Northern Ireland

John Alderdice: Jim Molyneaux 'turned white' when John Hume broached talks with the IRA

Secret talks between Gerry Adams and John Hume began in the late 1980s.
Secret talks between Gerry Adams and John Hume began in the late 1980s.

FORMER Alliance Party leader John Alderdice has revealed how UUP leader Jim Molyneaux “turned white” when John Hume broached the idea of talking to the IRA during a meeting.

In a wide ranging interview as part of the Lord Speaker's Corner podcast series, Lord Alderdice recalled his memories from the early stages of the peace process with the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord McFall.

He revealed how the prospect of the late SDLP leader meeting with the Provisional IRA was initially raised during one of the regular meetings held between Mr Molyneaux, DUP leader Ian Paisley and himself as Alliance leader at Stormont.

“The four leaders would often get together… and just say, ‘Look, what are we going to do about things?’

“And John said, ‘I think I've got to talk to the IRA.’ And I remember Jim Molyneaux was sitting over here and his face just went completely white.

“And he said, ‘Well, that's it. There's no hope then.’

“Because he felt that if John did that, he was engaging with people who would never agree to anything that unionists could live with, and indeed unionists would even find it difficult to continue engaging with John.”

Lord Alderdice, who became Alliance leader in 1987 at the age of 32, said while he was “troubled” by John Hume’s suggestion, he nevertheless backed the SDLP leader.

“And so I said, ‘Well, I think we've got to test what John says to destruction, and that requires a complete change of attitudes and reactions.”

While he does not reveal when the conversation took place between the party leaders, secret talks between John Hume and Gerry Adams began in the late 1980s.

The meetings did not become public knowledge until April 1993, prompting severe criticism of John Hume by unionists, some journalists and even some within his own party.

Recalling the attitudes of the time, Lord Alderdice said he faced his own challenge with meeting Sinn Féin when first elected onto Belfast City Council in 1989.

“The first person to come and say hello to me immediately after the election was Alex Maskey, who was of course the whip of Sinn Féin.

“And he immediately put his hand out, as you say, and I thought, ‘What am I going to do here?’

“And I thought, ‘I've got to engage with this person as a human being,’ and I shook hands with him.

“It was not about becoming buddy pals, it wasn't about ignoring the things his organization had been involved with.

“It was about saying, ‘Let's, as human beings, try to find if we can make a more human place for people to live and work.’”

The full interview with Lord Alderdice for the Lord Speaker's Corner series is available from today (February 13) on the UK Parliament website and YouTube.