Sinn Féin/IRA did not want ‘permanent’ in any ceasefire announcement

State papers: Major probed Hume on SDLP’s view of Sinn Féin position on wording

The leadership of Sinn Féin and the IRA did not want to use the word “permanent” in any ceasefire announcement, according to Government records of talks in late 1996 between the Sinn Féin leadership and SDLP leader John Hume.

A memo, written by Seán Ó hUiginn, then second secretary in the Anglo-Irish section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and contained in a 1996 file of the taoiseach’s department, records an exchange between Hume and the British prime minister John Major.

Ó hUiginn says he met Hume on October 29th at which he was told the prime minister “probed” the SDLP leader’s view.

“If he [Major] made a statement along the lines envisaged, would the IRA say they were finished for keeps? (He seemed to accept that the word ‘permanent’ was a word which caused problems. Hume told him there was a problem for the current leadership to purport to bind future generations.)


“Major stressed that it would be important that the language of any statement on an IRA ceasefire should make it clear it would not be their intention to resume violence under any circumstances.”

According to the memo, Hume told Major he thought it would be possible to use some of the British government’s own language about an “unequivocal restoration etc” of the ceasefire.

Major, according to Hume, said he needed something “to get people off my back”. (File: 2021/98/21)

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times