We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

John Hume pictured in the US in 1994. Alamy Stock Photo
Peace Process

John Hume 'literally cried on Martin McGuinness's shoulder' amid health concerns in 1994

The SDLP leader later retired from public life after 40 years as an activist.

CONCERNS FOR THE health of the late John Hume were raised by numerous sources during the peace negotiations that preceded the Provisional IRA ceasefire in 1994.

The former SDLP leader and subsequent Nobel Peace Prize winner was under intense pressure inside and outside his party over an ongoing dialogue with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. 

The Hume-Adams initiative began in the late 1980s at a particularly violent period during The Troubles.

When the talks became public, Hume was castigated by elements within the Irish media for speaking to Adams amid continuing IRA violence, with members of his own party also questioning the strategy. 

The extent of this ill-feeling within his own party is detailed in newly released documents, with then SDLP MP Eddie McGrady describing Hume’s “subservience” to Adams as part of their talks. 

Secret government documents are released annually under the 30-year rule and sent to the National Archives, providing journalists and historians a fresh glimpse into historical events.

This year, even more recent files up to 1998 are also being released to bring the National Archives up to date with material released by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

In a meeting with an Irish government official in 1994, SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon is recorded as saying that the Hume-Adams initiative was “bad for party morale” and that senior members and activists were considering leaving the party. 

Mallon, who died last year, raised concerns over the talks were said to be down to “the morality of the Sinn Fein position” as well as the potential impact for on the SDLP “at grass roots level”.

In a meeting of SDLP members, Mallon was said to be seeking “a clear distance from Sinn Féin” and the ruling out of an electoral pact with the party. 

Mallon also criticised Hume for, in his view, “dominating” the party’s contact with US political and business leaders.

The backdrop for the tensions was the June 1994 European Parliament elections in which Hume was successfully re-elected.

Amid the uncertain nature of peace talks, a re-election campaign and almost 30 years of activism up to that point, questions were raised about Hume’s health during this period. 

Hume later largely retired from public life for health reasons before his death in 2020. Hume’s wife of 58 years Pat has spoken publicly about his struggle with dementia.  

In 1994, a number of months before the IRA ceasefire, Mallon is recorded as raising concerns about his colleague’s well-being during a meeting with an Irish official.

“Mallon also voiced continuing concern at Hume’s health, in particular at the long-term effects of the strong medication which is currently being prescribed for him,” a record of the meeting states. 

seamus-mallon-in-his-office-at-stormont-before-standing-down-as-deputy-first-minister-of-the-northern-ireland-assembly-he-handed-over-the-reins-of-power-to-mark-durkan-mr-mallon-will-also-stand Former SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Further concerns over Hume’s well-being and his ability to continue in public life were raised by a Belfast solicitor who was close to Adams. 

Paddy McGrory relayed a story from Adams to an Irish official that questioned whether Hume could continue in politics. 

“Adams expressed concern to McGrory about John Hume’s mood swings and is worried at the possibility of Hume leaving the scene through health reasons,” the document states.

Recently, Hume visited Martin McGuinness to share some of his concerns and, according to Adams, literally cried on McGuinness’s shoulder.  

Downing Street Declaration

The central political issue of this period was the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993, when the British and Irish governments outlined their common approach to the Northern Ireland peace process. 

Hume was putting pressure on Adams to convince the IRA to accept the roadmap, with Sinn Féin seeking a list of clarifications from the British government about its intentions in Northern Ireland. 

Humes’s efforts with Adams are detailed in a lengthy letter he wrote to the Sinn Féin leader in January 1994. 

Hume wrote to Adams that “the stated reasons by the IRA for armed struggle were that the British were in Ireland defending their own interests [...] and were preventing the Irish people from exercising the right to self-determination.”

“As you are aware, I have argued that while these reasons were historically correct, they are to longer true in today’s new Europe,” he said. 

Hume argues that the Downing Street Declaration reiterates that the British Government has “no selfish economic of strategic interest in Northern Ireland”. 

Hume writes that the “clear political challenge” is “how to heal the deep divisions among the people of Ireland” and that “indeed the founder of Irish republicanism Wolfe Tone [...] spoke of the need to united [sic] Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.”

Hume argues that “the Unionist people are just as much victims of our past as we are” and that the Irish problem “can only be resolved peacefully and by a healing process.”

He adds: “Put more simply and directly, if we look forward to the next 25 years and compare 25 years of armed struggle with its cost and effect, to 25 years of committed peaceful and organised activity, harnessing all the energies of cur people to face up to our problems and to consistently promote and develop the healing process should there be any doubt about the choice?”

Upon his 80th birthday in 2017, Hume received praise from all around the globe.

President Michael D Higgins called him the “moral architect of an inclusive peace process”, and “a man of courage, a committed European and a dedicated and visionary peacemaker”.

Former US President Bill Clinton called him “the Irish conflict’s Martin Luther King”.

As well as the Nobel Peace Prize, Hume was also awarded the Ghandi Peace Prize from the Indian Government and a Knighthood from Pope Benedict XVI.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel