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John Hume: ‘He enjoyed Parnell-like status in the US’

John Hume and his wife Pat at the Foyle Arts Centre In Derry in 1998 on the morning after hearing that he and David Trimble were to share the Nobel Peace Prize.

John Hume and his wife Pat at the Foyle Arts Centre In Derry in 1998 on the morning after hearing that he and David Trimble were to share the Nobel Peace Prize.

Northern Ireland’s top civil servant Ken Bloomfield, believed the SDLP leader John Hume, occupied a position somewhere between that of Charles Stewart Parnell and Mother Theresa amongst Irish Americans when he travelled to Virginia in the United States for talks in early 1985.

The revelation is contained in a briefing note, which has been newly-released under the 30-year rule.

Mr Bloomfield, who had just been appointed as head of the Northern Ireland Civic Service in 1984, made the statement in a confidential briefing on the Airlie House conference in Virginia, in January 1985.

He wrote: “John Hume is normally in his element in the United States, where he is widely regarded as occupying a position somewhere between Charles Stewart Parnell and Mother Teresa.

“On this occasion, he gave a chilling impression of political bankruptcy, rather like a man who has lost a fortune by backing a particular number consistently at the roulette table and continues to stare at that number even though he no longer has a stake to play.

“The unionists put him under very skilful and sustained pressure to engage in talk about arrangements for internal government, even to the extent of throwing out the lifeline of willingness to recognise some kind of relevant interest on the part of the Irish Republic.”

Mr Bloomfield also stated that conferences overseas, such as that at Airlie House, were usually conducted in a more cordial atmosphere.

“Distance from Northern Ireland itself encourages at least a less strident tone, and late at night relaxation can (and was) facilitated by liberal hospitality of the liquid kind,” he wrote.

The civil servant also contrasted the political skills of Peter Robinson and Robert McCartney - then of the UUP.

“Three days exposure to Peter Robinson amply demonstrated what a forceful articulate and crafty politician he is,” stated Mr Bloomfield.

But “the intellectual credibility of the arguments of Bob McCartney may simply have been an illustration of how far he is from his party’s current centre of gravity,” was his assessment of the latter.

Another file refers to Sinn Féin gaining ground on the SDLP in the 1985 council elections, stating: “Sinn Féin’s success has been exaggerated, but the party’s impact on district councils has probably not. Dr [Garret] FitzGerald and Mr Hume will claim that votes won by SF are clear proof of nationalist alienation and the best possible argument in favour of radical new solutions.”

 

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