The sad news today of the death of intermediary Brendan Duddy prompted me to revisit a short article I wrote a few years ago about his decision to donate his papers to the National University of Ireland Galway. It recalls for me his exceptional energy, stamina and determination, qualities that were essential to his work as an intermediary.
The image shows sample passes that British representatives gave to the Provisionals at one of their regular secret meetings in Duddy’s house in Derry in 1975
NUI Galway \ RESEARCH MATTERS Issue 5 \ Summer 2013
“In 1997 Brendan Duddy phoned me at my workplace in the University of Ulster’s International Conflict Research Centre in Derry. He told me he was impressed with a
book I had just published on the escalation of the Troubles in Derry and asked me to call to his house. I had no idea who he was. Almost four hours later, during which time he spoke to me in urgent and impassioned tones, I still had no idea who he was. He seemed to have some kind of intense personal investment in the peace process whose nature was not at all clear to me and something was holding him back from talking openly. The encounter stuck with me but shortly afterwards I got a job as a lecturer in politics in Galway and left Derry for good. There was no opportunity to inquire further. When I began in 2003 to do some research on Bloody Sunday, an old friend and NUI Galway graduate, Garbhan Downey, suggested I contact Brendan Duddy. He told me cryptically that Duddy ‘had a story to tell’. When I phoned Duddy he agreed immediately to meet me again.
“The tension between his desire to tell his story and the secrecy and silence that he had
been committed to for a lifetime shaped our conversations. His almost physical resistance to speaking about topics on which he had maintained secrecy for so long co-existed with an energy and a capacity for exposition that was inexhaustible.
“Our conversations would continue well into the evening, in the book-lined office, in the kitchen as we waited for the kettle to boil, in the hallway. In a way I was reliving the experiences of the British and Republican interlocuters with whom he would speak for hours on end. Recalling his conversations with the senior MI6 agents he dealt with he told me ‘…in one four hour dialogue with anybody you want to mention, Michael [Oatley], Rob [Browning], any of them, there would be half a sentence that mattered and you trained yourself to listen for that half sentence . . .and it was that half sentence which made the difference, either way.’
“It was two years before he allowed me to start recording these interviews and even longer before he began to talk about sensitive issues, such as the hunger strikes.
“And then, during a conversation in his office in 2008, he paused to lean over and slide
back one of the cabinet doors that were built in below the bookshelves. He explained to me for the first time that throughout the twenty years of his work as an intermediary he had held on to documents. His archive included diaries of the 1975 talks, of the 1981 hunger strike negotiations and of the 1993 contacts. He asked me what I thought he should do with them and I spoke in general terms about the possibilities for lodging them in an archive. Around a year later he told me that he would like to deposit the papers in Galway. The librarian John Cox, the University Foundation and Louis de Paor at the Centre for Irish Studies provided resources for cataloguing the papers. Archivists Kieran Hoare and Vera Orschel set about the task, building on the extensive work already done by Duddy’s son-in-law Eamonn Downey. In 2011 the university celebrated the donation of the papers with a public launch for the Duddy family and a symposium on Negotiating Peace.
“Duddy’s role was that of an active facilitator and mediator. His papers provide an insight into the relationship between the British state and the Provisional Republican movement from the unique perspective of an individual located at the grinding intersection between the two. They will be a key resource for scholars of mediation and conflict for many years to come.”
The Duddy papers are open to researchers.