John Hume once compared unionists in the North to the “whites in Alabama”, confidential files reveal.
The SDLP leader’s sentiments are captured by a senior Northern Ireland Office (NIO) official in declassfied documents released by the Public Record Office in Belfast.
Among the files is a report on the SDLP party conference in November 1985 on the eve of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The official, JE McConnell, of the NIO’s Political Affairs Division, describes a private conversation with Mr. Hume who argued that unionists would become more flexible once they had been confronted.
“He told me he did not believe the unionists would be in a mood to discuss devolution ‘for at least six months after the AIA’,” the note reported.
He added that if, the unionists could be confronted and not allowed to win ‘like the whites in Alabama were confronted by the [US} federal government, their whole outlook would change”.