BISHOP Edward Daly of Derry has supported John Hurne's weekend decision to meet the Provisional IRA's army council despite strong opposition to the initiative from the Irish and British Governments.
Dr Daly said that it was "imperative" that someone "of John Ilutne's standing, experience and background should speak to those engaged in a campaign of violence". He added that he admired the courage of the leader of the inainly Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party.
The meeting could be used, he said, tor propaganda purposes by the IRA but he said that people had their own view of the IRA after all the violence in Northern Ireland.
The announcement that Mr Hutne wanted to meet the Provisional IRA "army council" provoked a storm of controversy this week and threatened to create a rift between Mr Hume and his political ally in Dublin, Irish Taoiseach, Dr Garrett FitzGerald.
Dr FitzGerald threatened to have any such meeting broken up if it took place on the Republic's soil and said that "the members of the Army Council, if identified, will be arrested". He feared that the IRA would gain in progapanda terms from such talks. In contrast, Hanna Fail leader, Mr Charles Haughey, promised his total support for Mr Hume "in anything he should decide to do."
Douglas Hurd, Secretary for State for Northern Ireland denounced the meeting. It would, he said "give credence to the idea that the IRA are in some way a valid political force."
Mr Hume replied angrily to this criticism, saying that Mr Hurd "met the IRA secretly in Ballymurphy. Is my mistake that I'm breaking the rules in doing it openly and publicly and letting
the whole world know what I'm doing?"
Both Harold Wilson and William Whitelaw one of Mr Fiurd's predecessors at the Northern Ireland Office, have met Provisional IRA leaders in the past.
Mr Hurd also said that the proposed Hume meeting would damage the current tentative steps towards an SDLP-Unionist dialogue, a point confirmed by, among others, Peter Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, who said: "If Mr Hume talks to muderers, then the DUP will not talk to.the SDLP".
Despite such a barrage of criticism, Mr Hume was determined this week to go ahead with the meeting, which appears to come about without premeditation on the part of Mr Hume.
The idea arose during a recent radio confrontation between Mr Hume and Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president. Mr Adams publicly offered talks with the SDLP leader. Mr Hume replied that he would prefer "to talk to the people who take their (Sinn Fein's) decisions", namely the IRA's 7 man army council. An offer for talks with the ''army council was duly forthcoming last Friday, which Mr Hume accepted.