IRA said to have debated killing Hume in 1980s


REPUBLICAN sources in west Belfast have confirmed reports that the IRA considered killing the SDLP leader, Mr John Hume, in the early 1980s. The Provisionals would have made it appear that loyalists were responsible, the sources said.

The plan would have involved a series of attacks on nationalist political targets, including even Sinn Fein offices, beforehand. They would be claimed by a "new" loyalist paramilitary group.

The impression would have been created that loyalists had initiated a campaign against nationalist politicians generally. This would have made it appear that the attack on Mr Hume had been carried out by loyalists.

Reports that the IRA considered killing Mr Hume began when the former Garda agent within the IRA, Mr Sean O'Callaghan, claimed that the Sinn Fein president, Mr Gerry Adams, raised the possibility of the killing less than a year after the ending of the HBlock hunger strike.

Mr O'Callaghan was a former joint leader of the IRA's Southern Command and a member of Sinn Fein's ardcomhairle. In a interview to be published in Fortnight magazine later this week, he says: "Gerry Adams asked me, should we kill John Hume?"

He claims that Sinn Fein was worried about Mr Hume's influence in Dublin, London and Washington. "Adams realised that Hume had to be dealt with," he said.

"The SDLP couldn't just be dismissed as domestic cockroaches. Something new was needed." He claims that the discussion took place in mid 1982 in Sinn Fein headquarters in Dublin.

However, Mr O'Callaghan says the IRA leadership opted for dialogue with Mr Hume rather than killing him.

Republican sources in west Belfast could not comment on Mr Adams's alleged remarks but they said the IRA had seriously considered assassinating the SDLP leader and making it appear that loyalists were responsible.

"There was an awful lot of hatred for the SDLP in the early 1980s after the hunger strike," one source said. "There was a feeling that with Hume out of the way, the SDLP would founder and Sinn Fein could make huge political gains." Mr Hume's home in Derry was attacked by republicans many times.

Another republican source said the IRA would not have admitted responsibility for killing Mr Hume, because of his popularity within the nationalist community.

The source said the plan was discussed by senior and middle ranking IRA members but that the Army Council decided against it.

He outlined the favoured scenario. A "clean" gun - one with forensic history, would be used to attack a junior SDLP politician leaving Mass, for instance.

Shots would be fired at the person but he would not be killed. A new loyalist group would claim responsibility for the attack, giving a code name. The car used in shooting would be burnt out in a loyalist area.

Further attacks would follow, including perhaps even firing shots at Sinn Fein offices. There would be no fatalities in any of these incidents and the same weapon would be used.

Then, a few weeks later, this gun would be used to kill Mr Hume.

"Sinn Fein are denying that this plan ever existed because it doesn't suit them now that they are working with Hume," the source said.

"But back then, after the hunger strike, things were very different and getting Hume out of the road was a good idea to many people."

The Sinn Fein chairman, Mr Mitchel McLaughlin, described Mr O'Callaghan's allegations as "preposterous and bizarre". He said the former IRA man's story was "rubbish" and "a lie".

He accused Mr O'Callaghan of promoting a "British propaganda agenda" and aiming to absolve Westminster of responsibility for rebuilding a new peace process.

Mr McLaughlin said: "Sensible people who have watched Mr O'Callaghan's unexpected early release from prison and listened to his contradictory accounts of his activities will treat this malicious allegation with the contempt it deserves.

"It is but the latest of a series of wild and untame claims that he and his MI5 handlers have made as part of the British dirty tricks agenda."

Mr Hume has declined to comment on the allegation.