Declassified Files: Hume said there was absolutely no prospect of a united Ireland

Former SDLP leader, John Hume.
Former SDLP leader, John Hume.

A two-page memo from David Goodall in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to Sir Robert Andrew in the NIO related details of a dinner conversation with John Hume during the British-Irish Association dinner at Christ Church.

The memo, which was marked ‘confidential and personal’ and has been declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast under the 30/20 Year Rule, noted that Mr Hume’s remarks (seemingly at the event on 20 September 1986) on the importance of the ‘Irish dimension’ or ‘Dublin link’ in any devolved power-sharing arrangement “might be less central to SDLP concerns than we had hitherto supposed.”

The document - which was only copied to the powerful Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robert Armstrong - went on: “Hume said that the Irish dimension had been, and for the moment continued to be, of critical importance in securing nationalist support for the Hillsborough Agreement and in establishing to their satisfaction that there had been a sea-change for the better in the British Government’s attitude to nationalists.

“But he went on to say that there was in his view absolutely no prospect of bringing Northern Ireland into a united Ireland, nor was that his objective.

“He believed that, if power-sharing arrangements of some kind could be established in Northern Ireland, the SDLP would be able to deal with the unionists on equal terms and the Dublin link would become unnecessary,

“The introduction of a devolved administration on a power-sharing basis plus the other improvements foreshadowed in the Agreement would of themselves, over time, bring about a comprehensive and radical change in the climate in Northern Ireland and in relations between the two communities there.

“In the course of that process, there would be corresponding adjustments in the relationships between North and South (and between the two parts of Ireland and Great Britain) which could not yet be identified or predicted.”

It went on: “The end result of that process would certainly not be a united Ireland in the traditional sense, but a whole series of new relationships between the component parts of the British Isles.”