BRITISH prime minister John Major vowed he would “have the patience of Job” to find a Northern Ireland peace solution at a Moscow meeting in 1995 with then Taoiseach John Bruton.
r Major also admitted to his Irish counterpart that he had spent a lot of time “trying to think myself into the mind of Sinn Féin”.
He questioned if Sinn Féin had mapped out an entire strategy for how progress on decommissioning and all-party talks might happen or if it adopted an approach of “suck it and see” as they went along.
“I wish I could see clearly into the Sinn Féin mind,” he stated.
Mr Bruton replied that he doubted that Sinn Féin leaders were so innocent as to believe that the process would result in a change in the nature of the United Kingdom.
Mr Major said he agreed and noted that Sinn Féin were “hard-headed and not dreamers”.
The two leaders had met for an informal lunch at the British embassy in Moscow on May 9, 1995, while they were attending ceremonies to mark the end of World War II in Europe at a time when there was concern about the lack of progress in peace talks in Northern Ireland following an IRA ceasefire in 1994.
Irish officials described the meeting as “friendly and relaxed throughout”.
During the meeting, Mr Major stressed that the British government was genuine about seeking an agreement on decommissioning in return for political reform in Northern Ireland.
“This is not a game we are playing. I don’t know whether Sinn Féin know and accept that,” he told Mr Bruton.
Mr Major claimed Sinn Féin leaders were mistaken in their view there would be a quick move towards all-party talks.
“I never saw it that way. Progress on this matter will not be easy,” observed Mr Major.
He anticipated that Sinn Féin would also want “to go back to their own people to check each step along the way” so that everything would be done “at a measured pace”.
While Mr Major said there would be “no miraculous breakthrough”, he believed issues would become easier to progress the longer that any talks would go on.
However, he said it was not true that his government was using the issue of decommissioning of IRA weapons prior to formal peace talks engagement as “a rock to sink the ship” as Sinn Féin believed.
He added: “As I said there will be no miraculous breakthrough. I am prepared to have the patience of Job.”
However, he stressed that they were “not trying to put them (Sinn Féin) in a box” over recent talks issues.
“I believe if we crack this open we will also crack other obstacles, but it is a pillar without which the cathedral will not be built,” Mr Major added.