Working-class Catholics in Northern Ireland were “anti-authority and anti-everything”, the late Archbishop of Armagh Cahal Daly said.
Secret State files from Dublin, just released under the Republic’s 30-year-rule, show the one-time head of the Catholic Church in Ireland blamed a deep scepticism among some of his flock on the SDLP.
In remarks made to a senior Irish government official in 1986, he said that John Hume’s party had made no serious effort to challenge Sinn Fein in Catholic ghettos.
The result was a wary response to the then fledgling Anglo-Irish Agreement in areas such as west Belfast, according to the ex-primate, who was Bishop of Down and Connor at the time.
Gerry Adams was “the working-class hero” and the SDLP “count for nothing”, he said.
The remarks were made during a secret meeting with David Donoghue, an Irish government negotiator in Anglo-Irish talks who went on to become ambassador to the UN.
Notes of the meeting in February that year show Bishop Daly believed middle-class Catholics strongly supported the new agreement.
“In the working-class Catholic ghettos of west Belfast, however, where people are ‘anti-Establishment, anti-authority and anti-everything’, the mood is one of deep scepticism,” he remarked.
The soon-to-be cardinal also took aim at unionist leaders for rising loyalist violence and sectarian murders.
“Bishop Daly blames the ‘totally irresponsible’ attitude of unionist politicians for much of this militancy,” the notes state.
“There are moderate voices in the unionist camp but they ‘cannot be heard about the din’ ... this had the effect of Catholics “in the ghettos” turning “all too easy to the Provos for their protection”.