NIO believed Bishop Daly could 'influence' John Hume

Bishop Edward Daly with a photograph of John Hume taken by press photographer Willie Carson. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
By Éamon Phoenix in Belfast

THE British government believed the late Bishop Edward Daly could help overcome John Hume's resistance to talks with unionists in the late 1980s.

Declassified files from 1989 released today highlight the Northern Ireland Office's mounting frustration with the then SDLP leader's ambivalence on all-party talks. The details are included in a memo from senior NIO official DC Kirk to Northern Ireland Minister of State Brian Mawhinney, dated March 7, 1989.

The NIO needed to make it plain to Hume, he wrote, that they wanted to know "the SDLP’s attitude towards practical steps forward".

In a further memo for Mr Mawhinney, ahead of a meeting with Bishop Edward Daly on March 7, 1989, Kirk – from the Constitutional and Political Division of the NIO – stated that the bishop had been involved for many years in helping people under his pastoral care to come to terms with the effects of the Troubles.

"He is very active on the ground, helping prisoners’ families and on housing matters but he is wary of becoming too closely identified with any party," the memo stated.

The bishop had suggested that those who supported PIRA "should excommunicate themselves".

Mr Kirk told the minister: "[Bishop Daly] has in the past stressed his view that the Sinn Féin vote in Derry is not a reflection of support for violence but of the community’s alienation at a lack of economic, social and political progress.

"He feels that constitutional politics must succeed or Sinn Féin support will continue to grow. With his beliefs and position he can influence Mr Hume."

The official felt that the bishop, who died earlier this month, would not want to act as an "intermediary" but he could serve as "a message-bearer".

Mr Kirk suggested that Dr Mawhinney might see the objective of his meeting with Bishop Daly "to listen to what the bishop has to say about recent developments (for example on education and the RUC) and to encourage him to disseminate a constructive message about the government’s intentions and the role that the SDLP has to play in achieving progress".

He suggests the minister might ask "how can constitutional nationalists and unionists find common ground?"

According to the papers, the minister could have also suggested to the bishop that devolution would give local people "real power over, for example, education policy – surely desirable".

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