Northern Ireland

Brendan Duddy: Secret peacemaker dies

Brendan Duddy
Image caption Brendan Duddy played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process

Brendan Duddy, the Derry businessman described as Northern Ireland's secret peacemaker, has died aged 80.

For more than 20 years, he acted as secret back-channel between the British government and the IRA leadership.

He was at the centre of a chain of events that ultimately led to the historic IRA ceasefire of 1994 and the Good Friday peace agreement.

BBC reporter Peter Taylor, who made a documentary about Mr Duddy, said he was the "unsung hero of the Troubles"

The veteran journalist, who has reported extensively on the Troubles, told the BBC: "I don't think the part he played has ever been fully recognised and his place in history will be quite rightly secured.

"The fact we have a relative peace in Northern Ireland would not have happened without the remarkable efforts Brendan made.

"I'm sure that took its toll on him. He was a very fit, athletic, agile man. I think it took its toll in the long term and he did it at great risk to himself and his family."

Image caption Thirteen people were shot dead when the Army opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in Londonderry in 1972 - another person died later

Tributes are being paid on social media to Mr Duddy, who was born in Londonderry on 10 June 1936.

Danny Kennedy, from the Ulster Unionist Party, tweeted: "Sorry to learn of the death of Brendan Duddy. I served with him on the NIPB for a brief period. He was a fine and honourable man."

The SDLP's Mark Durkan tweeted: "Brendan Duddy RIP - Ear for thinking, tongue for explanation, eye for nuance, head for ideas, heart of peace. "Tutored" me during Hume-Adams."

Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion said he was a "key figure in the business life of Derry for decades".

"His firm belief in dialogue also helped resolve parading issues and, through his membership of the Policing Board he helped shape the accountable policing we have today," she added.

Image caption Brendan Duddy was codenamed "Soon"

During the civil rights demonstrations of the late 1960s, Mr Duddy ran a fish and chip shop whose beef burgers were delivered by young van driver called Martin McGuinness, the future IRA leader and deputy first minister, who died in March this year.

While Mr Duddy's public face was the family business, he got a taste of the role as go-between just before Bloody Sunday in 1972, when he was asked by the police to persuade IRA members to remove their weapons from the Bogside.

After Bloody Sunday, Mr Duddy met an MI6 officer called Michael Oatley and became the secret channel between the British government and the IRA, that would last until the 1990s.

Codenamed "Soon", he was the key link between then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the IRA during the 1981 hunger strikes.

Famous in Columbia

In the early 1990s, he hosted talks at his own home in Derry between Mr Oatley and the intelligence services, and Mr McGuinness and the republican leadership.

According to Mr McGuinness, Mr Duddy's successful role in the peace process was so renowned it even reached Colombia.

In 2014, the Sinn Féin politician said that when he met President Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian leader told him that when his government opened a back channel with the rebel group Farc, the negotiator was codenamed "Brendan".

While playing the role of peacemaker, Mr Duddy also grew his business empire - the family firm, Duddy Group, has interests in property, bars, restaurants and hotels, including Derry's City Hotel and the Ramada Hotel in Portrush.

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