On January 31, a debate took place on BBC Radio between Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the then SDLP leader, John Hume. The purpose of the program was to elaborate on a possible interaction between Sinn Féin and the SDLP after local elections in the Six Counties, which were due the following May.
The debate, however, did not become memorable for any of the important issues raised. Towards the end of the discussion, Adams told Hume that Sinn Féin would issue an invitation to the SDLP for talks. It was Hume’s startled reaction that made the headlines. Hume claimed that it was the leadership of the IRA which made all the important decisions within republicanism. Impervious to explanations that it was Sinn Féin’s Ard Chomhairle which made decisions on behalf of the party, Hume insisted that he would only talk to the IRA.
On Friday. February 1 the leadership of the IRA accepted Hume’s request for talks, saying: “We welcome this opportunity to rebut the disastrous consequences for the nationalist community of the SDLP’s stance.” For years the SDLP — by its weakness on the British presence, the loyalist veto and Irish reuni fication — had allowed the British state to continue trying to enforce internal solutions, the IRA said, adding: “We have plenty to discuss. We are also confident that Hume can take adequate security precautions for the meeting. We await his response and will be in contact.”
Hume dismissed a further invitation to talks from Sinn Féin,
On Saturday, February 23, Hume met three representatives of the IRA leadership, including an escapee from the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. He was familiar with the other two IRA representatives and was quite satisfied with their seniority. The talks collapsed before they could begin when Hume objected to an IRA proposal to
He suggested the issuing of a joint statement which was to be drafted after the meeting, the contents of which, he said, he would subsequently deviate from in interviews. The IRA rejected this proposal. Hume’s IRA distraction from meeting with Sinn Féin merely postponed the inevitability of SDLP talks with the