Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Duddy, 'Fred' and Brokering Peace in Northern Ireland

Dr. Niall O'Dochartaigh, Prof. Jim Browne, President, NUI
Galway and Brendan Duddy
Throughout over twenty years of violent conflict in Northern Ireland a secret channel of communication linked the IRA to the highest levels of the British government. At the heart of this channel was a single intermediary, Brendan Duddy. His house was the venue for secret negotiations between the British Government and the IRA throughout 1975. He managed the intense negotiations over the Republican hunger strikes in which ten men died (1980-1981) and he was at the heart of the contacts (1991-1993) that culminated in a secret offer of a ceasefire that was a precursor to the public IRA ceasefire of 1994.
Deposited at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway, the archive of Brendan Duddy provide a unique insight into this channel from the perspective of an individual who operated at the intersection of the two sides. 
The papers include coded diaries of contact kept by Duddy throughout 1975 and early 1976 and a diary kept for several months in 1993 when communication between the British Government and the IRA was at its most intense, as well as documents exchanged between the British Government and the IRA. Taken together with the Ruairí Ó Bradaigh papers, also at NUI Galway, these archives  provide a window on the secret back-channel negotiation that was one of the most intriguing aspects of the Irish peace process.
A recent article published in the London Review of Books and written by BBC journalist Own Bennett Jones, explores in detail the effect a single coded message, whose origins and author are still highly contested today. Owen Bennett Jones tells the story of how Duddy, MI5 operative, codenamed 'Fred' and a note to the British Government headed by John Major, said to have been authorised by Martin McGuinness, declared, "The conflict is over".

An online exhibition of selected material from the Duddy Archive, including extracts from the 1974-75 ceasefire talks and pages from 'the Red Book' kept by Duddy as he tried to broker an end to the 1981 Hunger Strikes is available here.

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