Northern Ireland news

State Papers: Historic talks between British government and Martin McGuinness revealed

Martin McGuinness, pictured as part of a later talks delegation, with Martin Ferris (left) the now North Kerry TD, (2nd left) and Gerry Adams was Sinn Féin chief negotiator. Picture by Stephen Davison/Pacemaker
√Čamon Phoenix

DETAILED minutes of "a moment in history" which saw exploratory dialogue between the British government and Sinn Féin following the 1994 IRA ceasefire reveal a "stand-off on arms" as the central hurdle.

The record is of the first meeting at Parliament Buildings on December 9 1994 between a Sinn Féin delegation, led by Martin McGuinness, and NIO officials, headed by permanent under-secretary, Quentin Thomas.

Also in the Sinn Féin team was Gerry Kelly, Lucilita Bhreatnach, Sean McManus and Siobhan O'Hanlon.

Mr Thomas noted the lack of Sinn Féin nameplates on the table, while Mr McGuinness's opening gambit was asking `How Fred was'.

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'Fred' was the code-name of senior British intelligence agent Robert McLarnon who had been in contact with Mr McGuinness during 1992-3 secret talks with the IRA, who used the cover in Derry of a businessman wanting to create jobs.

`Fred'/McLarnon was in constant contact with Mr McGuinness until the public revelation of the `back-channel' in November 1993 and allegedly claimed that the future deputy first minister told him: "The war is over and we need your help to end it" - something denied by the Derry republican.

When the NIO chief replied that he didn't know, he reposted: "I think you do" and Mr Thomas said he knew "who was meant but he didn't know how he was".

Mr Thomas stated: "I am conscious of a moment of history... but history forms a gulf between us.... The past hangs like a chain around Ireland's neck and around Britain's too.

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NIO anger at Albert Reynolds' public handshake with Gerry Adams Tánaiste critical of British response to IRA ceasefire Patrick Mayhew believed 'everything to be played for in New Year' Martin McGuinness accused NIO of 'brass neck' in branding IRA arms the stumbling block to talks Historic talks between British government and Martin McGuinness revealed

NIO anger at Albert Reynolds' public handshake with Gerry Adams Tánaiste critical of British response to IRA ceasefire Patrick Mayhew believed 'everything to be played for in New Year' Martin McGuinness accused NIO of 'brass neck' in branding IRA arms the stumbling block to talks Historic talks between British government and Martin McGuinness revealed

"The enterprise we begin is to find an accommodation, a reconciliation where those old links become benign... We must find a way to bury, with dignity, the sacrifices, mistakes and horrors of the past. We share responsibility... to work to end the conflict ."

The NIO chief hoped they could avoid recrimination and find a democratic accommodation of "the `republican perspective' as well as those of unionists and other nationalists".

"These discussions could not be more serious or more important for Ireland as a whole and for these islands we share.

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"... History grasps greedily at our back - `the mortal hunger of the martyred past' - but let us begin together to work towards the future."

Mr McGuinness regretted the government's failure to recognise Sinn Féin’s mandate.

He said the political climate for talks could improve if it responded positively to the need for demilitarisation, an end to British military operations and "a speedy release of all political prisoners".

"As Irish republicans we seek to end British jurisdiction over our country."

Mr Thomas acknowledged while the majority in Northern Ireland wished to remain part of the UK, "the minority community saw itself as Irish", many aspiring to a sovereign united Ireland, but "no-one had a monopoly of suffering. All sides had matters to regret".

Mr McGuinness joked "it was time to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor".

Mr Thomas insisted the British government was not the obstacle to a united Ireland, but admitted that London had a central role.

He said inclusive talks could not occur until "the issue of arms and violence" had been addressed.

Mr McGuinness claimed "the IRA is nothing whatever to do with us", asking if it was being asked to disarm while thousands of weapons were in unionist hands, with Sinn Féin committed to removing "all guns".

Mr Thomas insisted there was a "very close nexus" between Sinn Féin and the IRA.

Ms Bhreatnach's claim of "blatant" discrimination against the Irish language was denied by the NIO.

Mr McGuinness warned momentum was needed in terms of demilitarisation, the release of prisoners and all-party talks or "the view of the international community will be that the [British] government was fumbling".

A later NIO memo summarised: "Constructive spirit but little progress... Stand-off on arms."

 

The record is of the first meeting at Parliament Buildings on December 9 1994 between a Sinn Féin delegation and NIO officials

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