IRA kept him another few days before releasing him.”

The meeting was arranged after Mr Hume suggested it would be better to meet with the IRA rather than Sinn Féin during a radio debate with Mr Adams.

The February 1985 encounter went ahead despite then Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald warning that any meeting between the SDLP founder and the IRA would be broken up.

The book also contains what the author believes is the first public account of the incident from Mr Adams.

“Garret FitzGerald intervened and said that if he came across any such meeting he would break it up, that anybody at the meeting from the IRA would be liable for arrest and so on," Mr Adams said.

“So the meeting proceeded.

“The IRA had said that they wanted to video part of the exchange because John would be out explaining his version of the meeting, but they would not have that ability.

“John disagreed with that, as far as I understand, and John told me that the engagement was friendly and so on.”

It has been reported that Mr Hume met with three IRA representatives, two of which he was familiar with while a third was a H-Block escapee.

Mr Fitzpatrick last night said his time spent with the IRA would have been “uncomfortable” and suggested the longer he was held the less likely he would be harmed.

Despite the failed meeting, what later became known as the Hume-Adams talks developed over subsequent years.

The book was penned by Mr Fitzpatrick to accompany a feature length documentary, In the Name of Peace, about Mr Hume.

The film is currently showing in cinemas across the country and is expected to be broadcast by the BBC and RTE next year.

John Hume in America, From Derry to DC is published by Irish Academic Press.

* See Monday's Irish News for extracts from the book

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