Brendan 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.