The factual differences between the two sides are so stark that they mean one side or the other is telling lies and indulging in forgery.
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, was last night adamant about Sir Patrick's statement to the House of Commons. 'The text he read is counterfeit. No such communication was ever sent. It is a lie.'
Mr Adams said yesterday that Sinn Fein was deciding whether to produce further evidence which he claimed would prove Sir Patrick was lying.
The first major point of difference is in the first document published by Sir Patrick, which is said to be the note of an oral message from the republican movement, dated 22 February this year, which began the exchange of communications. This begins: 'The conflict is over but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close.'
Mr Adams says no such message was sent and that the contact was in fact initiated by the British government.
According to Sir Patrick's published material, a series of short messages then followed from each side. In one of these the republicans nominated as their representatives Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly. (Mr Kelly has been alleged in several newspaper reports to be involved in the IRA bombing campaign in Britain.)
The first substantive response from the Government, dated 19 March, stipulates that it will continue to uphold the union unless a majority of people in Northern Ireland expressed an opposite view.
Sinn Fein yesterday released its own version of the text of this document, and examination shows it differs from that released by Sir Patrick.
The government document states: 'We note that what is being sought at this stage is advice.'
The Sinn Fein version, by contrast, has the Government saying: 'What is being sought at this stage is advice.'
With this small but crucial difference each document leaves the impression that the other side is seeking the advice. The change in the text is clearly politically motivated rather than a typing error and indicates that one of the documents has been tampered with.
In its undisputed sections, the Government said in the event of a genuine and established ending of violence, 'the whole range of responses to it' would inevitably be looked at afresh. It said the Government had no blueprint and wanted an agreed accommodation arrived at through an inclusive process.
The Government did not have, and would not adopt, any prior objective of the 'ending of partition'. It accepted that such a process could lead to a united Ireland, but only on the basis of the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.
A republican message, dated 22 July, outlines a hardline political position, saying that what is sought is a process which culminates in 'the end of your jurisdiction'.
But it also said that republicans' long-standing positon 'has been of willingness to enter into dialogue with a view to resolving the conflict. In all of this we do not seek to impose preconditions nor should preconditions be imposed on us . . . Preconditions represent obstacles to peace'.
It stated that British sovereignty was the inherent cause of political instability and conflict, and was an issue which 'must be addressed within the democratic context of the exercise of the right to national self-determination'.
The message said an adherence to democratic principles made Irish unity inevitable, and that the Government should play a crucial and constructive role in persuading Unionists to reach an accommodation with the rest of the Irish people.
It added: 'We recognise that the concerns and perceived concerns of the Unionist population about their position in an Irish national democracy must be addressed and resolved in the form of the greatest reassurance possible, including legislation for all measures agreed in the course of the process of negotiations. This is not only the democratic norm but a practical necessity.'
These words are confirmed in the Sinn Fein version, released yesterday, but another major point of difference arises in the same document.
The republican version contains the sentence: 'We found our preliminary meeting with your representative valuable', but this does not appear in the Government document.
Subsequent documents reveal that the two sides regard each other's positions as inflexible and hardening, with the Government questioning whether the IRA wants to end its campaign only with victory for itself.
A government document of 17 July says: 'Recent pronouncements seem to imply that unless your analysis of the way forward is accepted within a set time, the halt in violence will only be temporary. This is not acceptable.
'The reasons for not talking about a permanent cessation are understood, but the peace process cannot be conditional on the acceptance of any particular or single analysis.
'Can you confirm that you want a peace process which is aimed at an inclusive political process and that a lasting end to violence does not depend on your analysis being endorsed as the only way forward?
'If you can, we remind you that this process of dialogue leading to an inclusive political process can only start after we have received the necessary assurance that organised violence had been brought to an end.
'In the meantime progress has to be subject to events on the ground.'
The final government document, dated 5 November, declares: 'It is the public and consistent position of the British government that any dialogue would only follow a permanent end to violent activity.
'If, as you have offered, you were to give us an unequivocal assurance that violence has indeed been brought to a permanent end, and that accordingly Sinn Fein is now committed to political progress by peaceful and democratic means alone, we will make clear publicly our commitment to enter exploratory dialogue with you.'
This was in response to a message, supplied by Sir Patrick, which appealed to the Government: 'In plain language please tell us as a matter of urgency when you will open dialogue in the event of a total end to hostilities.'
Last night, Mr Adams said this message was bogus, and that the 5 November message had appeared out of the blue.
He declared: 'This unsolicited communication was a transparent manoeuvre to synchronise their public and private positions in advance of this contact becoming public in a climate of leaks and rumours.'
He added that the Government had been informed through this channel of communication of the terms of the Hume-Adams initiative, alleging that John Major and Sir Patrick Mayhew had been lying when they said they were not aware of its contents.
Accusing the Government of 'bad faith and double dealing', Mr Adams said he hoped that when this phase was over the Hume-Adams initiative could make progress.
The exchanges were taking place over a period marked by the bombings in Warrington, Cheshire, and Bishopsgate in the City of London.
A government document, dated 22 March, had this oral message from the leadership of the Provisional Movement:
'It is with total sadness that we have to accept responsibility for the recent action (reference to the Warrington bombing on 20 March).
'The last thing we needed at this sensitive time was what has happened. It is the fate of history that we find ourselves in this position, all we can think of at this time is an old Irish proverb: 'God's hand works in mysterious ways'. Our hope is that this hand will lead to peace and friendship.'
This was followed by the Bishopsgate bomb in the City of London in April and led to a British message to the IRA on 5 May, which said: 'Events on the ground are crucial, as we have consistently made clear. We cannot conceivably disregard them.
'We gave in good faith the advice which was sought, taking what we were told at face value. It is difficult to reconcile that with recent events.
'None the less we confirm that we stand by the nine-paragraph document, which we prepared in response to that request for advice.
'We have not received the necessary private assurance that organised violence has been brought to an end. We hope that we do so soon and that violence is genuinely brought to an end as, without that, further progress cannot be made.'
However, within a day the exchanges were back on course.
Politics and policy, page 6
Leading article, page 17
Andrew Marr, page 19
Unwanted problem, page 19
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content