Dublin and London thaw towards Hume-Adams plan

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THE British and Irish governments appreciably softened their public attitudes yesterday towards the peace proposals of John Hume, the SDLP leader, raising the possibility that key elements have not yet been ruled out.

But Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, caused some surprise by saying that the Prime Minister had not given him the details of the Hume-Adams initiative.

John Major was briefed last week by the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, on the outcome of the Hume-

Adams dialogue, but Sir Patrick said yesterday that he did not know what Mr Reynolds told Mr Major. That means the minister in charge of the search for peace Northern Ireland does not know the details of what Mr Hume and the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, have described as the best hope for peace in 20 years.

Sir Patrick was speaking at a Belfast news conference following a meeting with Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister. Commenting on the Hume-Adams initiative, he said: 'I myself have never once joined in criticism of him (Mr Hume) for that initiative of his. I think it has served to focus the hopes of people. I think recent events have damaged it but I still believe that those hopes are there and have been stimulated by what he's done.'

Last night Mr Hume held a hurriedly-arranged meeting with Mr Reynolds and Mr Spring in Dublin, in an attempt to iron out some of the differences between them. Earlier, Mr Spring said Mr Hume's initiative had profoundly altered the climate of discussion, touched a deep chord with many people and raised expectations of peace. These had been damaged by the recent atrocities, he said, but he did not believe they had been destroyed.

There are some indications that elements in Dublin are concerned that last week's events may have damaged the SDLP and therefore strengthened Sinn Fein. A number of northern nationalist sources say they feel let down by Dublin's dismissal of Mr Hume's efforts.

Dublin governments are normally careful to maintain good relations with the SDLP, seen as a constitutional nationalist buffer against violent republicanism.

It may therefore be that Dublin is intent on repairing this important north-south relationship. Reports from Dublin also say that the Irish government believes there is real life left in the Hume-Adams initiative, although its provenance and Mr Adams's 'thumbprints' on the document are posing major problems for the administration.

At yesterday's meeting ministers reaffirmed their commitment to attempting to restart inter-party talks that fizzled out a year ago. Sir Patrick gave some idea of the difficulties when he said that convening round-table talks now 'would not be a sensible way of proceeding and would be counter-productive'.

He added, however, that there were grounds for hoping that the politicians would enter, and stay in, a dialogue. He said progress had been made in last year's talks, which he hoped would be 'bankable' when discussions opened again. He very much hoped that would not be months away.

Diary, page 21