Nobel peace laureate John Hume drafted the second IRA ceasefire statement which brought an end to the Troubles, he told a former taoiseach.
Newly-declassified government files marked “secret” detail the extraordinary claim by the former SDLP leader during a meeting with John Bruton in Government Buildings in November 1996.
Mr Hume had met with then Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams the previous week and later on with British prime minister John Major.
It was a crucial period in the peace process. Nine months earlier the IRA had ended its 1994 ceasefire with a massive bomb in London’s docklands, killing two and injuring many more.
Sinn Féin were locked out of peace talks in Belfast as unionists demanded the IRA give up their arms and explosives.
During the 25-minute meeting in Dublin, Mr Hume briefed Mr Bruton about his meeting with the prime minister. Mr Adams had “authorised” him to personally give a message to Mr Major: if Britain made a statement – that Mr Adams had apparently seen a draft of earlier – then the “IRA would immediately respond announcing an unequivocal restoration of its ceasefire”.
Pressed by Mr Bruton on his sense of the turn of events, Mr Hume said he was “hopeful”. Mr Hume said he “knew the IRA and lived among them” and “he understood their mentality”.
“People like Adams and [Martin] McGuinness got sucked in as young people and they had been reared on a traditional Republican diet, including violence,” he said.
“They had lived with the consequences for the last 25 years. They were now fathers themselves and did not want to sentence their children to the same fate. They saw sense in what the SDLP was saying and realised this was their last serious opportunity for agreement and for peace.”
Then Mr Hume told Mr Bruton that “he had drafted the statement which the IRA would make to announce a new ceasefire. He had given it to Adams”.
The IRA statement “would say that they were immediately and unequivocally restoring the ceasefire. It would go on to say it was now the clear intention of the IRA to end the armed struggle in Ireland for ever. It would also say that it was their clear intention that the talks process into which they were entering would lead to agreement on new political arrangements”.
Mr Hume said he drafted the statement after his meeting with Mr Major who complained to him about “a range of difficulties” over which he was “consulting widely”. Mr Hume said he was consulting “too widely”.
“Many of the same people likely to oppose a renewal of the ceasefire were Eurosceptics,” he suggested.
“The prime minister said he needed a signal from the IRA that this time a renewed ceasefire would be really serious,” Mr Hume told Mr Bruton. “He did not know what such a signal might constitute and asked Hume if he had any ideas.”
This led to the draft statement. The “next step”, Mr Hume said, was “hopefully Adams would come back to him, hopefully with approval for the draft ceasefire statement.” Mr Hume would then go to Mr Major, he said.
In the meantime, it was “absolutely vital that nothing got into the public domain,” he warned Mr Bruton.
“Adams was working with a team and severe difficulties would be created for him if there was any public reference to what was going on.”
For his part, Mr Bruton said Sinn Féin should be allowed immediately into talks after a second ceasefire but he intimated that Mr Major was contemplating a “delay period”.
Mr Bruton asked Mr Hume if he believed “Adams was in control and could deliver the Republican movement”.
Mr Hume replied that he “simply did not know” and “was acting on the assumption that Adams could deliver”.
In the event, it was almost nine months later when the IRA announced its second ceasefire on July 19th, 1997. It said it had ordered “the unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire” and was “prepared to enhance the search for a democratic peace settlement through real and inclusive negotiations.”