Basil McIvor, Hope Deferred: Experiences of an Irish Unionist (Blackstaff 1998).

The generality of the middle and upper clases, however, have managed - apart from the unavoidable irritants such as traffic jams, roadblocks or office chaos after bombs or bomb alerts - to come through undamaged and with few casualties. The culture was one of aloofness, of being ‘above it all’, of distancing themselves from two sets of proletarian tribes fighting out an atavistic war - ‘the apolitical vision’. (p.38.)

On Bloody Sunday: ‘It is never too late to attempt to restore faith and trust by an apology from the British government for the events of that dreadful day in Derry. It is healthy to confront the past.’ (p.79.)

In his book Ancestral Voices, Conor Cruise O’Brien was subsequently to write that he warned the Dublin government in cabinet against emphasis on the Council of Ireland; he also warned that the important thing was to secure the cross-community Executive, and that by piling on a lot of surplus symbolism, we were in danger of capsizing the essential - the powersharing Executive. He criticised Garret FitzGerald - briefed by John Hume - for telling the British cabinet that this danger did not exist and that the Unionist community would accept Sunningdale, Council of Ireland and all.

Either deliberately ignoring or being unaware of Unionist fears to the point of arrogance, Hume’s was to be a fatal misjudgement. He alone amongst the SDLP had pushed hard for a Council of Ireland that would not be some anodyne, insignificant institution concerned to assuage fears in the North, but instead the full works: a high-profile construction - the ‘bridge too far’. Hume was a close friend of Garret FitzGerald, and the two families had spent part of August 1973 on holiday together in Donegal when, presumably, this strategy was discussed.

It was Hume who did the television interviews from which the Protestants of Northern Ireland learned the details of powersharing and the Council of Ireland. Roy Bradford, our pit canary at Sunningdale, sensitive to the slightest whiff of danger to our position, filled that role for the Unionists. After Brian’s signature to the agreement had been secured, those watching television in Northern Ireland could detect from Hume’s triumphalism that he knew he had won.

To John Hume, the most significant and visionary nationalist politician of his generation, a united Ireland is a romantic eternal absolute. His reasoning is deductive. First set out your goal and from that standpoint direct [103] all arguments towards achieving it. He does not believe in starting with the established facts and realities and then working slowly upwards towards the desired result. At that time he never understood the genuine historic fears and sensitivities of the unionists, however much these understandably irritated him. Nor did he want to. He finds it hard to empathise with unionists. In unionist eyes he wore the nationalist mantle of odium as did Daniel O’Connell in the 1820s although O’Connell deserved the reproach less. If he ever addressed the fears of unionists it was to say blandly that they had nothing to fear, that they had no need to keep pressing the British government to reiterate its policy that the status of Northern Ireland would remain as it was unless there was a majority in favour of change. The unionists, he argues, should stand on their own feet and see how they could come to live in peace and harmony with the ‘people of this island’. This is a splendid piece of hypocrisy considering the pan-nationalist front he has established in Dublin and amongst the Irish-American lobby to bolster his own political position. To redress the balance, unionism would have had a much more difficult task: to cultivate in the cause of unionism the Scots/Irish diaspora in the United States which has long since become absorbed in the mainstream of Anglo-Saxon America.

This kind of extraordinary insensitivity was hardly likely to endear Hume to unionists, and it was not surprising that he was deeply distrusted by the unionist community at large. He was grim and unbending in negotiation. I have never been able to detect any sense of humour in John. But then I was never close to him, and his friends may say differently.

His part in the Sunningdale Agreement spelt disaster for the survival of powersharing. To me he was the man who, at Sunningdale, blew out the light at the end of the tunnel. His insistence on the promise of a Council of Ireland, which he must surely have anticipated would arouse fierce opposition amongst the majority of Protestants, wrecked the prospects of an otherwise excellent and hopeful powersharing arrangement.

Given time, the sectarian issue might well have given way to social/ economic issues and, with the building up of trust, the Executive might well have succeeded in accommodating the arch-Tory tendencies of [104] Roy Bradford and the fundamental socialism of Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt in the interests of keeping the show on the road. John Hume, as minister of commerce, could have developed his Amerlcan interests to bring investment into Northern Ireland. I do not believe, however, he would have been comfortable with a political role that confined him to Northern Ireland. His scene is obviously on the world stage.

His heart was never to be in the powersharing Executive. His interest in it was that it might prove to be an agent for the eventual reunification of Ireland. And yet he has courageously done much to promote peace m Northern Ireland within the context of his own nationalist aspiratlons, and has been a force in compelling Unionists, and rightly so, to engage in dialogue with their arch enemy, Sinn Féin.’ (103-05.)

‘The executive unanimously approved and welcomed the “shared plan” [for integrated schools in 1974] with the exception of John Hume who was less than enthusiatic.’ (p.113)

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