Former IRA-British government ‘go-between’ Brendan Duddy dies

Tributes paid to Derry businessman (82) who was secret link for Thatcher and republicans

 Brendan Duddy (right) at the unveiling at NUI Galway of documents highlighting the secrecy involved in communications between the British government and IRA during the Troubles. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Brendan Duddy (right) at the unveiling at NUI Galway of documents highlighting the secrecy involved in communications between the British government and IRA during the Troubles. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

Brendan Duddy, the Derry businessman who was the secret back-channel between the IRA and the British government during the Troubles, has died.

Mr Duddy, who had been ill for some time, was 82. He died on Friday.

Codenamed “Soon”, Mr Duddy acted as the go-between for 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.

Many of the crucial talks took place in Mr Duddy’s home in Derry, where those involved would clean out the fire and go and make tea.

His identity was so closely guarded that it was kept secret from other members of the British cabinet.

Mr Duddy was a former fish-and-chip shop owner who became involved in negotiations just before Bloody Sunday in 1972, when the police asked him to persuade IRA members to remove their weapons from the Bogside.

After Bloody Sunday he met an MI6 officer, Michael Oatley, and through him became the secret channel, fulfilling the role for more than 20 years.

‘Secret Peacemaker’

His work was not revealed until 2008 when he made a documentary - The Secret Peacemaker - with BBC journalist Peter Taylor.

“The notion that big things happened in the Oval Office in Washington or in the Grand Hall of the Kremlin... actually it doesn’t happen that way,” Mr Duddy said then. “It happens less formally and simply.”

At the time, Mr Taylor said Mr Duddy’s role as a peacemaker was “absolute critical” and that he was prepared to take risks because he was “driven by the desire to end the conflict”.

“As far back as 1972, he began talking to the IRA to remove weapons from the Bogside on Bloody Sunday. So, he developed these abilities to try and bring peace over a long period of 20 years,” he said.

“In the process, because he was dealing on the one hand with the British, on the other hand with the IRA, he did put his life on the line.”

The former chief executive of the City Centre Initiative in Derry, Stephen Kelly, described him as a man who “quietly helped to build our peace”.

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson paid tribute to Mr Duddy, saying “he played his part and will be fondly remembered”.

‘Widely respected’

Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion said she was shocked and saddened. “Brendan was a key figure in the business life of Derry for decades and was widely respected across the city and beyond.

“He also played a significant role in the development of the peace process over many years, and his contribution, together with others, helped end the conflict and promoted reconciliation.

“His firm belief in dialogue also helped resolve parading issues and, through his membership of the Policing Board, he helped shape the accountable policing we have today. ”

SDLP Foyle Westminster candidate Mark Durkan also paid tribute.

NUI Galway’s James Hardiman Library acts as home to the extensive archive of Mr Duddy’s papers relating to the development of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Speaking from the US on Mr Duddy’s passing, NUIG president Dr Jim Browne said history “owes a great debt of gratitude to Brendan Duddy and his family”.

During the dark days in Northern Ireland, he said, “Brendan Duddy showed an unwavering courage and commitment to creating the conditions for peace on this island.

NUI Galway is honoured to be the custodian of his papers, which offer a rich source of historical insight for scholars and researchers on conflict-resolution and peacemaking.

“On behalf of the university, I offer sincere condolences to the Duddy family. His legacy is that of an exemplary peacemaker whose contribution will be recognised over the coming years by the generations of scholars who will access the Brendan Duddy archive.”

Additional reporting: PA