IRA did not want Sinn Fein involved in talks with the British about ending Troubles

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The IRA did not want Sinn Fein involved in proposed back channel talks with the British about ending the Troubles.

The message from a senior Irish official to colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has been newly-released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule.

The IRA's Army Council told two prison chaplains in the spring of 1990 that it was prepared to enter exploratory talks with the UK, according to the internal Irish government communique.

The two chaplains at the Maze prison near Lisburn, Rev Will Murphy and Fr John Murphy, had been trying to encourage prisoners from both sides to move away from violence.

But the message had said that the IRA leadership's "least-favoured" approach to talks was to involve Sinn Fein.

On 4 May, 1990, Brendan McMahon, head of the Anglo Irish Division, updated the assistant secretary at the DFA, Dermot Gallagher.

He wrote: "I had a conversation with Fr Murphy on 2 May who indicated that they had just concluded a series of intensive discussions with the IRA Army Council.

"Arising from those discussions, the two chaplains had a meeting on 1 May with the four church leaders. At that meeting, the chaplains reported that the army council had clearly indicated to them their willingness to seek an alternative to the campaign of violence and, with this objective in mind, are prepared to enter exploratory discussions with the British government."

It was added, in parenthesises: "There is apparently no question at this stage of a ceasefire, though Fr Murphy felt that, in the event of any talks, there would, at the very least, be a reduction in the intensity of the current campaign.

"Arising from the discussion between the chaplains and the four church leaders, it was agreed that the two primates (Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich and Archbishop Eames) will jointly approach the secretary of state to see whether the British Government would be prepared to enter into such talks."

"It was hoped that the approach would be made the next day (3 May) or as soon as possible thereafter."

Northern Ireland secretary Peter Brooke sanctioned back channel talks later in 1990 and these were seen as a major step towards the peace process.

Mr McMahon's communique said: "The Army Council's preference is naturally for such talks to be held in public, though they accept that any talks would probably have to be conducted in absolute secrecy.

"The IRA's third, and least favoured, option would be for talks involving Sinn Fein.

"Fr Murphy commented that one thing which has struck him in the course of this initiative is the noticeable difference between the IRA and Sinn Fein - with Army Council members referring to Sinn Fein as merely 'the party which is the closest to our view'.

"Murphy's impression is that not all of the Army Council are particularly enamoured with the socialist views being espoused by the current urban-based leadership of Sinn Fein."