Hurd wondered whether Irish believed Adams to be ‘on the side of angels’

Former UK foreign secretary Douglas Hurd wondered if the Irish government believed then-Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to be “on the side of angels”, newly released Irish State documents reveal.

Then-Irish deputy premier Dick Spring told Mr Hurd he found it “difficult” to speak in terms of angels within the republican party but he felt that Mr Adams did want to lead his movement in the right direction.

The exchange between the two men took place in Brussels on February 7 1994.

Douglas Hurd, Foreign Secretary
Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said he had had a ‘terrible’ time in the US (PA)

Mr Hurd began the 20-minute bilateral meeting by telling Mr Spring he had had a “terrible” time in the United States and that he found Mr Adams’ visit “impossible to handle”.

Mr Adams visited the US for the first time in 1994 following a controversial move by then-president Bill Clinton to grant him a temporary visa.

Mr Clinton hoped the visit would be a turning point in the Northern Ireland peace process but British officials were not happy with the decision.

Until then, Mr Adams had been banned from entering the US.

The document outlines that Mr Hurd felt Mr Adams had a media bonanza and that he had been “inhibited in his reactions by the fact that he could not be sure whether Adams might deliver the goods in the course of his visit”.

The note continued: “Hurd saw a ‘worrying divergence’ between the approach of the British and Irish governments on the question of the Adams visa. The Irish view had been decisive with the administration.”

The then tanaiste described Mr Adams’ visit as a media circus rather than a media bonanza.

“There had been an expectation in Irish-American circles that Adams would make the right noises in the course of his visit,” the note states.

“Despite the difficulties caused by the Adams visit, the Tanaiste felt there was still a prospect that the visit would have a beneficial effect in terms of the internal debate within Sinn Fein.”

This prompted Mr Hurd to wonder whether the Irish government thought Mr Adams “is on the side of angels in terms of the internal debate within Sinn Fein”.

The confidential note states: “The Tanaiste found it difficult to speak in terms of angels within Sinn Fein but felt that Adams did want to lead his movement in the right direction.

“If this comes to pass, then the US visit will be seen in a very positive light.

“The Tanaiste pointed out that Clinton had been helpful both in terms of the restricted nature of the visa waiver given to Adams and in terms of his clear support for both governments and for the Declaration.”

DICK SPRING/STORMONT
Tanaiste Dick Spring answering questions after all-party talks at Castle Buildings, Stormont (Brian Little/PA)

The document said Mr Hurd conceded that Mr Clinton had “made an effort, if belatedly” and commented: “I suppose we can clutch to that.”

Mr Spring made it clear that the Irish government supported a resumption of the talks and told Mr Hurd it would be important not to let Sinn Fein off the hook by allowing them to blame either or both governments in the event that they failed to respond positively to the declaration.

Mr Hurd accepted Mr Spring’s view that the forthcoming Ard Fheis did suggest itself as some sort of decisive point in terms of the Sinn Fein debate and that it would be best to “hold their nerve” until then.

The conversation between the two ministers ended with Mr Spring saying he hoped officials would meet soon and Mr Hurd saying he had found the discussion “very helpful”.

– The material can be viewed in the National Archives in file 2022/51/103