July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Jim Gibney on Brendan Duddy: Secret go-between shines a light on history makers

Secret go-between shines a light on history makers
By Jim Gibney, The Thursday Column (Irish News)

The names most publicly associated with the Irish peace process are Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, John Hume, Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern, Fr Alex Reid, David Trimble,

Ian Paisley, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

The one name which does not readily come to mind is that of Derry man Brendan Duddy.

Yet Brendan Duddy, now 73 years old, is slowly emerging as another important name to add to that list from a period in time when the armed conflict here was at its bleakest.

For more than two hours last Saturday in St Mary’s College on Belfast’s Falls Road, gently nudged along by journalist and author Brian ‘Barney’ Rowan, Brendan Duddy shone a light into a world where history makers live – a world beyond the camera, the scribe and the media sound-bite.

Brendan Duddy was speaking at Belfast’s Féile an Phobail’s first of many debates. The event, ‘The Secret Peacemaker’ is an apt description of a man who kept his counsel about his role as a conduit between the British government and the leadership of the IRA and Sinn Fein for more than 20 years until he thought it appropriate to speak.

At first glance Brendan Duddy strikes you as a most unlikely person to perform the role of a go-between, which survived three British prime ministers – including Margaret Thatcher – and the various leadership changes within the IRA.

He is diminutive in stature, soft spoken and unassuming – not the sort of person to inhabit a world where spies from MI6 or MI5 knock on your door, metaphorically speaking, with a request that you contact the IRA leadership on behalf of their masters, the British government.

But on reflection Duddy is precisely the type of person to fulfil that role because he has the qualities required – discretion, dependability and trustworthiness.

Duddy, known to both sides as the ‘Mountain Climber’ (because he ran up and down mountains near his home to keep fit), knew and spoke with leading republicans such as Seamus Twomey, Ruairi O’Bradaigh, Dave O’Connell and Martin McGuinness over a 25-year period.

He did so after receiving occasional requests from a range of British intelligence operatives like Michael Oatley and his successors. These men he described as “servants” of the British government.

His first point of contact with the British crown forces was with a Catholic RUC man based in Derry, Frank Lagan. Duddy owned and ran a chip shop which he described as a “political salon”, frequented by John Hume, Bernadette McAliskey and Eamon McCann, leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

He described Lagan as a “networker” within the broad Catholic community.

Lagan’s first request was for Duddy to ask those organising the civil rights march, which became Bloody Sunday, not to march. He refused to do so.

The second request was to ask the IRA and Official IRA not to have guns on the march. This he did. Bloody Sunday was, he said, “premeditated murder”.

Lagan introduced him to Oatley in the early 1970s. Duddy came to view him as a “vehicle for change”. He told this to leading republicans and he told Oatley: “You have to talk to the IRA”.

He was involved in the background to the IRA’s ceasefire of 1974-75, which he described as “not having a chance because the time was not right”.

When Thatcher came into office Oatley told him: “Put on your long-johns, we are going into the ice-age.”

That ice-age thawed during the first and second hunger strikes of 1980-81 when he was involved in efforts through Oatley and another agent of the British government to secure an acceptable solution. At Saturday’s event he appealed for an end to the ongoing “damaging debate” about the hunger strikes.

British prime minister John Major reopened contact with him (a contact that survived British state violence and IRA attacks).

He accused the Tories of trying to destroy the early moves towards peace when they claimed that Martin McGuinness had sent a message asking for help to end the war.

He said Martin McGuinness was “psychologically incapable” of such a suggestion.

It was a fascinating discussion and in time the people of this country will rightly see Brendan Duddy as a ‘servant of peace’.

Sourced from the Irish News


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