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Hume's tactics questioned: Talks with Sinn Fein are causing concern in Dublin. David McKittrick reports

WITH the Irish government awaiting John Hume's return from the United States tomorrow to hear more details of his talks with the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, it has become increasingly apparent that the Social Democratic and Labour Party leader can no longer depend on the uncritical support of the Dublin media.

He still enjoys a high reputation throughout the Irish Republic, where his name remains synonymous with a search for reconciliation. Senior politicians recognise his importance as a human and political breakwater who has helped shelter the southern state from northern paramilitarism.

But the days when he was lionised by journalists in the South have passed. Praise for his efforts is now accompanied by questioning of his approach.

The most immediate complaint has centred on the way he dealt with the statement that he and Mr Adams had made considerable progress. Even Mr Hume's associates concede that the announcement was mishandled, and that his departure for the US left confusion.

This has released a flood of other criticisms. One factor was unease about Mr Hume talking to the political wing of the IRA at a time when no ceasefire had been declared. A further concern was that the Dublin government might be being drawn into negotiations with the representatives of gunmen.

Northern nationalists complain of 'a general anti-northern thing' in the South. One SDLP representative said: 'There are a lot of younger politicians and media people in the South who wish the North would go away. They feel disgraced and let down by the violence. They just want to . . . forget about us up here.'

Some southern political figures resent the widespread perception that much northern and Anglo- Irish policy is laid down by Mr Hume, a politician who is not just outside the Government but outside the state.

The criticism has been given sharp focus by a battle between newspaper columnists who have taken sides over Mr Hume. The attacks on the SDLP leader have been led by the Dublin Sunday Independent, the latest issue of which carried 14 articles centring on him, the majority of them hostile. In recent months most issues of the newspaper have carried lengthy attacks on him.

By contrast, public opinion is clearly in favour of Mr Hume's initiative: Ireland has a long tradition of watching gunmen turn into politicians. But newspapers are important in moulding opinion, and the SDLP leader can no longer rely on support from the columnists and leader-writers.

The troubles afer 25 years, page 8