For the sake of all who live with absence or injury all parties must move forward on the basis of the Haass prospectus
Opinion: John Hume felt frustration as SDLP faced difficult meetings in lead-up to ceasefire
‘Contrary to the insinuations of unionists and some academics that John Hume pursued an IRA ceasefire at the deliberate expense of any possible outcome from Brooke-Mayhew, the reality was that he was trying to get to a convergence of both processes.’ Above, taoiseach Albert Reynolds shakes hands with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and SDLP leader John Hume outside Government Buildings on September 6th 1994 after a discussion of ways to advance the peace process following the IRA’s ceasefire announcement of August 31st. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
The sense of relief and release that came with the IRA ceasefire was palpable. More than eight months had passed since the Downing Street declaration, the guts of which came from the Hume-Adams paper. There had been the protracted calls for clarification, the Gerry Adams visa to the United States, expectation reverting to speculation and “soundings”, so by August there were misgivings about what appeared to some to be a string-along.
It was not only in public that SDLP leader John Hume was being questioned about what had happened to his belief that the declaration would be the prelude to a definitive ceasefire which would in turn provide the context for new, more inclusive political dialogue. That summer there were difficult meetings in the SDLP in which colleagues were questioning not John’s motives or judgment but those of others. Talk of “lines to be drawn”, “calls to be made”, “how much more positioning, clarification or gratification does it take?”. This reflected not just political frustration but disgust that the IRA campaign was still being “justified” after all the processed efforts to present the context for a ceasefire announcement.
John Hume felt this frustration but was confident that the ceasefire would come. However, he was not in a position to divulge the basis of this to colleagues or the prospective time line. He was also conscious of resumed unionist allegations that he had stymied the Brooke-Mayhew talks in 1991-1992 in favour of the Hume- Adams approach that they now argued was clearly failing. One of his less intemperate ways of meeting colleagues’ concerns that summer was to point to the need to prepare for future negotiations that would build on the agenda and other foundations from the 1991 and 1992 talks and the declaration, which strongly reflected the Hume-Adams draft.
Doubts were being entertained not only by some in the SDLP. Patience was wearing thin for others. That was certainly the signal from the Irish government. I recall US deputy national security adviser Nancy Soderberg’s pointed scepticism when we discussed the request for Joe Cahill’s visa. This was not a straight contrast to our earlier exchanges on the Adams visa but showed misgivings that that political investment by the Clinton administration should have been better rewarded by then and worry about things just being strung out.
I know that it was not just from his chats with me (some of them in or after meetings with John Hume) that Fr Alex Reid was aware of the strains on political patience outside the Provisional republican movement. Amid invocations of the Holy Spirit, he counselled that people should see such a test of patience as a test of their political commitment or instinct and compare it with the allowances that could be made for unionism and the British in the conduct of politics. In this context he expressed a profound esteem for John Hume and his forbearance throughout personally challenging phases of the process.
I was conscious too of the papers Fr Reid was sharing with us reflected other “peace mission” engagement with loyalist paramilitaries. His belief that prospects of a possible loyalist ceasefire would not turn into a precondition for a decisive IRA move was convincing to me and was reinforced by other soundings. On the converse concern about possible IRA sensibilities that a subsequent loyalist ceasefire might be used to reinforce the pretence that loyalist violence had only been in response to the IRA’s, Fr Reid was firm that it should not be an impediment to the IRA’s own declaration.
Even when he was sharing the proposed time line and illustrative terminology for the possible ceasefire, Fr Reid stressed the importance of the timing and terms being seen to be the IRA’s own. It would be presented as their initiative putting it up to others.
Whatever anyone’s misgivings about the news management or choreography involved, the import of the announcement could not be understated. An armed campaign that
had been exacting dire human and other costs (and cited to excuse other violence to life and rights) was being stopped in favour of a prospectus for political dialogue which could lead to a new dispensation. Of course, the fact that the ceasefire (notwithstanding all the stalling which impaired the process) helped to enable subsequent positive developments also proves how disabling the campaign of violence was.
The SDLP’s premise in the meetings and exchange of papers with Sinn Féin in 1988 had been to impress that violence was wrong, counterproductive and their traditional justification of it was further confounded by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, EU and other developments. That had been John Hume’s continued rationale not just in the Hume-Adams engagements but his encouragement of Peter Brooke on two fronts. Firstly, the first use of key language (“no selfish, strategic or economic interest”) that was to feature in the Downing Street declaration (and Hume-Adams draft). Secondly the structuring of the Brooke talks around the three-strand agenda that reflected the core Hume analysis about the “three sets of relationships”.
As a negotiator in the Brooke-Mayhew talks who was privy to the then ongoing but confidential Hume-Adams dialogue, I was clear that John Hume wanted to consolidate the three strands as the given basis of any future agreement. He also needed the SDLP’s effort to agree with unionist parties (in Humespeak, realities [of the problem] and requirements [of the solution] ) to be compatible with the logic and language he was sharing in the Hume- Adams drafts.
Contrary to the insinuations of unionists and some academics that John Hume pursued an IRA ceasefire at the deliberate expense of any possible outcome from Brooke-Mayhew, the reality was that he was trying to get to a convergence of both processes. Had his counsel been followed by all others we would have done so more quickly and reliably than we did.
It now seems forgotten that John Hume first put the concept of a joint North-South referendum in the SDLP exchanges with Sinn Féin in 1988 (and they resiled from it). Equally that he also put it strongly in the Brooke-Mayhew talks (where unionists resiled from it even while some acknowledged the motive). The three- strand agenda established in 1991-1992, against the backdrop of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, provided the format for the all-party talks 1996-1998 and of course the architecture of the Belfast Agreement. It is also worth pointing out that the proto- draft strand-one outline (full of “coulds” ) for principals to negotiate which some of us prepared in the Mayhew Talks (which unionists allege John Hume aborted to pursue Hume-Adams), became the verbatim Strand 1 paper in the two governments’ framework document in 1995. The Belfast Agreement was crucially and uniquely legitimised by joint referendum as advocated by John Hume over so many years.
Layers of understanding
These facts are relevant in rebutting lazy interpretations that politics and processes before the important 1994 ceasefire were just meaningless. The Belfast
Agreement rests on layers of understanding, many preceding that ceasefire and which remained as working givens when the ceasefire broke down in 1995 and the talks leading to the agreement were established in 1996.
The IRA’s ceasefire, therefore, did not so much influence the content of subsequent negotiations on institutions as the context. But in politics context is all- important. The ceasefire was a key achievement that eased ongoing hurt, removed excuses, reduced destructive distractions and allowed new thinking even on ideas previously rejected. It provided the conditions to allow for more inclusive negotiation with a more inclusive outcome.
My wife Jackie and I went to Rossnowlagh for the day scheduled for the ceasefire. As John Hume’s secretary she had typed many of his redrafts for Hume- Adams, dealt with Fr Reid and witnessed the critical onslaught felt by John and Pat Hume, as well as the correspondence of encouragement. We wanted to be away from office calls, media requests or tracking the news of the day, although we sat in the car for the radio announcement. Instead we went to somewhere we could enjoy a sense of space, openness and freshness to mark the sense of release that the ceasefire offered. It was almost with giddiness that I gave her a piggy-back on the beach.
In a very different spirit, we also went to the friary where we remembered victims and thought about those whose permanent loss would not allow the sense of release which we were lucky to share. For many victims and survivors ceasefires and agreements have reinforced the sense of futility alongside the cruelty of their loss. It is common on an anniversary such as this for someone to reflect on how many people may still be walking around today thanks to a ceasefire. But let us also remember those who live with absence or injury, feeling a sense of forgottenhood again, and to whom all parties owe the service of moving forward on the basis of the Haass prospectus.
Mark Durkan, MP for Foyle, was assistant to John Hume (1984-1998) and SDLP chairman 1990-1995. He also served as deputy first minister and SDLP leader.
Key elements of the negotiations:
The Brooke-Mayhew Talks: These were discussions that ran in two distinct periods, in 1991 and 1992, taking place when first Peter Brooke and then Sir Patrick Mayhew held the British cabinet position of northern secretary. The talks marked a milestone in that they involved the British and Irish governments and the four main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland – the Ulster Unionist Party, the DUP, the SDLP and Alliance. The Three-Strand Agenda: The three-strand approach was the basis on which the Brooke talks were established and remained the basis for all subsequent interparty negotiations. Strand 1 related to matters internal to Northern Ireland; Strand 2 to the North-South relationship; and Strand 3 to British-Irish relations. Hume-Adams: These were secret talks between John Hume and Gerry Adams aimed at ending the conflict, that began in 1987, at Clonard Monastery with Fr Alex Reid. There were talks and exchange of papers between SDLP and Sinn Féin in 1988, and the Hume-Adams talks went on after that, only coming to media attention in April 1993.
The Hume-Adams proposals, never formally published, were integrated within the December 1993 Downing Street Declaration, which helped create the conditions for the August 31st, 1994, IRA ceasefire.