'JOHN HUME and the SDLP: Impact and Survival in Northern Ireland' by Gerard Murray
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The following chapter has been contributed by the author Gerard Murray with the permission of the publisher, Irish Academic Press. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
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Published by Irish Academic Press, 1998
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This chapter is copyright Gerard Murray (1998) and is included on the CAIN site by permission of Irish Academic Press and the author. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of Irish Academic Press. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.
List of Abbreviations
I Origin and Formation 1965-1974
II Searching for an Internal Compromise 1975-1979
III The Anglo-Irish Process 1980-1985
IV Hume/Adams Dialogue and the Path to Peace 1986 - 1997
V International Dimension and Party Organisation
Towards a Permanent Settlement
The Continuation of the Hume/Adams Process
The 1988 Hume/Adams dialogue signified the embryonic stages of drawing Sinn Féin into the mainstream political process. The substance of these talks laid the basis for the later Hume/Adams dialogue in 1993 which were of paramount importance in that they led to the IRA cease-fire in August 1994.1 If talks had not taken place during 1988, the SDLP probably would have settled for some type of devolution with Unionists as outlined in Article 4 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The political reality for the SDLP was that the Anglo-Irish Agreement had failed to convince Sinn Féin that the British viewed the legitimacy of the Nationalist and Republican identity on an equal footing to that of the Unionist tradition.
Sinn Féin realised that, regardless of the international interest surrounding any particular incidents during the troubles, it never materialised into political interest towards their overall goal of Irish unity. Sinn Féin had to look pragmatically at the political reality and the futility of the IRA armed struggle in attaining a united Ireland. Sinn Féin realised that to continue along this road would increase its position of isolation among the rest of the constitutional Nationalist parties in Ireland. From the Sinn Féin perspective, the object of the Hume/Adams dialogue was an attempt to unite Irish Nationalist opinion in Ireland on a strategy for moving towards Irish unity.2 The SDLP adopted a strategy that the British Government should join, 'the ranks of the persuaders' in helping Unionists see the, 'value and safety' of agreeing to a new relationship with the rest of Ireland. This was a strategy Sinn Féin adopted reluctantly and in time learned from the SDLP.
Sinn Féin needed the help of John Hume and the SDLP to support its efforts to find a broadly-based cohesive Nationalist solution to the Northern Ireland conflict. Hume's political standing within Ireland and beyond it on the wider international scene would go a long way to moving the political process along the lines Sinn Féin desired. When the talks broke down in September 1988, Sinn Féin was happy that the SDLP supported a strategy of finding a framework for resolving the Northern Ireland conflict outside a six-county basis and in a broader all-Ireland context. Unlike the SDLP, Sinn Féin believed that the British and Irish Governments were working towards an internal solution to the Northern Ireland conflict through the implementation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Thus the party was unable to support the initiative.
The Northern Ireland Office felt the Hume/Adams talks were a deliberate ploy by Sinn Féin to jeopardise dialogue with Unionists. The SDLP recognised both the limitations of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the necessity to move the political process forward. The SDLP conceived the Anglo-Irish Agreement as a mechanism which would lead Sinn Féin to abandon support for the armed struggle. By 1988, it was evident that the Agreement had failed to achieve this objective.
Although official dialogue between SDLP and Sinn Féin delegations ceased by the end of 1988 nevertheless from 1989 onwards Hume persisted with this strategy despite the disapproval by some of his Party colleagues. Hume concentrated his efforts on establishing a political process leading to an agreed Ireland which would be supported by Sinn Féin. The ingredients needed for such a political formula meant creating all-inclusive negotiations between the two Governments and political parties in Ireland in the hope that round-table negotiations could be established. Hume knew such a framework was the only format Sinn Féin might support and perhaps it would lead to an eventual cessation of IRA violence.
While the SDLP and Hume in particular were committed to continuing to persuade Sinn Féin of the counter-productive effects of the IRA strategy in attaining Irish unity, there was another major problem. How could the SDLP and Sinn Féin agree to a process of self-determination between themselves and then again between the two traditions in Northern Ireland? The SDLP position on self-determination was relatively clear. It could only be achieved, according to Sean Farren, 'through a process of joint determination on the part of representatives of both political traditions'. Firstly, it meant rejecting the traditional notion of majority rule within Northern Ireland. Secondly, it called for all to respect and acknowledge the identities and traditions of the two communities. Thirdly, it meant going into discussions, 'on a basis of equality in order to agree the political institutions most appropriate' to the reality of the situation within Northern Ireland. For such a process to take place, there had to be a complete cessation of violence to enable the construction of a, 'democratic base for such dialogue'.3 If nothing else came out of the joint party talks, the SDLP was successful in bringing about a gradual sense of realism to Sinn Féin. The difficulty for both parties was how to agree on a strategy which enabled Unionists to exercise their right to self-determination in relation to a political settlement within Northern Ireland. The SDLP promoted the principle of self-determination with consent. The right of the Irish people to national self-determination was agreed, but the exercise of that right was for the people of the North and South to express that right in separate referendums.
In his address as Leader to SDLP delegates at the 1988 Conference, Hume was vehement in his criticism of Sinn Féin. He felt the IRA reasons for violence were no longer appropriate. He produced detailed statistics which showed that the IRA killed 'Six times more people than the British Army, 30 times as manny as the RUC and 250 times as many as the UDR'. He described IRA methods as having, 'all the hallmarks of undiluted Fascism'. In one of his strongest at tacks on the IRA campaign he said, ‘If I were to lead a civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland today the major target of that campaign would be the IRA. It is they who carry out the greatest infringement of human and civil rights'.4 When the talks broke down between the SDLP and Sinn Féin in September 1988, it was by no means the end of the search for peace between the two parties. Hume believed the SDLP's top priority was to persist in persuading Sinn Féin that the IRA armed struggle was wrong, '...and that it must be ended so that political progress can be made’. In the same SDLP statement presented at the end of the talks he stressed that constitutional politicians had,'[a] duty to change the political climate away from violence and towards a peaceful accommodation of our differences’.5
When Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street and John Major was elected Prime Minister in November 1990 the absence of political movement in Northern Ireland towards the end of the 1980s resumed. Nevertheless, Peter Brooke, Secretary of State at that time, played a vital role in sowing the seeds that led to the first IRA cessation of violence in August 1994. In an interview on the 3 November 1989 Brooke confirmed that the Provisional IRA could not be defeated militarily but only contained. Significantly, he said that if violence ended he would not rule out talks with Provisional Sinn Féin.6 Later in November 1990, Brooke told his Constituency Party that Britain had no selfish, economic or strategic interest in Northern Ireland and would accept unification by consent. This was a major clarification of British interests in Northern Ireland by a Secretary of State. In particular, from the SDLP viewpoint, it made the Sinn Féin contention that Britain had economic and strategic interests in Northern Ireland obsolete. Hume argued that Brooke, 'played a significant part in putting over that idea' adding, 'When history is written it will be seen to be the first major step by the British in the peace process'.7
An 'Inter-Party Talks' formula was established by Peter Brooke and continued after the appointment of his successor Sir Patrick Mayhew on 11 April 1992. The 1991 talks commenced between the British Government and the four Northern Ireland parties representing Unionist and Nationalist communities, and in 1992 the Irish Government formally participated in the discussions. Before Unionists would get involved in these talks they demanded a suspension of the workings of the Anglo - Irish Conference in order that negotiations proceed.8 This framework has remained the basis for the current all-party negotiations. In line with the SDLP analysis of the situation all the participants to the talks agreed that a settlement must address the three sets of relationships: Strand One - Northern Ireland; Strand Two - North-South relations; and Strand Three relations between the British and Irish Governments. Unfortunately, the round table talks ended in November 1992 without reaching overall agreement. The British Government continued discussions mainly on a bilateral basis with the Northern Ireland parties and separately with the Irish Government on matters of mutual interest, under the auspices of the Anglo-Irish Inter Governmental Conference.
The SDLP had every reason to endorse the basic structure of the three relationship approach which the Brooke/Mayhew talks were to follow. It was, after all, an SDLP analysis of the situation. This formula had been endorsed at party conference, and within the party’s hierarchy represented through the constituency representatives and executive committee. Also, enshrined in this formulae was an SDLP concept that the outcome of any talks should be put to the people in a joint referenda, north and south.9
The 1991-1992 inter party talks broke down as a result of two different agendas. The Unionists went into the talks to replace the Anglo-Irish Agreement and to end or at least dilute the role of the Irish government in Northern Ireland. The SDLP were steadfast on preserving what they had achieved through the Anglo-Irish Agreement until an even stronger Irish dimension could be attained. With hindsight, it was obvious that Hume had his sights set on bringing Sinn Féin into mainstream politics rather than concentrating on Unionist concerns over inter-party talks. Talks collapsed in view of the impending Anglo-Irish Conference Meeting and the Irish General Election on the 2 November 1992.
The SDLP's European proposal in Strand One of the Brooke/Mayhew talks was a grandiose scheme by Hume to extend the Northern Ireland problem into the international arena. The SDLP proposed a six-member Commission, 'with each Commissioner heading one of the six traditional Departments of Government in Northern Ireland, while exercising certain responsibilities collectively (e.g. security and judicial matters, civil, human and communal rights, fiscal and budgetary matters, European and external relations)...' who would appoint a cabinet to run the various Northern Ireland departments. Alternatively, the Commissioners could appoint a cabinet to run the various departments as Ministers of State.10 Three of the Commissioners were to be elected by a single transferable vote 'for a three - seat Northern Ireland constituency'. The other three Commissioners were to be elected by the British Government, the Irish Government and the European Community. Overall, it was an absurd and impractical proposal in relation to the parameters of Strand One of the talks. At the time, European Commission President Jacques Delors, was asked by the Irish News about the SDLP plan for devolution in Northern Ireland. He stated, '... I don’t feel the European Commission has a duty to interfere in the internal problem of a country, of a province'.11
The majority of the SDLP would have preferred strengthening the role of the Secretariat at Maryfield and, overall, the Anglo Irish Agreement. Tom Kelly, SDLP member and former Election Agent for Joe Hendron has maintained:
'Hume having won the battle to get the Secretariat up and running I don’t think he won the battle in getting it teeth. That is the route they should have gone down. Unionists learned to live with the Secretariat; Mallon and McGrady’s view would have been the route to go was to strengthen Anglo - Irish relations and everything else would have fallen into place. That was the big stumbling block for Sunningdale was that they didn’t get a Secretariat like that established. Now that they had it established they should have tried to get it pushed out in the public role and after a while it would wear people down. It is already there ten years'.12
It could be argued that Hume never had any interest in the Brooke/Mayhew talks because without Sinn Féin they were a, 'dead duck'. Hume privately believed the framework for the talks over the Brooke/Mayhew period was designed to exclude a significant body of Nationalist opinion without which no progress towards lasting peace was possible. Whatever the shortcomings of the Brooke/Mayhew talks announced in early 1991, from the SDLP perspective, they signified movement towards a British - Irish context for resolving the conflict rather than one within Northern Ireland itself The British Government adopted the thesis put forward by the SDLP on the three central relationships at the core of the problem.
The SDLP took a considerable amount of criticism from Unionists for allegedly obstructing the efforts of Peter Brooke and subsequently, Sir Patrick Mayhew, in bringing the main constitutional parties to the conference table. In the final submission document by Unionists at the end of the Brooke talks, unionists were prepared to make major concessions to the SDLP in the hope of saving the process and establishing an interim agreement. There were three elements addressed for the SDLP:
1. Minority rights guaranteed by providing a Bill of Rights.
The SDLP branded Unionists as, 'insincere' and more concerned with inflicting damage on the Anglo Irish Agreement than seeking accommodation. Much SDLP cynicism towards Unionist proposals was somewhat understandable given that the policy documents were delivered on the 9 November 1992. It was the eve of the completion of talks, to make way for a forthcoming Anglo-Irish Inter - Governmental Conference. The final round of inter-party talks in the Brooke/Mayhew process recommenced on the understanding that meetings of the Inter - Governmental Conference would he suspended for a three-month period. The collapse of the talks in November 1992 dashed any hopes within the SDLP of building upon the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Denis Haughey, SDLP International Secretary, had severe reservations from the beginning about the Brooke/Mayhew process initiative, believing it to be premature. The British Government was still giving out hopeful signals to Sinn Féin of its place in democratic politics. On the 16 December 1992, Sir Patrick Mayhew gave a speech at the University of Ulster, Coleraine, which praised the richness of the Nationalist tradition and added, if there was a cessation of violence, then Sinn Féin could be admitted to talks and there would be significant changes if violence ended.13
Despite negative reaction from Unionists towards SDLP participation in the Brooke/Mayhew talks during 1992, Mark Durkan, Party Chairman at the time, defended the positive role of the SDLP in the talks. He recalled:
'We did make the point in our opening presentation regardless, if Unionists had an academic right to a veto, the fact was in terms of demography; in terms of geography no new Ireland could be created without the actual consent of the Unionist people...Our proposals address specifically matters pertaining to Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland within the UK). We respect the position that if a majority wish to remain in the UK we remain in the UK. We also have the position if a majority wish to change that position then that should happen. Its other parties who seem to have the position who only want to have one type of majority conclusion on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. We are prepared to leave the constitutional question up to the wishes of a majority and then create political structures accordingly'.14
In the 1992 British General Elections the SDLP registered its highest vote since its foundation. The party won 184,445 votes representing 23.5 per cent of the total poll, reflecting an increase of some 30,000 votes on the 1987 election results. Eddie McGrady increased a 700 majority into one of 6,000 in South Down. Joe Hendron took the West Belfast seat from the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams. There is consensus among both Unionists and Nationalists that the SDLP won the seat due to tactical voting by up to 3,500 Protestants living in the Shankhill Road in Belfast.15 The SDLP widened the gap with Sinn Féin in the vital Mid - Ulster seat and more significantly overtook Sinn Féin in Fermanagh-South Tyrone by a small margin of 206 votes. Both seats came to be held by Unionists due to a split in the Nationalist camp.
Overall the SDLP vote rose from 154,087 first-preference votes or 21.1 per cent of the valid poll in the 1987 General Election, to 184,455 votes representing 23.5 per cent of the poll in the 1992 General Election, thereby demonstrating a rise of 30,368 votes for the SDLP. The overall Sinn Féin vote fell by 5,098 votes between the 1987 and 1992 elections. In the 1989 European Elections the SDLP increased its overall percentage of the valid poll from 22.1 per cent in 1984 to 25.5 per cent in 1989. The Sinn Féin overall percentage dropped from 13.3 in 1984 to 9.1 in 1989.
The 1994 European Election results were a resounding achievement for the SDLP with John Hume attaining 28.9 per cent of the valid vote. It marked the highest recorded vote for the SDLP in its entire history. Sinn Fein’s overall percentage of the valid poll rose slightly to 9.9 per cent. In the 1993 Local Government Elections the SDLP increased its overall number of councillors from 121 in 1989 to 127 in 1993. This represented a small percentage increase from 21.0 in 1989 to 22.0 in 1993. Sinn Féin also polled well in the 1993 Local Government Elections, increasing its number of councillors from 43 in 1989 to 51 in 1993, showing a percentage increase from 11.2 in 124.
Part of main problem for the SDLP from 1992 onwards was complacency. From 1983 to 1992 the Party increased its representative number of MPs from one to four. Tom Kelly has maintained:
'The European Elections demonstrated that electorally Hume could do no wrong. If anything he galvanised Nationalist opinion at this stage. There was no analysis how he got that vote out. In the past the Party would have looked to see, do they need an extra six votes here or there? It was fairly scientific between 1985 and 1992. When things are going well people do not feel any need to remedy anything organisationally. There was a very close look at key constituencies and vote management. It all went to the wayside because after 1992 you had the high of the Local Government Elections; the high of Hume's personal vote at the European Elections. People then thought there is no need to analyse voting patterns because we have won the electoral battle. They obviously hadn't'.16
In 1993 Hume and Adams met on at least four occasions to mark out how a settlement could be attained and to discuss how an end to Republican violence could be achieved. It was obvious from their dialogue that in order to appease Sinn Féin, a public statement released in April 1993 outlined the view that an internal solution in the Northern Ireland problem could not be considered.17 In the Hume/Adams Press Release of 26-7 September 1993 in which a report of their position was submitted to Dublin, it stated, 'We agreed to forward a Report on the position reached to date to Dublin for consideration. We recognise that the broad principles involved will be for wider consideration between the two Governments'.18 The statement added that their talks had made, 'considerable progress' and that a joint report aimed at starting peace negotiations would be delivered to the Irish Government by Hume in Dublin on 26 September 1993.19
Throughout the Hume/Adams episode, Hume always took total responsibility for entering into dialogue with Sinn Féin. He maintained, 'It is I who am doing it. I take full responsibility for what I am doing and for the decisions that I have taken to enter into this dialogue'.20 In a sense it could be argued that Hume was protecting the SDLP from any damage or political fall-out. Notwithstanding Hume's audacity, it was a process that could not have taken place without SDLP organisational machinery behind him. If Hume had gone solo to continue the process and left the Party, he would not necessarily have had any support. Eddie McGrady has observed:
'The whole process was one of explanation and not negotiations. Delegations would have made the whole thing different. People accompanying Hume would have been there to explain the SDLP position and challenge the concept of Sinn Féin use of violence. Sinn Féin are now using almost totally SDLP language. It was a Hume/Adams process rather than a SDLP process'.21
Mallon and McGrady were in effect excluded from the Hume/Adams process making it a John Hume master-plan.
Within the SDLP Eddie McGrady was perhaps the main private critic of the Hume/Adams initiative. He questioned Sinn Féin's sincerity at the 1993 Annual Conference.22 Likewise the West Belfast MP during the talks, Joe Hendron, originally would not have questioned Hume’s integrity, but the sincerity of the Republican leadership.23 But criticism changed once Adams regained the seat from McGrady [should read Hendron] in the 1997 General Election. Although Hendron has always said, ‘my position is unimportant in the pursuit of peace' 24 he nevertheless remained bitter that the process lost him his West Belfast seat. In John Hume A Profile, Hendron discussed the SDLP Leader and his role: ‘I pose the question did he overdo the meetings with Gerry Adams in a political context'?25 Did he have to go into bed with Gerry Adams on the number of times that he did? Alternatively, a Sunday Tribune survey of SDLP councillors representing just over 36 per cent or 46 of 127 of their full number in September 1993, demonstrated that 98 per cent of those councillors canvassed backed tile Hume/Adams process.26 Put in its proper context this is significant given the brunt of Loyalist attacks against the Party were aimed at SDLP councillors to force an end of the talks.
The question is often asked, in retrospect, if Hume was deceived by Adams' involvement in the peace process? Did Adams have ulterior motives to oust the SDLP from the political arena? Tom Kelly has suggested:
'That was Sinn Féin strategy; I don’t know if it was Gerry Adams’ strategy. I would credit Adams with enough sense to know that if he could undermine the SDLP and Hume and the fact he is fourteen years younger than Hume would leave him in an impivotal [sic] position to lead Irish Nationalism. Hendron sped up the peace process because Adams had nowhere else to go. The very fact they tackled the elections in the way they did proved that they wanted an electoral mandate. Hume bought into what he saw as the bona fides of Sinn Féin wanting to go democratic. I think Hume is too shrewd to be duped. He invested in a personal relationship with Adams and he didn’t really invest in a relationship with Sinn Féin'.27
Mark Durkan has offered a different perspective on the Hume/Adams process arguing:
'A decision was taken in April 1993 at a Constituency Representatives meeting not to hold party delegations, but rather to leave it as a John Hume and Gerry Adams process. Hume would have consulted other Party representatives about content of statements. It was definitely wasn't John Hume just on his own. Its not the absolute solo-me-alone-type enterprise. Yes, we did take a decision in 1993 - one of the points that John Hume took at that time was that if the thing fall [sic] apart the blame would be attached to him rather than to the Party. Some of the strongest support would have come from Seamus Mallon'.28
From within Unionism, Gary McMichael of the UDP stated:
'...the Loyalist people feel very disheartened with the SDLP/Sinn Féin talks. They perceive the joint statements by Hume/Adams ruling out an internal settlement in Northern Ireland as negating any chance of democracy within Northern Ireland. The talks back up what Loyalists fear is a pan-Nationalist front. The different ends of Nationalism are working towards the same end by ruling out an internal settlement. They are stating there can be no democratic solution in Northern Ireland'.29
However, Mark Durkan has explained:
'We do not believe the problem is a purely internal Northern Ireland problem. There is obviously a deep British dimension to the problem and a very strong Irish dimension to the problem. We want to accommodate both. We are criticised within the Nationalist community for our recognition:
It has not only been Unionists who have critical of Hume. Southern politicians have equally been outspoken about him. In the Republic, the SDLP leader John Hume was not without his critics, at the Workers' Party Ard Fheis in April 1989 Proinsias De Rossa said, 'We the Workers' Party can assist the South in its slow and shocked reappraisal of John Hume who once had the status of a Saint in the South but is now exposed as another tribal leader whose main asset is that he says tribal things very slowly and very quietly'.31 De Rossa became leader of the newly created New Agenda and subsequently the Democratic Left in February 1992 and later he was also to become one of the leaders of the Rainbow Coalition. He accused Hume of a 'monumental error of judgement' and urged him not to have talks with Adams until Sinn Féin clearly unequivocally rejected terrorism.32 Speaking at the launch of his party's Local Government Election manifesto in Belfast De Rossa argued, 'I would have hoped that all democrats would accept that it is not possible to achieve political arrangements on Northern Ireland over the heads of one million Unionists and that any attempt to by-pass them is simply a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, this lesson seems to be lost on John Hume'.33
Michael McDowell, Progressive Democrat Spokesman on Northern Ireland said, 'The publication of a joint statement retards the process of rapprochement between constitutional Nationalism and moderate Unionists'.34 At the same time Tanaiste, Dick Spring was not as keen on John Hume having a major input into Northern Ireland politics as he had been under previous administrations. On balance sources in Foreign Affairs did not want to alienate Hume as they saw him as a key figure in the Republic's attitudes towards Northern Ireland. Therefore, Government figures in the south will still not publicly criticise Hume despite their private opinions.
Perhaps the best compromise on arguments for and against the Hume/Adams process in the SDLP comes from the current Party Chairman Jonathan Stephenson who suggests:
'Hume holds cards very close to [his] chest. There was unease within the Party because they didn’t know enough about the process. Arguably they couldn't be told about the process because it would have invalidated its privacy. It would have been prone to leaks. The consensus was never at any time to do anything other than back Hume and Hume's judgement. There were concerns most notably in the months leading up to the August 1994 cease-fire. That cease-fire justified Hume’s approach'.35
The Downing Street Declaration
A joint declaration known as The Downing Street Declaration was formally signed by British Prime Minister John Major and Taoiseach Albert Reynolds on the 15 December 1993. The Declaration was greeted in the SDLP with enthusiasm as a proper framework for creating a permanent settlement within Northern Ireland. In particular, the SDLP identified parts of Paragraph 2 of the Declaration which stated that, '...the ending of divisions can come about only through the agreement and co-operation of the people, North and South, representing both traditions in Ireland'. Paragraph 3 which declared that, 'the development of Europe will, of itself, require new approaches to serve interests common to both parts of the island of Ireland, and to Ireland and the United Kingdom as partners in the European Union' was a welcome sanction of the SDLP's strong European prescription for resolving the conflict.
Also, from the SDLP viewpoint, Paragraph 4 was perhaps the most striking. It contained Party demands consistent with its earliest recommendations set out in unpublished policy documents in 1971 whereby both Governments should take on the role of 'persuaders' implementing interim measures North and South which had an in-built evolving mechanism towards reaching a final settlement. As already mentioned the SDLP set out its position on self-determination at the 1975 Constitutional Convention discussions. They advocated separate referendums for North and South in any agreed settlement. This concept was implicitly endorsed by the two governments in Paragraph 4 of the joint declaration. Nevertheless, Eddie McGrady complained that Unionists had received assurances about the veto, 'no less than seven times' in the document while, ‘democratic Nationalists’ had not even merited a mention.36
The Declaration contained the principles which Hume and Adams set out in their first joint statement in April 1993 in relation to self determination. The Declaration was also a premeditated strategy by both Governments to address the stated reasons for armed struggle given by the IRA. Peter Brooke's earlier clarification that Britain had no selfish, economic or strategic interest in Northern Ireland again was spelt nut. A concept that was used repeatedly in the Declaration exposed to the Republican movement their archaic reasoning for supporting the, 'armed struggle'.37 Hume publicly played down the similarities between The Downing Street Declaration and the Hume/Adams document so as not to cause problems for Adams. However, on the 28 January 1994, Seamus Mallon told House of Commons there was no difference between the Hume-Adams document and The Downing Street Declaration on the issue self-determination.38 The Hume/Adams document was made available to SDLP constituency representatives for perusal and wider debate. Joe Hendron as Chairman of the Constituency Representatives recollected that the original Hume/Adams document was shorter than the joint declaration. Hendron has maintained the two premiers, Major and Reynolds, included their own paragraphs specifically in the final joint declaration.39
The main points set out in The Downing Street Declaration dealing with self-determination, British interests in Northern Ireland and the concept of a conference held by the Irish government following an IRA cease-fire originated in the SDLP/Sinn Féin talks of 1988. The Unionists embraced an understanding of the Northern Ireland conflict as set out in The Downing Street Declaration but opposed the practical process of implementing the North - South bodies which it would install.40
Hume has argued that The Downing Street Declaration addressed the traditional reasons for Republican violence and made evident, ‘These reasons [for violence] no longer exist; the British are not here defending their interests by force as in the past; not preventing the people of this island exercising their right to self-determination; what does remain is a legacy of a deeply divided people that can only be resolved by agreement to face up to that realisation that’s the challenge of the Declaration'.41 Albert Reynolds, former Taoiseach in the Republic, described The Downing Street Declaration as, 'a first step in a process that a cessation of violence can evolve into a full democratic dialogue for agreement'.42
John Hume consistently confronted Republicans maintaining, 'Republicans are facing a challenge which amounts to one of the greatest acts of moral courage this century. The past reasons for the republican armed struggle no longer exists'.43
The Long Road to Peace
During the run up to the first IRA cease-fire on 31 August 1994, Unionist leader at the time, James Molyneaux, reacted to the Hume/Adams process stating, 'It is quite disgusting to see the SDLP leader, Mr Hume, selling his soul to the devil and joining in a sordid attempt to blackmail the British, American and Irish Governments into giving the Armalite supremacy over the ballot box'.44 When asked, in the autumn of 1993 after a meeting with John Major, if he had been advised not to continue dialogue with Gerry Adams, Hume replied that he, '...didn't give two balls of roasted snow what anyone advises me. I will continue these meetings'.45 In the weeks leading up to the first cease-fire Seamus Mallon warned it was make - or - break time for Sinn Féin.46 The Hume/Adams Statement of 29 August 1994, boosted hopes of an imminent IRA cease-fire. In the Statement both leaders made it clear that an internal settlement was not a solution to the Northern Ireland conflict. They added, 'Both Governments and all parties have already agreed that all relationships must be settled. It is our informed opinion that the peace process remains firmly on course. We are, indeed, optimistic that the situation can be moved tangibly forward'.47 On the 31 August 1994 the IRA officially called a cessation of its military operations. In its statement the IRA announced:
'Recognising the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic process and underlying our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann have decided that as of midnight, August 31, there will be a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly'.48
Hume was convinced that the IRA cease-fire meant a permanent end to the IRA violence. He said, 'The IRA has totally and absolutely ended its campaign and has totally and absolutely committed itself to the democratic and peaceful process. I am absolutely convinced because I have been engaged in this more than anyone else ...'.49 On 13 October 1994 the Combined Loyalist Military Command comprising the Ulster Defence Association, The Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commandos also announced a cease-fire.
The peace process suffered a severe setback on the 17 November 1994. The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds resigned after the Irish Labour leader and Tanaiste, Dick Spring, withdrew his Labour Party from Government with Fianna Fail over the Attorney General’s handling of the extradition of the paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth. Subsequently, Spring formed a new Coalition Government in the Irish Republic with Fine Gael whose leader John Bruton became Taoiseach, and the Democratic Left led by Proinsias De Rossa, without having to hold a General Election. During his fifteen months as Taoiseach, Bruton tried to appease Unionists and diluted Reynold’s previous role of representing the interests of Nationalists in political talks. Bruton’s aspiration to act as a 'neutral referee' was evident when he refused to meet Hume and Adams together in October 1994.50 The British Government failed to deliver on its commitment in terms of Nationalist aspirations once the IRA called a cease-fire. Bruton's dilution of Nationalist consensus and attempts to appease Unionists contributed to the collapse of the IRA cessation of violence. The British Government demonstrated bad faith in the tortuously slow pace of the peace process.
Framework Documents were signed between British and Irish Governments on 22 February 1995. They outlined proposals for North - South bodies with executive and harmonising functions not dissimilar to earlier SDLP documents. Like the earlier Downing Street Declaration the Framework Documents largely represented SDLP philosophy. From a SDLP viewpoint, the Documents signified an even playing field for the two communities within Northern Ireland. In fact the sub-headings of the negotiating documents had been part of other SDLP policy documents for some time. Despite Sinn Féin’s reservation about the Framework Documents Gerry Adams remarked, 'The ethos of the document[s] ,and the political framework envisaged is clearly an all-Ireland one'.51 Mark Durkan accused unionists of treating the Framework Documents as if they had a 'texually transmitted disease'.52
The SDLP felt John Major was pandering to the Unionists to keep his Government in power. McGrady believed the British Government had destroyed the trust needed for the peace process to succeed. He claimed, 'The British Government rejected the Irish dimension and by that rejected all of us who are of that tradition'. He argued that the SDLP was opposed to elections before all - party talks . McGrady believed the Government was sacrificing everything including the joint approach by the two Governments, the three strand formula and, 'the twin-track approach for transient Parliamentary expediency'.53 Sir Patrick Mayhew, during a trip to Washington introduced another obstacle to Sinn Féin and the fringe Loyalist involvement in all - party negotiations by insisting on decommissioning of some arms as a tangible confidence - building measure in advance of talks. This new precondition became known as 'Washington 3'.
McGrady has argued that the SDLP favoured any arms decommissioning issue being dealt with by a, '...separate but simultaneous conference table...chaired by an independent negotiator'.54 The SDLP put proposals to Westminster and Dublin asking Senator George Mitchell, assisted by two other figures of international standing, to head an international body which would advise the two Governments on dealing with the arms question committing political parties to the removal of all weapons from Irish politics.55 McGrady was viewed as the more moderate of the three standing SDLP MPs but he could be scathing in his attacks of Unionists. He referred to Unionist 'not-an-inch-mentality' as offering nothing to either the peace process or political movement.56
The peace process reached a desperate stage by the end of November 1995 because British and Unionists insisted on arms surrender before talks rather than as a result of them. The two Governments made a dramatic breakthrough in the arms decommissioning issue by holding a midnight summit on 28 November 1995 on the eve of President Clinton's visit to Northern Ireland. Both Governments agreed to launch a 'twin - track' process so that the decommissioning issue and all - party negotiations could run simultaneously. They issued a joint communiqué to establish a date for all - party talks by the end of February 1996. An international body established by the two Governments was set up to provide an independent assessment of the decommissioning issue. The body chaired by George Mitchell was to submit its report by mid-January 1996. It was only to be an advisory body. Paragraph 12 of the Downing Street Communiqué dated 28 November 1995 stated that, 'to review progress in preparatory talks for all - party negotiations, the two Governments plan to meet again by mid-February I996'.57
The IRA exploded a large bomb at Canary Wharf in London killing two people on 28 February 1996 marking the end of the IRA cessation of violence. Hume, as far back as the SDLP 1994 Annual Conference, had called on the British Government to convince Unionists that they had no veto over political progress in Northern Ireland. This fell on deaf ears.58
With a General Election and a Local Government Election looming in Northern Ireland within a time span of a year, Sinn Féin wanted to undertake an election pact or joint strategy with the SDLP. From the SDLP point of view, for the two parties to undertake a joint electoral strategy the Party Chairman, Jonathan Stephenson, pointed out that Sinn Féin would have to abandon its policy of not taking Westminster seats. He stated, 'Any agreement with any party would have to involve a joint commitment on policy, not just an agreement on candidates'.59
The SDLP 1995 Annual Conference, demonstrated the acrimonious nature of the quarrel about whether the Party would have an electoral pact with Sinn Féin. Three SDLP MPs Hendron, McGrady and Mallon came out in strong opposition to a tactical move backed by allies of John Hume which effectively left open the option of electoral pacts in the constituency of West Tyrone and also in Mid-Ulster. A motion calling for the SDLP to reassert its policy of rejecting electoral pacts with other parties in any circumstances was diplomatically referred back to the Party Executive. This left the possibility of a deal between the two parties in the winnable seats of Mid - Ulster and West Tyrone.60 Eddie McGrady said opposition to electoral pacts was, '...fundamental to the integrity of the SDLP'. Mallon argued a pact with Sinn Fein would be contrary to the 'heart and soul' of the party.61 The proposals for electoral pacts with Sinn Féin split the Party down the centre.
Elections to the proposed Northern Ireland Forum and all-party negotiations were held across Northern Ireland on 30 May 1996. The SDLP received a total of 160,786 votes signifying 21.36 per cent of the valid vote. Sinn Fern attracted a resounding 116,377 votes representing 15.47 per cent of the total vote.
On the 10 June 1996 all-parts negotiations began in Stormont against a backdrop of violence. The Manchester bombings on the 15 June 1996 destroyed a large part of the city centre and injured 200 people. The political fall - out of the first infamous Drumcree stand-off between Portadown Orangemen from entering from Drumcree Church via the Nationalist Garvaghy Road led to serious protests and roadblocks across Northern Ireland. Consequently, when the Forum resumed for business in Belfast after the summer recess on the 6 September 1996, the SDLP and Sinn Fein did not attend. The two Drumcree situations of July 1996 and July 1997 left many in the nationalist side wondering, did the so called 'orange card' still dictate political authority in Northern Ireland?
Expectations in the SDLP that Sinn Féin would sustain electoral success at the Forum elections - as in the short term Catholics might encourage Sinn Féin to abandon the ‘armed struggle’ to take their place in democratic politics - were, in time, proved to be flawed. However, the 1997 Westminster General Election results saw Gerry Adams win his former West Belfast seat from Joe Hendron of the SDLP. More striking, from a Sinn Féin viewpoint, was Martin McGuinness success in Mid-Ulster taking the seat from the DLP candidate Willie McCrea. Overall Sinn Féin attained 16.1 per cent of the total valid vote with 126,921 votes. Despite the SDLP losing one of its MPs, the Parry vote held up within an overall vote of 190,844, representing 24.1 per cent of the valid poll. Sinn Fein’s performance at the 1997 Local Government Elections was even more impressive. They increased their number of councillors by 23 from a 1993 total of 51 to an overall number of 74 in 1997. This represented 16.9 per cent of the valid poll. The Local Government Elections were very disappointing for the SDLP. They had 120 councillors elected, seven fewer than the 1993 Local Government Elections. The SDLP recorded 129,942 first-preference votes or 22.6 per cent of the valid poll.
Whatever rapport there might be between Adams and Hume when it has come to elections, tribal lights have come to the fore. In an Irish News article on 20 February 1997, Hume threatened Sinn Féin that he would look elsewhere, 'for political progress if Republicans do not deliver peace'. Hume also stated that an electoral pact with Sinn Féin without a cease-fire would be asking SDLP voters to 'support the killing of innocent human beings by the IRA'.62 Even Hume must have been taken aback at the surge in Sinn Féin support among the electorate. In a pre - election call he warned people against trusting Sinn Féin. In a last-ditch attempt to persuade Nationalists not to vote for Gerry Adams’ party, Mr Hume said the election had boiled down to the issue of trust. He said Nationalists had been conned by Sinn Féin and knew what was at stake: "People can see through the inconsistency of people talking peace but justifying violence", he insisted.63
Jonathan Stephenson has reflected on the consequences of the Hume/Adams process:
'The price has been paid in terms of the electoral performance of Sinn Féin. The price is worth paying to get the Republican movement to understand that polities is the way forward. That does not mean what John Hume did was the only way to open that door to them. They would have reached that decision themselves. John Hume got them to realise that sooner. It was extremely worthwhile. It is generally accepted that the Republican movement are now on the road to political involvement; Hume with his discussion with Gerry Adams has helped that process on the way. Clearly as Sinn Féin moved down the road of political involvement and used SDLP language they would eat into SDLP territory'.64
The reinstatement of the IRA cease-fire until the 22 July 1997 was a deliberate ploy by the Republican movement to wait until elections in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland were out of the way. The General Election in the Republic of Ireland on the 6 June 1991 led to a Fianna Fail/Progressive Democratic Coalition. This was a much more satisfactory outcome for those of a Republican mindset who attributed the conditions of the first cease-fire to Ahern’s predecessor, Albert Reynolds. Bruton never won the confidence of the Republican movement, and in many ways acted as a novice in his handling of the peace process. The innate intricacy of bringing the Republican movement into democratic politics which Reynolds, along with Hume and others, had carefully cultivated in the creation of the peace process was lacking in Bruton. In the original negotiations which led the Republican movement to abandon the 'armed struggle', Sinn Fé had been given assurances by the SDLP, Irish Government and Irish American Senior Officials that they would not be alienated by Unionist or British Government moves in the peace process. That guarantee did not hold under Bruton's leadership. He attempted to create a balanced Northern Ireland policy reflecting the interests of Unionists as well as Nationalists. It was a noble crusade, but unfortunately John Major's minority-led Government depended on Unionist support in the House of Commons and it failed miserably to move the peace process forward in Northern Ireland. That Hume condemned British Government Northern Ireland policy at the SDLP 1993 Annual Conference suggests an admissible conclusion that John Major led a weak Government. Hume said:
'Every British Government this century, except that of Mr Heath, chose the easiest option when it came to Northern Ireland. Their only policy was maintenance of the Unionist veto which as central to the mess that Northern Ireland is in. The unionist mindset - the classic Afrik[a]aner mindset is that the only way to protect their identity, ethos and way of life is to hold all power in their hands and exclude every one else'.65
The establishment of a North-South Council of Ministers has been the SDLP aim in any overall or interim peace settlement within Northern Ireland. At the 1992 SDLP Annual Conference Hume reaffirmed this commitment. He told delegates that cross-border structures would be an important element in the healing process. These structures would have the capacity to represent both the Nationalist and Unionist identities. He repeated the earlier SDLP desire to have strands one and two of a three - stranded settlement endorsed in a joint referendum.66
The SDLP submission paper to the Forum For Peace and Reconciliation established by the Irish Government after the IRA cease-fire in August 1994 concluded that the establishment of acceptable cross - border bodies would he among the most difficult challenges facing all parties and both Government.67
The arrival of the Government of Tony Blair and reinstatement of the IRA cease-fire in 1997 signified that the commitments and promises which led to the IRA cessation in 1994 might be delivered under the management of Mo Mowlam as Northern Ireland Secretary of State. The expectation that the Blair Government will not repeat the inactivity on Northern Ireland as demonstrated by John Major's Government has continued. The political process, based on dialogue and in a peaceful environment, might allow reconciliation to take place, creating a new basis of trust between the two communities within Northern Ireland. Was eighteen months of an IRA cease-fire a lost opportunity to make Sinn Féin face up to its political responsibilities?
1 Brian Rowan, Behind The Lines, p.12.
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