Belfast Telegraph

British withdrawal was on the table, says man who brokered IRA meetings

Martin McGuinness (Liam McBurney/PA)
Martin McGuinness (Liam McBurney/PA)
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

A prominent Londonderry businessman who helped set up peace talks between the UK Government and the IRA in the 1970s subsequently claimed that London agreed to discuss a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland at the meetings.

But a BBC documentary has said that after the talks stalled, the late Brendan Duddy - who once called Martin McGuinness a "little Hitler" - suggested that the IRA should bomb a number of economic targets to force the British to make peace.

Duddy's claims about an offer of British withdrawal have been backed by former Belfast IRA leader Billy McKee who was at the negotiations.

In an interview with the Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History programme, McKee, who died in June, said: "On the table was a British withdrawal. They came to us. They sent for us at that time. We didn't go to them."

McKee said he had more than a dozen meetings with British representatives.

Former Derry priest Denis Bradley told the programme that he drove McKee across the border three or four times for talks.

Spotlight said the British agreed to release internees in return for the IRA stopping the targeting of Crown forces.

Spotlight said rumours of the exchanges caused concern among the unionist community and the police. Former IRA man Shane Paul O'Doherty said the RUC arrested him and told him they were going to use his detention to "wreck the f**king ceasefire".

Two days later the IRA responded by killing police officer Paul Gray as he patrolled Derry's Walls. Loyalists later carried out the Miami Showband murders and five Protestants were killed at the Bayardo bar, Shankill, by the IRA.

In the Long Kesh/Maze prison, republican prisoners were said by the documentary makers to be growing concerned that sectarian slayings were on the increase while the truce in targeting British soldiers was holding.

Spotlight said Duddy's diaries showed he despaired at the lack of real progress from the British, insisting the IRA had been given little to show for entering talks.

The documentary said that as tensions rose among republicans one name stood out in Duddy's diaries, that of McGuinness whom he portrayed as an "aggressive militarist" and "little Hitler" who, he claimed, wanted to run the IRA not only in Derry but in all-Ireland.

Journalist Darragh MacIntyre said that in September 1975, Duddy made an "extraordinary intervention" recommending that the IRA should bomb a number of economic targets in Britain and Northern Ireland but insisting that there should be no deaths.

His thinking, said Spotlight, was that the attacks could force the British to make terms with the IRA and bring peace.

The IRA resumed their bombing campaign but there were casualties and the talks were suspended.

Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History will be shown on BBC One NI and BBC Four at 9pm tonight

Belfast Telegraph


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