seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Brendan Duddy

brendan-duddyBrendan Duddy, a businessman from Derry, Northern Ireland who plays a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process, dies on May 12, 2017. A notable Catholic republican, who is a pacifist and firm believer in dialogue, he becomes known by Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) as “The Contact.” In his book Great Hatred; Little Room – Making Peace in Northern Ireland, Tony Blair‘s political advisor Jonathan Powell describes Duddy as the “key” which leads to discussions between republicans and MI6, and ultimately the Northern Ireland peace process.

Duddy runs a fish and chip shop in the late 1960s which is supplied with beef burgers from a supplier whose van driver is Martin McGuinness. He is first approached by MI6 officer Frank Steele in the early 1970s, but turns the approach down.

In light of the dissolution of Stormont in 1972, Duddy’s role as an intermediary starts in January 1972, when asked by friend and Derry’s Chief Police Office Frank Lagan to persuade the Official Irish Republican Army and the Provisional Irish Republican Army to remove their weapons from the Bogside. Both sides comply, but the Official IRA retains a few weapons for defensive purposes. After thirteen unarmed civil rights marchers are shot dead by British Parachute Regiment troops in what becomes known as Bloody Sunday, Duddy warns Lagan, “This is absolutely catastrophic. We’re going to have a war on our hands.”

In the aftermath of the events and repercussions of Bloody Sunday, MI6 agent Michael Oatley arrives in Belfast in 1973 seeking to understand the situation in Northern Ireland and hopefully create a communications channel between the IRA and the British Government. Duddy becomes the go-between for the communications and this leads to the IRA ceasefire of 1975/76.

Duddy and Oatley are the main channel of communications between the British Government and the IRA leadership during the 1981 Irish hunger strike. Duddy is codenamed “Soon” by the British. Over the period of July 4-6, 1981 they exchange many telephone calls, with Duddy urging the “utmost haste” on the part of the British because “the situation would be irreparably damaged if a hunger striker died.” He suggests steps which could be taken to give the Provisional IRA a way of ending the strike. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally amends the text of an offer which is conveyed to the IRA through Duddy, but the British consider the reply unsatisfactory and do not continue to negotiate through Duddy. Hunger striker Joe McDonnell dies the following day.

In November 1991, as his now friend Oatley is about to retire from MI6 service, Duddy calls Oatley to a diner in Derry. When dinner has finished, McGuinness enters the property. During the meeting, McGuinness and Oatley discuss options for moving the situation forward. A few weeks later, Duddy is pursued by a British businessman who wants to create jobs in Derry. In the first meeting, the businessman produces a letter from then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Brooke, introducing the “businessman” as Oatley’s MI6 successor. Duddy calls the MI6 agent “Fred,” and acting as the go-between they successfully negotiate a ceasefire. Talks between McGuinness and representatives of the British government are held secretly in his house.

After the end of The Troubles, Duddy serves as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and helps broker negotiations related to the marching season. He also testifies to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, with regards his role and actions of both sides.

On March 26, 2008, the BBC broadcasts a documentary entitled The Secret Peacemaker about Duddy, directed by Peter Norrey, and presented by Peter Taylor, a journalist who has known Duddy is “the link” for ten years.

In the spring of 2009, Duddy donates his private archives to the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway, where they are now available to researchers. They chart his involvement in the peace process from 1972 to 1993, and his ongoing interest, and correspondence relating to Northern Ireland, until 2007. The Brendan Duddy Archive is opened in 2011.

At the age of 80, Brendan Duddy dies at Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry, Northern Ireland on May 12, 2017.

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Sinn Féin Votes to Accept the Good Friday Agreement

Members of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the republican Irish Republican Army (IRA), vote to accept the Good Friday Agreement on May 10, 1998 effectively acknowledging the north-south border. This marks a major shift in modern republicanism as, up until now, Sinn Féin has regarded participation in a Northern Ireland body as a tacit acceptance of partition.

The agreement comes at the party’s annual conference, which includes about thirty IRA prisoners granted special leave in order to vote.

The British and Irish governments welcome the decision to formally approve the peace agreement signed at Stormont in April to create the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says he now looks forward to an overwhelming “yes” vote in referendums on the deal later in the month. The British government praises Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams saying the decision marks a final realisation that violence does not pay.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam expresses her delight at the outcome, “I recognise how significant this decision is for republicans and pay tribute to the leadership of Gerry Adams in bringing his party to support the agreement, north and south of the border.” In what she describes as an “exceptional decision,” the IRA’s commanding officer, Patrick Wilson, who is confined in HM Prison Maze, is among the 30 republican inmates freed for the conference in an effort to bring about a “Yes” vote.

Sinn Féin also votes to amend its constitution to allow members to sit in a new Northern Ireland Assembly after Adams tells his members they have a real chance to influence the strategy of the party and the way towards a united Ireland.

Martin McGuinness, one of Sinn Féin’s UK Members of Parliament (MP), tells the BBC he is optimistic about achieving a “Yes” vote in the referendum due to be held on May 22. “I think there are concerns naturally among a small section of the Sinn Féin membership, but I have to say I think the mood all over the island is that moving into the assembly to further our republican objectives towards our ultimate goal of a united Ireland is at this moment in time the sensible thing to do,” he says.

(Pictured: Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams)


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Birth of Michael D. Higgins, Ninth President of Ireland

Michael Daniel Higgins, politician, human rights activist, university lecturer, poet, and the ninth and current President of Ireland, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on April 18, 1941. He takes office on November 11, 2011 following victory in the 2011 Irish presidential election.

At age five Higgins is separated from his parents, whose struggle to make ends meet is partly the product of his father’s ill health. He is raised in modest means by relatives in County Clare and starts his working life as a clerk in a bank. With a loan from a benefactor, he enters University College Galway, now National University of Ireland, Galway, at age 20 and continues his study with the benefit of scholarships. He serves as president of the student council and becomes involved with the Fianna Fáil party. Under the influence of politician Noël Browne, he soon switches allegiance to socialism and the Labour Party. An unashamed intellectual, Higgins continues his studies at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Manchester. Before beginning a career in politics, he lectures in sociology and political science at Galway and is a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Twice Higgins runs unsuccessfully for a seat in the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, before being appointed to Seanad Éireann, the upper house, by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave in 1973. Higgins is then elected to represent Galway West in the Dáil (1981–82) and serves another term in the Seanad (1983–87), representing the National University of Ireland, before becoming a fixture in the Dáil in the seat for Galway West (1987–2011). He also serves two terms as the mayor of Galway (1982–83, 1991–92). Early on he earns a reputation as a leftist firebrand who opposes participation in coalition government. His radical commitment to human rights and to peace and justice in places such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Cambodia, as well as his advocacy of progressive issues such as equal pay for women and the rights of people with disabilities, remain constant, but he mellows over the years to accept coalition rule.

In 1993, in the Fianna Fáil–Labour coalition government led by Albert Reynolds, Higgins becomes the minister for arts, culture, and the Gaeltacht (the districts in which the Irish language and the traditional national culture are best preserved). In that capacity he champions the Irish film industry and is responsible for the creation of the first Irish-language television station, Teilifís na Gaeilge (TG4). A poet who publishes four books of poetry before his election as president, Higgins earns a reputation as an impassioned and eloquent orator in both Irish and English.

By 2003, when he takes over the leadership of the Labour Party, the diminutive Higgins has become something of a national icon, known to most people simply as “Michael D.” He seeks Labour’s nomination for the presidency in 2004 unsuccessfully, but in 2011 he is elected the ninth president of Ireland with some 40 percent of the first-preference votes. In the process he bests heavily favoured independent Seán Gallagher, who stumbles badly in a televised debate just before the election, as well as Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader who steps down temporarily as the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland to run.


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Demolition of HM Prison Maze Begins

maze-prisonBulldozers begin demolishing Northern Ireland‘s notorious HM Prison Maze, previously known as Long Kesh Detention Centre, on October 31, 2006. The prison once housed the most dangerous guerrillas from both sides of the province’s sectarian conflict.

Among the inmates at Maze are ten Irish nationalist hunger strikers who starved themselves to death in 1981. The prison has been empty since 2000, after the release of most guerrilla prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement, which ushered in relative peace after 30 years of fighting in which 3,600 people died.

A sports stadium, equestrian center, hotel, and shopping center are originally proposed for the 360-acre site in County Antrim. In January 2009, however, Sports Minister Gregory Campbell rules out the plan for a multi-sports stadium which has divided political and sporting opinion, opting instead to explore alternatives with the soccer, rugby, and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) authorities.

Northern Ireland first and deputy first ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, announce in 2010 that an agreement has been reached on building a peace and conflict resolution facility at the Maze site. It will also host the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society’s annual show. On February 2, 2012, European funding of £18m is approved for building the contentious conflict resolution centre.

Planning permission for the peace centre on the site of the former prison is granted on April 18, 2013. However, in June the Orange Order calls on unionist politicians to halt the peace centre plan, objecting to its location on the former prison site.

On August 15, 2013, Peter Robinson calls a halt to the peace centre plan. In a letter to Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members, he says it would be wrong to proceed without a consensus about how it will operate. As a result, in October 2013 the European Union funding programme withdraws its £18m offer in financial support for the Maze peace centre.

That the Maze Prison development remains unrealised 16 years after the site’s closure testifies to the complexities involved. That the prospect of redevelopment has never been taken off the table affirms the ineluctable power ideas of profit still hold.


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Birth in Belfast of Ian Paisley

ian-paisleyIan Richard Kyle Paisley, loyalist politician and Protestant religious leader from Northern Ireland is born on April 6, 1926, in Armagh, County Antrim.

Paisley becomes a Protestant evangelical minister in 1946 and remains one for the rest of his life. In 1951, he co-founds the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and is its leader until 2008. Paisley becomes known for his fiery speeches and regularly preaches and protests against Catholicism, ecumenism and homosexuality. He gains a large group of followers who are referred to as “Paisleyites.”

Paisley becomes involved in Ulster unionist/loyalist politics in the late 1950s. In the mid-late 1960s he leads and instigates loyalist opposition to the Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. This leads to the outbreak of The Troubles in the late 1960s, a conflict that engulfs Northern Ireland for the next thirty years. In 1970, he becomes Member of Parliament for North Antrim and the following year he founds the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which he leads for almost forty years. In 1979, he becomes a Member of the European Parliament.

Throughout the Troubles, Paisley is seen as a firebrand and the face of hard-line unionism. He opposes all attempts to resolve the conflict through power-sharing between unionists and Irish nationalists/republicans, and all attempts to involve the Republic of Ireland in Northern affairs. His efforts help bring down the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974. He also opposes the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, with less success. His attempts to create a paramilitary movement culminate in Ulster Resistance. Paisley and his party also oppose the Northern Ireland peace process and Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

In 2005, Paisley’s DUP becomes the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland, displacing the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which has dominated unionist politics since 1905. In 2007, following the St. Andrews Agreement, the DUP finally agrees to share power with republican party Sinn Féin and consent to all-Ireland governance in certain matters. Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness become First Minister and deputy First Minister respectively in May 2007. Paisley steps down as First Minister and DUP leader in May 2008 and leaves politics in 2011. Paisley is made a life peer in 2010 as Baron Bannside.

In November 2011, Paisley announces to his congregation that he is retiring as a minister. He delivers his final sermon to a packed attendance at the Martyrs’ Memorial Hall on December 18, 2011, and finally retires from his religious ministry on January 27, 2012.

Paisley dies in Belfast on September 12, 2014. He is buried in Ballygowan, County Down on September 15 following a private funeral and a public memorial for 800 invited guests is held in the Ulster Hall on October 19. A New York Times obituary reports that late in life Paisley had moderated and softened his stances against Roman Catholics but that “the legacies of fighting and religious hatreds remained.”


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The Bloody Sunday Inquiry Convenes

bloody-sunday-inquiry-1The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, the biggest public inquiry in British history, opens properly on March 27, 2000 when formal public hearings begin at the Guildhall in Derry. The Inquiry holds public hearings on 116 days over the year, clocking up more than 600 hours of evidence. The vast majority of the evidence is from eyewitnesses.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, also known as the Saville Inquiry or the Saville Report after its chairman, Lord Saville of Newdigate, is established in 1998 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair after campaigns for a second inquiry by families of those killed and injured in Derry on Bloody Sunday during the peak of ethno-political violence known as The Troubles. The inquiry is set up to establish a definitive version of the events of Sunday, January 30, 1972, superseding the tribunal set up under Lord Widgery in April 1972, and to resolve the accusations of a whitewash that had surrounded it.

The inquiry takes the form of a tribunal established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, and consists of Lord Saville, the former Chief Justice of New Brunswick William L. Hoyt, and John L. Toohey, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia. The judges retire on November 23, 2004, and reconvene once again on December 16 to listen to testimony from another key witness, known only as Witness X.

The results are published on June 15, 2010. The report states, “The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” It also says, “The immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of Support Company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of those deaths and injuries.”

Saville states that British paratroopers “lost control”, fatally shooting fleeing civilians and those who tried to aid the civilians who had been shot by the British soldiers and that the civilians had not been warned by the British soldiers that they intended to shoot. Saville also says British soldiers should not have been ordered to enter the Bogside area as “Colonel Wilford either deliberately disobeyed Brigadier MacLellan’s order or failed for no good reason to appreciate the clear limits on what he had been authorised to do.”

The report states five British soldiers aimed shots at civilians they knew did not pose a threat and two other British soldiers shot at civilians “in the belief that they might have identified gunmen, but without being certain that this was the case.” It also states that British soldiers had concocted lies in their attempt to hide their acts and, contrary to the previously established belief, that none of the soldiers fired in response to attacks by petrol bombers or stone throwers, and that the civilians were not posing any threat. The report finds that Martin McGuinness, “did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire.”

bloody-sunday-inquiry-2On the morning that the report is published, thousands of people walk the path that the civil rights marchers had taken on Bloody Sunday, holding photos of those who had been shot. The families of the victims receive advance copies of the report inside the Guildhall. British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the House of Commons that afternoon where he acknowledges, among other things, that the paratroopers had fired the first shot, had fired on fleeing unarmed civilians, and shot and killed one man who was already wounded. He then apologises on behalf of the British Government.