State Papers

John Bruton regarded Sinn Féin with `great distaste' files reveal

John Major and John Bruton

NEW Taoiseach John Bruton regarded Sinn Féin with "great distaste", newly released state papers reveal.

Elected in late 1994, Mr Bruton's politics differed from previous leaders.

The British government's Ambassador in Dublin, D E S Blatherwick reported in January 1995 that relations between the incoming Bruton-Spring coalition government in Dublin and Sinn Féin in 1995 were "markedly different" than under the previous government of Albert Reynolds.

In a memo to NIO ministers, Mr Blatherwick described a meeting with Frank Murray, the secretary to the Irish government in Dublin. Mr Murray had confirmed that Mr Bruton had been "very pleased" with a recent meeting with the British Prime Minister John Major before Christmas "though no-one on the Irish side knew what had taken place".

The Irish, he gathered, still hoped to publish a `framework document' by the end of January.

Regarding exploratory discussions between the British government and Sinn Féin, Mr Murray said that the question of arms was a difficult one though he "had no suggestions how to resolve it".

The ambassador stressed that it was a serious issue for them.

"We were not playing games: unless substantive movement took place, neither the main NI parties nor HMG could contemplate admitting Sinn Féin to the talks." The British looked to the Irish government to stick firmly to the language of the Downing Street Declaration. Mr Murray had agreed.

In a conclusion, the ambassador informed London that "the new government's links with Sinn Féin are markedly different and less effective than under the previous regime".

"Bruton, like Spring, regards Sinn Féin with great distaste and I doubt he will have much to do with them," he said.

He felt that Sinn Féin was likely to shun Sean Donlon at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Its contact was to be Paddy Teahon, secretary of the Taoiseach’s Department. "Though sharp, he is unpolitical and likes to masquerade as a stage Kerryman," Mr Blatherwick concluded.

Meanwhile, details of a meeting between Mr Bruton and Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble in 1996 are also contained in the released papers.

The account was sent by Mr Major's private secretary John Holmes to Martin Howard, private secretary to Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew.

According to Mr Holmes, talks covered subjects including decommissioning, the forthcoming marching season and the future of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. On decommissioning, the taoiseach's impression was that, if Sinn Féin committed to the Mitchell Principles on non-violence, Mr Trimble "would not be too hostile to the idea of discussing decommissioning in a separate stream".

On parades, the UUP leader spelled out his concern about the possibility of "real trouble" in July, particularly at Drumcree. Mr Bruton had shared his fear.

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State Papers