Senior SDLP figures were repeatedly briefing against each other in conversations with government officials and ministers, declassified government files suggest.
The party, which was known at the time to have significant personality and policy clashes, was in regular informal contact with Government officials, as well as having formal meetings with ministers.
JE McConnell, a civil servant in the Political Affairs Branch of the NIO who regularly spoke to politicians to gather intelligence on the state of the parties, reported on candid comments by John Hume in 1990.
Among files declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast under the 20 Year Rule is a ‘confidential and personal’ memo of 28 June relates details of a conversation with the SDLP leader.
Mr McConnell wrote: “He then went on to describe the continuing ill-will between himself and Seamus Mallon.”
He added: “The conversation with Mr Hume was a very disjointed one (not unusual) but I detected from his remarks that he is concerned ... [and that] he genuinely doesn’t trust Jim Molyneaux.”
Another note from Mr McConnell, after a late night phone call with South Down SDLP MP Eddie McGrady, revealed further deeply strained relationships at the top of what was then the largest nationalist party.
At 6.30pm, Mr McGrady told the NIO official that he had not yet heard from Mr Hume and suggested that the civil servant ring back “as late as possible and certainly after midnight”.
When Mr McConnell rang back at 12.30am Mr Hume had still not contacted his colleague (seemingly about an important development that day).
Mr McConnell said that “he remains very angry that Mr Hume has not contacted him and he will now go off on his two week holiday without any further contact”.
Another memo from Mr McConnell in June 1990 said: “Over the past 24 hours I have had lengthy conversations with Seamus Mallon, Mark Durkan and Joe Hendron, during which I made it quite clear that Mallon’s remarks had been deeply unhelpful not least because they were forcing unionists to respond in public, hence raising the temperature.
“Durkan said that Hume was furious with Mallon (repetition of what Hume told me on Sunday); in a separate conversation Mallon said rather wryly that he now required protection from his own party rather than from the media.”
Yet another memo from the same official follows that theme. The 19 June 1990 note said “Eddie McGrady then rang me and was clearly upset at the turn of events over the last few days.
“He told me that he didn’t think that Mr Mallon was taking an overtly Dublin line so much as acting in a fit of pique because of some disagreement he has with John Hume.
“He went on to say that it does not even have the saving grace of having some sort of political plan behind it.”
The previous week, on 15 June, Mr Mallon and Mr Hume had arranged to meet the Secretary of State in London at midday but kept him waiting for 45 minutes due to Mr Mallon’s late arrival.