A wealthy Irish-American businessman told the government that Gerry Adams was “a man of honour and of peace”, a newly-declassified Stormont file reveals.
Bill Flynn, a multi-millionaire businessman who would become a significant figure in the peace process, visited Stormont Castle in summer 1994.
A confidential 4 July 1994 note of Mr Flynn’s visit with the Secretary of State was prepared by Jonathan Stephens, who is now the most senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office. The note said that Mr Flynn had articulated “warm support for the Government’s policy and the Secretary of State personally”.
He also told Sir Patrick Mayhew that he recently met Gerry Adams for three hours: “He was ‘a man of honour and of peace’. But he faced a very dangerous and difficult step and not everyone would agree with an end to violence but he was convinced Adams was working to that objective”.
Mr Flynn had also met UUP leader Jim Molyneaux and described him as a “good man” who had “a good face”.
The Secretary of State said that Mr Molyneaux “had indeed taken significant risks recently, but he was a cunning man who seemed to have got the mood about right...nevertheless, there was a good deal of unease and anxiety in the unionist community and Protestant paramilitaries were gaining in support and capability”.
Sir Patrick said that the “main obstacle to political progress” was now the Republic’s territorial claim on Northern Ireland. Sir Patrick said that he did not believe that Gerry Adams had “undergone any moral conversion” and that “he remained a bad man who, for purely practical reasons, seemed to want to move away from violence”.
He said that “the Government had operated on the basis that Adams wanted to move away from violence and that it should be made easier, rather than more difficult, for him to do so: Sinn Féin after all had a democratic mandate.”
Sir Patrick was blunt that he had only one message for Mr Adams which was identical to what was being said publicly by the government and that while talks would be open to Sinn Féin if the IRA ended violence, they would not be allowed to hold up that process and talks would “go forward with or without them”.
Mr Flynn died last June at the age of 92 and was described by Tanaiste Simon Coveney as someone who “showed real leadership in mobilising Irish American support for peace”.