By Michael McHugh
The Government’s decision to meet Gerry Adams after the IRA ceasefire showed “indecent haste”, British government officials have said.
Former taoiseach Albert Reynolds shook hands with the Sinn Féin president and SDLP leader John Hume after a meeting in Dublin a week after republicans laid down arms in August 1994.
Confidential briefings from the Northern Ireland Office have been released by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.
The official records said that a meeting between Mr Reynolds, Mr Adams, and Mr Hume following the ceasefire was considered “to reflect indecent haste, although clearly designed to tie Adams into a process from which he personally would not be able to escape, no matter what the republican movement did”.
The IRA declared a ceasefire in August 1994, followed by the main loyalist paramilitaries in October that year. It led to the beginning of public contact between the Irish and British governments and Sinn Féin.
Exploratory talks between the British government and Sinn Féin began before Christmas that year. In 1995, the republican party was to receive further international recognition from US president Bill Clinton when he gave Mr Adams authority to make a fundraising tour.
In February 1995, the Irish and British governments signed a Frameworks document on the Northern Ireland peace process.
It set out guiding principles including: self-determination; consent of the governed; “that agreement must be pursued and established by exclusively democratic, peaceful means, without resort to violence or coercion” and “that any new political arrangements must be based on full respect for and protection and expression of, the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland”.
The Northern Ireland Office files said Frameworks had a “generally favourable” response from nationalist parties, a “bitterly antagonistic” reaction from mainstream unionism and the Alliance Party, while the churches, business community and loyalist parties adopted positions of “less- than-outright rejection”.
Rumours of an Ulster Unionist Party leadership challenge surfaced but there was uncertainty over the direction the party might take.
The British government’s assessment of the Democratic Unionists said: “Apocalyptic analysis of the Frameworks was a balance between outrage at the unacceptability of the proposals and triumph at the extent to which their predictions of constitutional disaster had been proved right.”
The SDLP maintained a relatively low profile.