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German clergyman who hosted secret talks between northern parties in 1980s dies

Father Alec Reid was present at the secret talks as a go-between with Sinn Féin, who were not officially represented. Picture by Colm Lenaghan\Paul McErlane Photography

A GERMAN pastor who hosted secret talks between parties from the north at the height of the Troubles has died.

Dr Eberhard Spiecker, a Lutheran clergyman in Duisburg, in what was then West Germany, convened private discussions in 1988 involving the DUP, UUP, Alliance and the SDLP.

Amongst those who attended were the DUP's Peter Robinson and the SDLP's Austin Currie, while the late Father Alec Reid was present as a go-between with the republican movement after objections were raised about the direct involvement of Sinn Féin.

Dr Spiecker, who had contacts in the Irish Presbyterian Church, said he had wanted to host the talks as part of an attempt to bridge divisions which had widened since the 1981 republican hunger strikes.

He said the talks followed on from previous meetings held in German cities in 1985 and 1987.

Austin Currie said that the clergyman had tried to find a way to overcome the unionist contention that the Anglo-Irish Agreement be set aside before talks begin.

Dr Spiecker proposed that the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, made up of British and Irish government officials be suspended for a period to allow talks between the parties.

Mr Currie said: "The failure to take up the proposal at Duisburg created an opportunity for the extremes which filled the vacuum."

Dr Spiecker was thanked for his efforts by Dr Brian Mawhinney, then NIO minister, at a meeting in 1989.

The minutes of the meeting noted: "In choosing someone to come to Duisburg to represent the republican movement they needed someone 'acceptable' to the unionists, who knew the views of Sinn Féin and who would be able to report back to them."

However a NIO official wrote to the minister that while well-meaning, there were some doubts "as to how much he (Dr Spiecker) really knew about the NI political scene".

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