Declassified files: Catholic primate hoped that SDLP would defeat Sinn Fein

Cardinal Cahal Daly
Cardinal Cahal Daly

The most senior Roman Catholic figure in Ireland privately told the government that it would be “highly desirable” if the SDLP defeated Gerry Adams in West Belfast, a declassified government file has revealed.

Cardinal Cahal Daly made the comment during a meeting with the secretary of state on November 21 1990 – just a fortnight after he had been elevated to be primate of all Ireland.

A confidential note of the meeting which has been released at the Public Record Office in Belfast recorded: “He referred to the possibility of the SDLP winning the West Belfast seat.

“He thought this highly desirable but was not confident that they would do it.

“He was not convinced that the party was sufficiently close to the community and he was not confident that the party machine in the area was sufficiently effective and hard working.”

The declassifed files made public today also contain a note of a June 6 1990 dinner between Mr Alston of the NIO and three Catholic priests.

One of the priests was the late Fr Matt Wallace but the names of the others have been redacted.

The civil servant was told by the priests: “The SDLP made little impact in West Belfast because of lack of organisation and as a reflection of the fact that it was a party of individuals.

“Joe Hendron was worthy but uninspiring.

“Where the SDLP did well electorally it was more by way of a rejection of Sinn Fein.”