Thirty Years Of Secret Talks And Negotiations Between Britain And The IRA

With the United Kingdom’s right-wing press whipping itself up into a frenzy over the alleged sympathy of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn for the Irish Republican Army during the thirty years of conflict in the UK-administered Six Counties, I thought I’d bring a bit of rationality to the subject. As I have pointed out before, it is Britain’s inability to accept the history of the war in the north-east of Ireland, its beginning, middle and end, which is the greatest flaw in contemporary British politics and culture. The people of Greater England simply cannot accept that the “Troubles” came to an end with, in the words of the IRA in the 1970s, “an honourable settlement“. Just as the conservative and nationalist right of UK politics must pretend that the country achieved some sort of military victory over Irish republicanism where none existed, so too must they attack Corbyn for the perceived sin of wanting a negotiated peace. A policy aim which successive governments in London privately sought from the 1970s onward, while publicly claiming to be on the perpetual cusp of a victory over the insurgency.

Below is a very short summary of the secret wartime communications, talks and negotiations between the Republican Movement and the United Kingdom from the 1970s to 2000s. Under the leadership of the Conservative and Labour parties, the UK repeatedly entered into covert backchannel deals with the IRA, while arguing otherwise to its own citizens (and occasionally, to fellow members of the same government). Of the six British prime ministers from 1969 to 1997, five engaged in talks with the Irish insurgents, directly or indirectly. These included Edward Heath (Conservative), Harold Wilson (Labour), Margaret Thatcher (Conservative), John Major (Conservative) and Tony Blair (Labour).

Talks between the leaders of Britain and the Irish Republican Movement 1969-1997

1969, August-October: Representatives of the newly deployed British Army meet members of the Central Citizens’ Defence Committee (CCDC), an initiative of Jim Sullivan, Brigade Adjutant, Belfast Brigade, Irish Republican Army. The CCDC was set up to coordinate the activities of various local self-defence groups which had sprung up in nationalist enclaves during the previous summer. Among those who met the British were senior IRA officers in the city.

1971, January: Officers of the British Army and the Irish Republican Army hold secret talks in Belfast. Agreement reached that the IRA can police certain districts without UK interference. The understanding breaks down when the British Forces are pressured into raiding nationalist enclaves in February.

1972, January: Irish Labour Party politician, Dr John O’Connell TD, approaches the Conservative Party government of the United Kingdom, offering to act as a conduit for messages from the Irish Republican Army. A tentative series of meetings with officials for the UK embassy in Dublin and Home Office in London, authorised by Conservative Party Home Secretary Reginald Maudling MP, are scuppered by the British Army’s Bloody Sunday Massacre in the city of Derry.

1972, March 10: IRA announces three-day ceasefire to coincide with a secret meeting between its representatives and senior members of the Opposition British Labour Party. This is facilitated by Dr John O’Connell TD of the Irish Labour Party.

1972, March 13: British Labour Party leaders, Harold Wilson MP (future UK Prime Minister), Merlyn Rees MP (future UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), Joe Haines (Labour press officer and journalist) and Tony Field fly to Ireland to meet IRA leaders Dáithí Ó Conaill, Joe Cahill, and John Kelly at a hotel in Dublin.

1972, June 13: IRA publicly offers one week suspension of operations to facilitate peace talks. William Whitelaw MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, rejects offer. However go-betweens push for formal meeting between the opposing sides.

1972, June 20: Secret meeting takes place in Derry between representatives of the Irish Republican Army and the United Kingdom. On one side is Dáithí Ó Conaill, the Quartermaster General, and Gerry Adams, Officer Commanding the Belfast Brigade, and on the other is Frank Steele, an officer with the Secret Intelligence Service or MI6, and Philip John Woodfield of the Northern Ireland Office (acting on behalf of William Whitelaw MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the UK’s Conservative Party prime minster, Edward Heath MP). A ten-day bilateral ceasefire is agreed.

1972, June 26: The Irish Republican Army announces bilateral ceasefire with the British Forces.

1972, June-July: Retired British Army General Sir John Hackett, former head of UK Forces in the Six Counties, begins personal contact with Dáithí Ó Conaill of the Irish Republican Army.

1972, July 7: Leaders of the IRA flown from Ireland to Britain in military transport aircraft. Secret meeting takes place in London between representatives of the Irish Republican Army, and William Whitelaw MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, acting on behalf of the UK prime minster, Edward Heath. Nicknamed the “Whitelaw Talks” or the “Cheyne Walk Talks” after the home of Paul Channon MP, the junior Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office. IRA negotiators include Seán Mac Stíofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Séamus Twomey and Ivor Bell.

1972, July 9: Truce breaks down within days of the secret talks in London as British Army troops attack nationalist refugees, victims of Loyalist pogroms, attempting to occupy empty houses in the Lenadoon district of West Belfast. Incident leads to the “Battle of Lenadoon”, a sustained six-day engagement between the Irish Republican Army and the UK Forces.

1973, May: Derry businessman Brendan Duddy is approached by Michael Oatley, an officer with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service or MI6, who is seeking to open a line of secret communications with the Army Council or military leadership of the Irish Republican Army. Oatley is the replacement for Frank Steele. Duddy is on friendly terms with Martin McGuinness, Brigadier of the Derry Brigade, IRA.

1973, September: British Army General Sir John Hackett meets Philip John Woodfield of the Northern Ireland Office acting on behalf of William Whitelaw MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Advocates for direct peace talks with the IRA. Hackett is threatened with charges of treason and his contact with Dáithí Ó Conaill ends.

1974, December 10: The “Feakle Talks” take place, a meeting between representatives of the Irish Republican Army and senior Christian religious leaders in Ireland (Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and others). The leaders of the Republican Movement at the discussions include Ruairí Ó Bradaigh, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Séamus Twomey, Billy McKee, Máire Drumm, JB O’Hagan and Séamus Loughran. The church representatives agree to take details of an IRA peace offer to the British government.

1974, December 18: Merlyn Rees MP, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, meets with the clergymen from the “Feakle Talks”. In response to the meeting Rees, with the approval of the UK’s Labour Party prime minister Harold Wilson MP, indicates a willingness to enter into talks with the Irish Republican Army. This is communicated via backchannels.

1974, December 20: The Irish Republican Army announces a Christmas and New Year “suspension of operations” to run from December 22 until January 2.

1974, December 22: The Irish Republican Army’s “suspension of operations” comes into effect. Part of covert negotiations with the British government. The UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Merlyn Rees MP, responds by releasing twenty political prisoners and paroling fifty others. British officials prepare for meetings with the IRA.

1975, January: British officials request formal meeting with representative of the Army Council of the IRA, via Brendan Duddy in Derry. Ruairí Ó Bradaigh holds talks with Michael Oatley, SIS/MI6, and James Allan of the Northern Ireland Office. Later discussions are joined by senior IRA officers, Billy McKee and Séamus Twomey.

1975, January 2: The Irish Republican Army announces that the Christmas and New Year “suspension of operations” will be extended by another fourteen days.

1975, January 15: Merlyn Rees MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, with the approval of prime minister Harold Wilson, orders the release of twenty-five political prisoners. This is seen as a confidence-building gesture towards the IRA.

1975, January 17: Talks are stalemated and IRA ceasefire is ended. Negotiations resume over the following days.

1975, February 8: Forthcoming bilateral truce between the Irish Republican Army and the British government announced by the former body.

1975, February 10: Truce comes into effect. Intense talks follow between both parties, involving members of the Northern Ireland Office, the Cabinet Office, the British Army, SIS/MI6 and the Security Service or MI5. Incident centres are established to co-ordinate the activities of the IRA and their UK counterparts (the press in Britain decries them as “IRA police stations”).

1976, January 23: The twelve-month negotiated ceasefire between the Irish Republican Army and the British government breaks down. The UK Forces use the truce and immediate post-truce period to accelerate counterinsurgency operations and intelligence gathering. Intermittent contacts between the IRA and UK continue for several more months.

1977, February: Douglas Hurd MP, the Conservative Party’s future Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Home Secretary under prime minister Margaret Thatcher MP, meets Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison in Belfast. He is accompanied by a BBC reporter who arranged the meeting. Discussion approved beforehand by the Opposition leader Margaret Thatcher MP and the Conservative Party’s Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Airey Neave MP. The governing Labour Party’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Roy Mason MP, also gives his approval.

1978, March: Using secret intermediaries, the Irish Republican Army offers a ceasefire and peace talks to Merlyn Rees MP, Britain’s Home Secretary, and Jim Callaghan MP, the UK’s Labour Party prime minister. The Republican Movement urges an end to the conflict on the basis of an “honourable settlement“. Offer is rejected. Backchannel communications are frozen.

1980-1982: The British government led by the Conservative Party’s Margaret Thatcher MP renews backchannel communications with the Irish Republican Army at the time of the Hunger Strikes.

1980, October-December: British intelligence and civil service officials enter into talks with representatives of the Irish Republican Army. The backchannel communications are chiefly handled by SIS/MI6 and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

1981, March-April: British intelligence and civil service officials step up talks with representatives of the Irish Republican Army. The communications are chiefly handled by SIS/MI6, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the Prime Minister’s Office in Downing Street.

1981, May-July: The UK premier, Margaret Thatcher MP, personally approves the aims and wording of the negotiations. Principal backchannel link is the Derry businessman Brendan Duddy, codenamed “Soon”.

1982, October-November: Backchannel communications are frozen.

1983, February: British Labour Party politician Ken Livingstone visits the Sinn Féin MP, Gerry Adams, in Belfast.

1983, July: Gerry Adams MP invited to London by UK Labour’s Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn MP.

1984: Gerry Adams MP invited to the Palace of Westminster, London, by Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn MP.

1986: Gerry Adams MP, president of Sinn Féin, and Tom King MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, enter into secret correspondence, carried by intermediaries. With the approval of prime minister Thatcher, King lays out the UK’s position for negotiations.

1988, February: Sir James M. Glover, former Commander-in-Chief of the UK Land Forces, admits during television documentary that the Irish Republican Army cannot be defeated. Despite the ensuing political controversy he stands by the claim, seen by some as an overture to a perceived “peace camp” within the Republican Movement.

1988, March: The secret discussions between the Republican Movement and the British government come to a temporary halt in the wake of a renewed military offensive by the Irish Republican Army.

1989-1994: The Peace Process Period.

1989: With the approval of prime minister Margaret Thatcher MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Brooke MP, and senior civil servants in the Northern Ireland Office begin work on a new negotiations’ policy with Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army, to be implemented the following year.

1989, December: In a carefully coded message to the Republican Movement, Peter Brooke MP admits that a “military defeat” of the IRA would be difficult to envisage, during an interview with the Press Association.

1990, June-August: Backchannel contacts between the UK and the Republican Movement are renewed.

1990, October: Businessman Brendan Duddy arranges a meeting between Michael Oatley, the SIS/MI6 officer, and Martin McGuinness, a senior member of Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army in the city of Derry.

1990, November 9: Under the direction of Margaret Thatcher MP and the Cabinet Office in London, Peter Brooke MP delivers the “Whitbread speech”, a copy of which was passed in advance to Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army. Made in London, the speech stated that “the British Government has no selfish or strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland“. This was the UK’s most public overture to the Republican Movement in two decades and judged by many to be the beginning of the Irish-British Peace Process of the 1990s.

1991-1993: The Derry backchannel is joined by two other interlocutors: Denis Bradley, a former local priest turned community leader, and Noel Gallagher, codenamed “Tax”. The latter is a trusted friend of Derryman Martin McGuinness, GOC of the IRA’s Northern Command, a member of the GHQ Staff and Army Council, and vice-president of Sinn Féin (Gallagher also acts as an intermediary for the Irish government in Dublin and Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds TD).

1991, April: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1991, June: Michael Oatley, the SIS/MI6 officer, is replaced by an individual calling himself “Fred”, but whose real name may have been Colin Ferguson or Robert McLarnon (or McLaren). He identifies himself as an intelligence officer with Britain’s Security Service or MI5 acting on behalf of Peter Brooke MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the UK’s new Conservative Party prime minister, John Major MP.

1991, August: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1991, September: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1991, October: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1991, November: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1992, January: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1992, May: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership. British team now answering to the new Conservative Party Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew MP.

1992, October: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1992, December: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1993, January: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1993, February: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1993, April: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1993, May: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1993, June: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1993, July: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1993, August: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1993, September: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1993, December: Covert negotiations between the UK and the IRA leadership.

1994, April 6-8: Temporary cessation of hostilities by the Irish Republican Army as part of secret negotiations with the UK.

1994, August 31: The Irish Republican Army announces its penultimate ceasefire after three years of intense negotiations between itself and the British government.

1996, February 9: The Irish Republican Army ends its 1994 ceasefire, resuming limited military operations in the Six Counties and the UK under a policy known as TUAS (Tactical Use of Armed Struggle). Intermittent communications with the UK government of Conservative Party prime minister, John Major, follow.

1996, November: Tony Blair MP, the leader of the UK opposition Labour Party, and Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam MP, use a meeting in London between Sinn Féin and Labour members Ken Livingstone MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Alan Simpson MP, to investigate the Republican Movement’s position on future peace talks.

1997, July 19: The Irish Republican Army announces its final ceasefire, to come into effect on July 20, following pre- and post-general election negotiations with the UK Labour Party leader and newly elected prime minister, Tony Blair MP.

(2005, July 28: The Irish Republican Army announces a formal end to the conflict.)

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14 comments

  1. …the Six Counties and the UK …

    Forgive the pedantry, but the UK, the United Kingdom, comprises Great Britain and N Ireland (or whatever term you prefer). The ‘six counties and the UK’ makes no sense; what you mean is ‘the six counties and GB’.

    1. Yes, but when most Irish people say the UK, they mean the nation and island of Britain. That is why you see advertisements or business addresses here which refer to “Northern Ireland and the UK”. That is why I use “UK-administered Six Counties”. As an Irish person I do not regard the north-east of my country as a part of the UK in the same way that any region on the island of Britain would be.

      Of course, not all Irish people would see things the same way.

  2. UK wishes the IRA days were back compared to the enemy they face now. No reasonable demands,no compromise,no quarter. And things will get far worse in future. Sadly,I see what happened in Manchester coming to Ireland in the very near future.

      1. The enemy within is the muslim community. Nobody wants to state the obvious. Ireland has possibly the fastest growing muslim community in the world. Ireland is in for a rude awakening

        1. If there is any ‘rude awakening’ in Ireland you can be sure mi6 have their prints all over it……just like Dublin/Monaghan bombings of yesrteryear. Please pay attention. It’s a mighty web they weave when they practice to deceive.

            1. Nope I didn’t say “all”.
              During the recent conflict in Ireland republicans were dismissed as cry babies and ‘conspiracy theorists’ when they argued that the British state was actively helping unionist terror groups target Catholics and republicans. Even folk within their own community dismissed these allegations and regularly fell for the official narrative that the state/police etc were saving us from civil war blah blah. British politicians/police/army spokespeople would often be filmed condemning unionist terrorism I.e “we will hunt down and pursue these monsters and bring them before the courts” etc etc. Allthewhile whilst these p.r shows were going on, behind the scenes, unbeknownst to the wider public, various British intelligence agencies were actively assisting unionist terrorism(how far that assistance goes we may never know but I can tell you some militant republicans at the time believed that in some instances British forces actually did a shooting/bombing and allowed the unionist terror gangs to claim it).
              At the same time as they were assisting unionist terror gangs they even managed to have their own agents within republican gangs. And inevitably these agents were often involved in ‘acts of terror’ by their own hand. So it is by no means a stretch to claim the British state contrived to play both sides(at times) and thus allow the state to stand aloft and declare that they were here to protect all of the community I.e they could keep up their pretence of peacekeeper in the eyes if the public and continue their terror behind the scenes.
              Taking all that into account(their dirty tricks) I would argue that it would be a walk in the park for them to contrive a few jihadi attacks in their own country after all they have mountains of experience doing such things here in Ireland. In fact it would be so easy to fool the British public because most of them don’t even know what went on here in Ireland. If you asked any of them they’d probably tell you the IRA killed tens of thousands of Protestants such would be their knowledge of this country.
              P.s if you think mi5/6 wouldn’t carry out terrorists attacks, be it on their own people or not, to further their state agenda or narrative, then you are a bigger fool.

            2. ‘Nothing to gain’? Seriously? Yip you really are a bigger fool. The British state has plenty to gain…….not least the very fact that it keeps them in the game of destabllisation of the Middle East……all with the full blessing of the British public. Easy peasy.

    1. “the Phoenix”

      More empty, meaningless soundbites – still waiting to hear the part you played in destroying the Orange terror statelet.

      Séamus :
      Excellent summary of the continuous dialogue between Britain and the IRA going on behind the scenes in the UK-administered northern part of our country since the late 1960’s.

      Go raibh maith agat.

      1. Not sure how warning of islamofascist terrorism is empty soundbites. Typical shinner. Can’t debate subject at hand.

        1. https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.jsAre you Irish, the Phoenix?

          Surely you must be able to draw the parallels between the IRA and Islamic terrorists – yes, they’re both abhorrent groups who have committed terrible crimes – but was Catholicism to blame for the IRA? If not, why is Islam to blame for ISIS?

          1. The IRA was not a religious movement. Irish republicanism is secular. You can be Catholic,Protestant or Hindu and be a republican. I am atheist. ISIS is an islamic group run by islamic scholars. They are practising pure islam. No! I draw no parallels between Irish republicans and jihadi fascist scum! If you see any you are an ignorant fool. Islam is to blame for ISIS and all jihadist fascist movements.

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