“There’s a lot of honour involved, and in that honour, that’s how it worked”

Brian Rowan noted something in the BBC’s NI Politics Show interview with John Major that I’d wondered about too, but as the BBC, in their wisdom, don’t archive these interviews and didn’t report it at the time, you’ll have to take his and my word for it – In that Sunday interview John Major restated that the message stating that the Provisional IRA needed the British Government’s “advice as to the means of bringing it[conflict] to a close” came from Martin McGuinness. Anyhoo.. Brian Rowan contacted the link in that communication chain, Brendan Duddy, now a former member of the Policing Board, to check. And, after acknowlegding John Major’s contribution, “John Major gave a very balanced assessment on television of the difficulties and the delicacy of negotiating peace. He played a significant part.” He argued that the Deputy First Minister

“Martin McGuinness was psychologically not capable of asking for British advice to end the conflict – the IRA’s war. That is not in Martin McGuinness’s make-up or character. Whatever message Major got, the purpose of it was to allow him to proceed with the process.”

Brian Rowan interpreted that response here

My guess is it was something much more – that Duddy had a more substantial role in trying to develop an initiative that was about ending conflict and creating a dialogue for negotiations. He was giving his analysis to both sides – and he was trying to help them think their way out of their war. So, everything that went to the British wasn’t written, or spoken or cleared by Martin McGuinness.

This is the flaw in what Major and Mayhew say about that 1993 message. Yet, by August 1994, with those two men still in their positions, the IRA delivered the first “complete cessation of military operations”.

The ‘Provos’ needed British help to end that war, but the ‘Brits’ also needed McGuinness and the IRA. They needed each other to find a different way.

While the last line is certainly true, and the thesis presented is entirely plausible, there are problems with interpreting those comments to mean that Brendan Duddy played an active and creative role in communicating between the Provisional IRA and the British Government.

Firstly, it reaches into an entirely speculative area.

Secondly John Major’s actual argument, and it’s entirely reasonable, is that he would not have been able to proceed at the time of the message noted – from February 1993, ahead of the combined pressure of the Shankill Road bombing [October 1993] and the unveiling of the existance of a communications channel – unless, after checking as thoroughly as he could, he had concluded that the message did come from Martin McGuinness and the leadership of the Provisional Movement.

The other effect from Brian Rowan’s promotion of the role of Brendan Duddy which, to my mind, undermines the credibility of his argument, is that it places Duddy’s contribution firmly in the category of being “plausibly deniable”.

It’s also worthwhile recalling this Observer report from November 1993

The communication link was said by the source to be a message-delivery service run by unofficial intermediaries; deniable ‘heroes’ who began operating after British Ministers’ public overtures – going back as far as 1989 – brought a positive reaction from the IRA.

The process, so secret that it was not even disclosed by John Major to Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, was described as an essential response to the terrorists’ ‘peace feelers’.

The go-betweens included clergymen, professionals and businessmen. The Observer source said that messengers often put their own lives at risk. Although the source emphatically denied direct government involvement, Sinn Fein chief of staff Martin McGuinness and others have said that a civil servant was used.

In a separate development, Mr McGuinness tells BBC TV’s On the Record today: ‘John Major knows who the contact is.’ He claimed meetings had sometimes taken place daily, and were continuing. According to The Observer’s information, the chain of contacts led to a key meeting with Mr McGuinness just after the Warrington bombing on 20 March, when both sides exchanged formal ‘position’ papers.

According to Dublin sources, a further meeting was planned at which each side would be represented by four ‘negotiators’. It was to take place outside Ireland – possibly abroad. Britain was said to have pressed hard for it to take place at Easter, but said that it would be conditional on a two-week ceasefire by the IRA.

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  • DK

    It would be fascinating to see those position papers. I wonder how much of each position paper has been realised?