John Hume asked Douglas Hurd to make a sympathetic speech about the feared closure of the Molins tobacco machine factory in Maydown in November 1984, de-classified papers reveal.
He met the Secretary of State in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s controversial cold shoulder treatment of Garret FitzGerald at the Anglo-Irish Summit over November 18-19.
A note of the meeting on November 22 reveals the Foyle MP felt the Government needed to say something about the potential closure of the factory.
At the time, manager Len Webb had been informed by Molins, which had risen from its cigar-making origins in pre-revolutionary Cuba to become a leading machine supplier for the tobacco industry, that he was to be let go. But efforts were ongoing to find a white knight buyer in the US.
Mr Hume told Mr Hurd that “a speech concentrating on the problems of the nationalist community,” including economic difficulties in Londonderry and West Belfast would be “very helpful.”
The note shows: “This could cover difficulties over jobs (including the crisis at the Molins factory in Londonderry and the failure of DeLorean in West Belfast), and also the casualties suffered in the Troubles (perhaps with particular reference to Newry and Strabane).”
The SDLP leader welcomed the efforts of the Northern Ireland Minister of State, Rhodes Boyson, in trying to secure Molins’ continued presence.
“As to Molins, Mr Hume was full of praise for the efforts made by Dr Boyson to find a way of saving the factory from having to close,” the note compiled by Mr Hurd’s Private Secretary Graham Sandiford on November 23, 1984 - the day following the Hume-Hurd meeting records.
Despite these efforts Molins ultimately left Londonderry but thanks to the investment of former workers and other local investors found work with the establishment of Maydown Precision Engineering in 1985, at the former Molins site.
Meanwhile, on the topic of Mrs Thatcher having rebuffed the Taoiseach at Chequers: “Mr Hume had commented that, because of the historical background, when an Englishman and an Irish nationalist disagreed, the tendency was for the Irish nationalist to feel humiliated. This explained some of the emotional reaction that had occurred.”
He also said he believed the Irish Government would have been unable in 1984 to carry a referendum securing the amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution, which at the time declared sovereignty and putative jurisdiction over the whole of island.
The Articles were eventually amended by the Republic of Ireland after the southern referendum to adopt the Belfast Agreement in 1998.