Gerry Adams told Irish government officials “pretend we are the IRA” when leading a Sinn Féin delegation including Martin McGuinness in secret talks during the Troubles, declassified state papers show.
Weeks before all-party peace talks were to start in Belfast in 1996, Sinn Féin was being warned it would be frozen out unless the IRA renewed its ceasefire, which was shattered months earlier by the start of a bombing campaign in Britain.
Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness, who were being urged to deliver a restoration of the ceasefire, wanted to know what would happen when the peace negotiations would start on June 10th.
Files marked “secret” and just released into the National Archives show they met with an Irish government delegation headed by Paddy Teahon, then Ireland’s most senior ranking civil servant as secretary at the Department of Taoiseach.
Mr Teahon told the Sinn Féin leadership that bombs in London were “wrong” and that it was “clear that the US was becoming increasingly edgy as a result of the bombs”.
Mr Adams insisted they were not there to negotiate on behalf of the IRA but were “however prepared to go back to the IRA” with any messages coming from the Irish government.
The then Sinn Féin leader said the government had to be aware of the “different approaches” between Sinn Féin and the IRA. While Sinn Féin sought to bring forward the political situation, the IRA had more “absolute demands”.
The IRA “tended to pitch hard” while Sinn Féin was “content with a gradualist strategy,” he said.
Turning to demands for a renewal of the IRA ceasefire, Mr Adams said it would be extremely difficult but “speaking personally” he believed “the reality was that the IRA would at some point decide to restore the ceasefire”.
The IRA had its “most thoughtful” leadership for a very long time, he suggested, adding that the “fact they had restricted the current campaign to Britain was evidence of this”.
The IRA was “prepared to go to town with the British if the peace process was not salvageable” but at the same time they were “prepared to create space” for the peace process to be rescued, he warned the officials.
“Republicans remained totally committed to seeking a restoration of the ceasefire, but there was nevertheless a question in their minds as to whether this could be done with the two Johns,” he said.
John Major was British prime minister at the time, while John Bruton was taoiseach.
Mr Adams was told that Mr Bruton was “very committed to sorting things out” but that an IRA ceasefire was a precondition for Sinn Féin’s entry into the talks.
Asking Mr Teahon for an outline of what would happen when political parties met for talks in June, Mr Adams told him: “Pretend we are the IRA”.