Source 4 - Letter from the Prime Minister to the Taoiseach

A letter from the British Prime Minister to the Taoiseach November 1993

Context notes

Throughout 1993 the British and Irish governments were talking regularly about Northern Ireland. The governments were also talking to political parties, both Unionist and Nationalist, in Northern Ireland. The British were also talking to representatives of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). In the week before this letter a number of events caused problems for Prime Minister John Major. He had spoken to Robin Eames, the most senior figure in the Church of Ireland. That was a positive step, but from this point on things went very wrong. On 15 November a Northern Ireland newspaper reported that the British had been holding talks with the PIRA. On 19 November a newspaper in the Republic published a document drawn up by the Republic’s Department of Foreign Affairs setting out plans for the future of Northern Ireland. On 20 November John Hume and Gerry Adams issued a third joint statement. On 24 November British police intercepted a large shipment of arms which was meant for the Loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).


10 Downing Street

London SW1A 2AA

The Prime Minister

25 November 1993

Strictly Confidential


Dear Albert

It was good to talk to you last Saturday. I am sorry to have intruded on your weekend off. I hope that you and Kathleen were able to get some relaxation during your trip. If I may say so, I thought your interview with David Frost went very well.

Making no bones about it, we have had an extremely difficult and depressing week. I need not labour the reasons why. I had allowed myself to feel a little optimistic after my meeting with Robin Eames on 18 November. But I am afraid that the following day’s leak and the Hume/Adams statement on Saturday last have had precisely the effect I feared when we spoke on the phone.

I have spent all week trying to repair the damage through a series of meetings and public statements. I fear that I have had only limited success. In the current political atmosphere, there is clearly no hope of securing even tacit acceptance by the Unionist mainstream of a Joint Declaration on the lines of your draft. The text would be seen as deriving from Hume/Adams, and thus would assumed to be the product of negotiation with Sinn Fein. This is an impression which successive statements from Hume and Adams have done nothing to dispel. As we have agreed all along, association with Hume/Adams is the kiss of death for any text intended to secure acceptance on both sides of the Community.

« Return to Downing Street Declaration (KS4)



  1. What events have worried the Prime Minister?
  2. What has the Prime Minister tried to do and how successful has he been?
  3. Which group is the Prime Minister most concerned about?

Inferences from the content

  1. How would you describe the Prime Minister’s attitude towards Hume and Adams?
  2. What can a historian infer from this document about attitudes in Northern Ireland at this time?

Inferences from the context

  1. What can a historian infer from this letter about the relationship between Major and Albert Reynolds?