Northern Ireland news

John Hume target of John Major's wrath over 1992 talks

John Hume was accused in British state papers of having instigated a "fuss" with an approach to Taoiseach Albert Reynolds
Éamon Phoenix

A CLAIM by the British Ambassador in 1992 that the SDLP leader, John Hume was blocking progress in the Northern Ireland talks provoked a brusque reply from the Prime Minister John Major.

Difficulties process were brought directly to the attention of Mr Major, according to previously confidential files.

The issue was flagged up by ambassador to Dublin David Blatherwick in a despatch to the Foreign and Colonial Office (FCO) dated June 1, 1992.

Headed, 'Possibility of a considerable row with the Irish', the ambassador cited a report from Quentin Thomas of the NIO of a difficult meeting with Irish officials on May 29.

DFA officials, led by Sean O h-Uiginn, opposed any suggestion that the talks should shift from Strand One (on internal NI affairs) to Strand 3 (East-West) affairs to avoid "political deadlock".

According to the report, O h-Uiginn had said he was voicing the concerns of ministers and the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds.

British Prime Minister John Major with Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. Picture by Dave Caulkin, Associated Press

According to Blatherwick, the Irish official suggested "the talks were being handled in a biased fashion and that [the British government] were engaged in an exercise of `managing' the Unionists while disregarding the Nationalist position. He wondered whether the British objective might be an internal Northern Ireland settlement which the Irish Government might be asked to rubber-stamp".

O hUiginn expressed the view that the SDLP proposals for Strand One were reasonable and the British should "put pressure on the Unionists to compromise - not squeeze the SDLP".

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Blatherwick suggested the Irish government could only have heard of the NI Working Group's activities from the SDLP.

"The fuss may have been instigated by an approach by John Hume to the Taoiseach... If so, it would explain the vehemence of the DFA line."

He noted that, before this, Irish officials had been "studiously non-committal regarding the talks".

News of the disagreement was clearly escalated to the British Prime Minister.

In a note to William Fittall of the NIO on June 1, 1992, Stephen Ward, private secretary to Mr Major, reported his reaction: "The PM has commented that he has no intention of letting John Hume stop progress.

"...If the talks break down, the PM’s instinct is to try to go ahead without the agreement of the parties."

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