‘Secret peacemaker’ Brendan Duddy ‘risked life for peace’

Mourners told of Duddy’s role as intermediary between IRA and British government

Documentary-maker Peter Taylor with Brendan Duddy, the man he dubbed the “secret peacemaker”. Photograph courtesy of Duddy family

Documentary-maker Peter Taylor with Brendan Duddy, the man he dubbed the “secret peacemaker”. Photograph courtesy of Duddy family

 

The “secret peacemaker” Brendan Duddy risked his life to make an “incalculable” contribution to peace, mourners at his funeral in Derry were told on Monday.

Broadcaster Peter Taylor – who revealed Mr Duddy’s role as an intermediary between the IRA and the British government in a 2008 documentary – also said he believed the Derry businessman deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr Duddy was the secret go-between the IRA’s Martin McGuinness and the British government for more than 20 years. He passed away last Friday aged 82. He had been ill for some time.

The coffin of Brendan Duddy leaves St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The coffin of Brendan Duddy leaves St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

He acted as an emissary between the IRA and then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher during the 1981 hunger strikes, at a time when British public opinion would not tolerate talking to terrorists. His role helped lead to the IRA ceasefire of 1994 and the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

“Brendan took many personal risks for peace,” Mr Taylor told mourners at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry, “and actually did put his life on the line”.

In 1974 “he was summoned to explain himself before the IRA’s army council and he was given a really hard time because they weren’t sure whether they could trust him or not. I remember him saying to me that, afterwards, he overheard them asking whether they should kill him as a suspected agent.”

John Hume arrives at St Eugene’s Cathedral. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
John Hume arrives at St Eugene’s Cathedral. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Civil rights movement

Among those in attendance at the funeral in St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry were a number of figures from the civil rights movement, including the Nobel laureate John Hume, Eamonn McCann and Nell McCafferty.

The Foyle MP Mark Durkan and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also attended, as did Sinn Féin MLA’s Elisha McCallion and Raymond McCartney.

The State and government were represented by aides to President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.

The chief celebrant at the Requiem Mass, Fr Chris Ferguson, described how the family’s fish and chip shop became the venue for civil rights meetings.

“With the onset of the Troubles, the café on William Street occupied a no-man’s land, halfway between the battle lines of rioters and the security forces.

“Even then, Brendan seemed to find himself occupying the land in between,” said Fr Ferguson. “This first step towards the possibility of a peaceful future required trust and Brendan knew the value of creating and maintaining trust on all sides, which, would allow the seeds planted through dialogue to produce the peace process.

Personal friends

Also in attendance were the former Church of Ireland Dean of Derry, Rev William Morton, and the Rev David Latimer of First Derry Presbyterian Church – both personal friends of Mr Duddy.

In his eulogy, Mr Taylor told mourners that one of Mr Duddy’s greatest regrets was that he had been unable to end the 1981 hunger strikes,which led to the deaths of 10 men.

Brendan Duddy, who played an important role in securing peace in Northern Ireland, who died aged 80. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

“I remember Brendan reading to me the communications he had received from Bobby Sands just before he died after 66 days on hunger strike.

It said, ‘to you and yours, may I be permitted to say a last goodbye, and if my passion is to mean anything may it mean peace and freedom for you and yours, and may I be permitted to say how much I appreciate all the efforts you’ve made on our behalf’. I remember Brendan choking and breaking down as he read that from Bobby Sands.”

Born in the Glen area of Derry in the 1930s, Mr Duddy originally went to work in England, but returned to Derry to start his fish and chip business. He went on to become one of Derry’s most successful businessmen, and the owner of a number of shops and hotels.

“Brendan described to me a young man called Martin McGuinness who used to deliver beef burgers,” said Mr Taylor. “Brendan told me Martin would come along and put the box of burgers on the counter and start chatting up the girls, and he would say, ‘come on, Martin, there’s work to be done’. I asked Brendan if he thought Martin had any interest in politics and he said absolutely none.”

Intermediary

Mr Taylor told mourners that Mr Duddy’s role as an intermediary began in 1973, when he first met MI6 officer Michael Oatley.

“Their relationship lasted on and off for 20 years. Michael’s job was to relay the thinking of successive British governments, and Brendan was the intermediary in that vital chain between the British government and the IRA Army Council through that critical time of the Troubles.

“During these years Michael Oatley became known by the media by the codename of the Mountain Climber. I came to the conclusion that both were mountain climbers, because both Michael Oatley and Brendan Duddy were climbing the same mountain.

Former MI6 officer Michael Oatley – who travelled to Derry for the funeral – with Brendan Duddy’s widow Margo. Photograph courtesy of Duddy family
Former MI6 officer Michael Oatley – who travelled to Derry for the funeral – with Brendan Duddy’s widow Margo. Photograph courtesy of Duddy family

“They were climbing perhaps from different directions, or different angles, but their common aim was to reach the summit and to plant the flag of peace which they finally did, with the assistance of many others – not least Martin McGuinness and his comrades in the IRA.

“Others climbed the mountain with Brendan, not least his remarkable family who kept his secret for many, many years. It’s no accident that three of the most prominent peacemakers who helped to bring peace were from this city – Brendan Duddy, Martin McGuinness and John Hume.

“Brendan’s legacy, and the legacy of Martin McGuinness too, is that the part that both of them – and many others – played in helping them bring about the peace we all enjoy today.

“It’s ironic that both Martin and Brendan passed away within weeks of each other, marking the end of an era in the eventual transition from war to peace. Brendan’s contribution to that evolution is incalculable, and it is only just being belatedly recognised, and rightly so. John Hume and David Trimble deserved the Nobel Peace Prize but Brendan Duddy deserved it too.”