Belfast Telegraph

Brexit chief Davis had key role in early stages of peace process, claims author

By Claire McNeilly

Conservative Brexit Secretary David Davis was tasked with reaching an agreement with the IRA over bringing the Troubles to an end in the 1990s, according to a new book.

Mr Davis, one of the leading candidates to succeed Theresa May should she step down as Prime Minister, sought advice from Northern Ireland author Martin Dillon over who he could trust in the IRA leadership to deliver a workable resolution to the campaign of violence.

Dillon, who had been living in France after leaving Belfast in the wake of death threats from paramilitaries, travelled to London for a meeting with Mr Davis, who was then a senior advisor to Prime Minister John Major - and whose role in the peace process was hitherto unknown.

The security expert advised the influential Tory that, for a deal to be possible, "Martin McGuinness would have to keep Gerry Adams alive".

Their encounter is recalled in Dillon's new book Crossing The Line: My Life On The Edge, which chronicles the former BBC man's relationships with influential terrorist leaders on both sides of the divide.

Dillon said that Mr Davis had been dispatched by Number 10 - which had already begun secret negotiations with the IRA - to find out which of the organisation's commanders were most open to an agreement, and whether they could sell a peace deal to their rank and file.

"I concluded from some of the things he (David Davis) said that any agreement would involve decommissioning and would not meet the IRA central goal of a united Ireland," wrote Dillon.

"I shared with David my belief that Adams wanted to go down in history as someone who had changed the political dynamics of Ireland.

"Confusingly, he was an idealist and a realist.

"He saw himself as a creative revolutionary in the 1916 Padraig Pearse tradition, but he was also pragmatic."

The book recounts Dillon's words to Mr Davis: "I believe Adams is the most likely member of the IRA's Army Council to propose negotiating a deal with the British government.

"But Martin McGuinness will have to keep Adams alive before and after negotiations become a reality.

"McGuinness has the confidence of the IRA's rank and file. I suspect he will support Adams if there is a deal on the table he, too, can sign off on."

Dillon explained that the reference to keeping the Sinn Fein president alive was related to him being a prime target for loyalist assassins - and added that he didn't need to point out that the British Government was well equipped to ensure Adams' survival.

"MI5 and Special Branch had enough influence in loyalist terror groups to eliminate any risk from these elements," he said.

"However, republicans posed a significant threat because they could get to Adams easily.

"They would kill him if they thought he was selling out.

"The person who had the military clout to stop that happening was McGuinness."

Mr Dillon said that "David Davis later thanks me for speaking frankly and conveyed the prime minister's appreciation of my openness".

On Saturday the Belfast Telegraph revealed some of the explosive claims contained in the legendary former BBC Northern Ireland journalist's latest book.

Crossing the Line includes claims that his former employers were biased against Catholics and nationalists during the Troubles.

Mr Dillon, who worked as a reporter and producer at the corporation during the worst of the violence, said the BBC "paid scant regard to nationalist culture or social injustice" at that time, so much so that one of his colleagues described himself as the "token Catholic".

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph