“a board of governors, just like ICI..”

Journalist Peter Taylor’s programme on one part of the back channel between the UK government and the Provisional IRA is due to be broadcast next week, ahead of his four part series on the history and development of modern terrorism, and interviews with Brendan Duddy have been appearing in a number of places. Peter Taylor’s previewing article is here [and provides this post’s title]. But while the Guardian report refers to those who questioned Brendan Duddy in 1993 about the contested message from Martin McGuinness to the UK government, that the “conflict is over”, as four “very senior Provisionals” [quoting Duddy], the Belfast Telegraph report on their interview with Duddy has this to say

The Belfast Telegraph understands that when questioning Mr Duddy, Mr Adams was accompanied by three other senior republicans – now Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness, his junior minister Gerry Kelly and party Vice President Pat Doherty.

There’s one other point of interest to note, although it might be entirely coincidental.

According to this extract from Jonathan Powell’s book.

MI5 insisted that the operation had to be mounted by one of their staff and found a retired senior SIS officer who had recently been re-employed by the security service. This officer introduced himself to Duddy (who named him “Fred”) and took over running the link.

The link served a useful purpose, not least in focusing the British government’s mind on what they wanted, but it really took off when, in February 1993, “Fred” brought back a message purporting to come from Martin McGuinness. The message contained the following: “The conflict is over but we need your advice on how to bring it to an end. We wish to have an unannounced ceasefire in order to hold a dialogue leading to peace. We cannot announce such a move as it will lead to confusion for the volunteers because the press will interpret it as surrender. We cannot meet the secretary of state’s public renunciation of violence, but it would be given privately as long as we were sure that we were not being tricked.”

‘Fred’, as Peter Taylor mentioned in this previous report, was actually known as ‘Robert’.

The current head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, was involved “in Irish-related counter terrorism during the late 1980s and 1990s” and according to one report preferred to be known as ‘Bob’.

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  • Ty

    Pete is the MI5 officer not Frank Steele, mentioned here in the Irish News?

    Powell book reveals secret political links By Staff reporter

    The extent of secret links between the British

    government and the IRA that stretched back two decades have been revealed by Tony Blair’s ex-aide.

    Jonathan Powell’s book on the peace process also claims that the DUP developed secret links to Sinn Fein after their success in the 2003 assembly elections.

    Mr Powell, said Brendan Duddy, a Co Derry businessman, had been “the key” to the secret Downing street link and said he risked his life to allow it to happen between 1973 and 1993.

    “It is very hard for democratic governments to admit to talking to terrorist groups while those groups while those groups are still killing innocent people,” writes Mr Powell.

    “But on the basis of my experience I think it is always right to talk to your enemy.

    “Luckily for this process, the British government’s back channel to the Provisional IRA had been in existence whenever required from 1973 onwards.”

    The link was established through a Secret Intelligence Service officer, Frank Steele, who made contacts in the Falls Road and Derry’s Bogside.

    It was used three times – to negotiate and IRA ceasefire during the 1970s, during the 1980s hunger strike and in the early stages of the peace process a decade later.

    However, communication broke down in 1993 during claims that Martin McGuinness, right, sent a message to say the IRA’s conflict was over.

    “The real significance of the link in the last chapter of its 20-year history lay in the impact which McGuinness’ supposed desire for an unofficial ceasefire had on Major and the cabinet, who, with the exception of the sceptical Ken Clarke, were convinced there was at last the possibility of making progress towards peace.”

    In his book serialised in The Guardian, Mr Powell also said the DUP had established its own secret channel to Sinn Fein in 2003.

    “They [the DUP] were no different from the British government at the time of John Major or Margaret Thatcher saying they never had contacts with the IRA – but actually doing so as well.”

    Deputy leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson, right, yesterday denied there had been any secret communications.

    “There was no back channel to Sinn Fein at all, not at any point (before the parties met publicly in March 2007),” Mr Robinson said.

    “There is plenty of evidence that was the case, with Sinn Fein coming out of Downing Street drawing different conclusions from us about what the government was saying.”

    He said the meeting Mr Powell was referring to was when Mr Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Ian Paisley jnr met Sinn Fein on March 24.

    “Up until that day we had never had any meeting, under any guise,” he said.


    Jonathan Powell describes two encounters with Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and members of the Blair family.

    At one stage he writes how Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were found in the garden at No 10 learning how to skate with the Blair children.

    “I looked out of the window to see them playing with the Blair children and trying to ride Nicky Blair’s skateboard down the path through the rose garden.

    “I was terrified they would be photographed and rushed outside to shepherd them back in.”

    At another stage, in 1999, Cherie Blair was showing fashion designer Ralph Lauren around No 10.

    They bumped into McGuinness and he introduced the designer to Gerry Kelly, asking him what he thought of Kelly’s matching grey and beige outfit.

    “Adams and McGuinness themselves always opted for a version of smart-casual we called ‘terrorist chic’,” commented Powell.

  • Pete Baker


    That seems to refer to the initial contact, in 1973.

    ‘Fred’ took over the link in the early 90s.

    At the minute it’s only coincidental, but I thought I’d note that coincidence all the same.

  • Ty

    Ah I get ya, and so you think perhaps coincidentally call me ‘bob’ was Robert, but if that is the case then he wasn’t sacked at the end of the year as Peter Taylor assumed?

  • Pete Baker

    I’d be cautious about drawing any conclusions at this point, Ty, and Powell refers to ‘Fred’ as being “a retired senior SIS officer who had recently been re-employed by the security service.”

    It is MI5 after all..

  • Frustrated Democrat

    How many people reading this believe that there was not a conduit between SF and the DUP before 2007?

    I think it is not difficult to guess the real answer, not the spun version.

  • Smithsonian

    Frustrated Democrat
    Couldn’t agree more. It is laughable to suggest that the deal could have been done on night in St. Andrews.

    It beggars belief that people try to spin that the DUP and SF suddenly fell in love with each other. This has been a long drawn out negoitation between both sides.

  • waffler

    Hope martin doesn`t see the above before the watershed and we`d better be careful at a risk of getting a virus or 2

  • picador

    ‘The Belfast Telegraph understands that when questioning Mr Duddy, Mr Adams was accompanied by three other senior republicans – now Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness, his junior minister Gerry Kelly and party Vice President Pat Doherty.’

    It seems that this Q and A session must have occurred after Scap was decommissioned.