State Papers

UVF 'had secret talks with IRA which discussed federal Ireland'

Today sees the release of hundreds of previously secret government files in Belfast and Dublin. From confidential discussions about paramilitary killings and the 1994 ceasefires, to cross-border and transatlantic diplomatic rows, they shed light on key events during the Troubles and emerging peace process. Reports by political historian Dr Éamon Phoenix and the Press Association

The UVF held secret talks with the IRA 30 years ago which discussed the prospect of a federal Ireland, declassified state papers reveal
By Aoife Moore, Press Association

THE UVF was involved in secret talks with the IRA which discussed the prospect of a federal Ireland, newly-released state papers have claimed.

According to a document marked "Secret" in 1988, the meetings were facilitated by Fr John Murphy, a chaplain in the Maze prison.

The memo, written to the Taoiseach's office and among hundreds of government files released in Dublin and Belfast today, said the priest was anxious to keep the meetings confidential and listed the three main enemies of the talks as "the NIO (Northern Ireland Office), the RUC and the DUP".

"Fr Murphy was frankly surprised at the speed with which events had moved and was particularly surprised at the signs of apparent flexibility being shown by the UVF in this exercise where they demonstrated a willingness to at least talk about a wide range of possible future arrangements for Ireland, not excluding concepts like a federal Ireland," wrote Brendan Mahon of the Anglo Irish Division.

Maze Prison. Picture by Brendan Murphy

He said Fr Murphy's understanding of the concept of a federal Ireland was "based on the four provinces including a nine-county Ulster with a separate province-type arrangement for Dublin similar to the District of Columbia in the US".

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Federalism is a process by which a central and regional government share power, which indicates Dublin would have a say in a Stormont government.

The papers did not specify whether the UK would have a continued role.

"John Murphy has now informed me on a highly-confidential basis that these talks have now moved outside of the confines of the prison and that the army council of the IRA and the leadership of UVF have now agreed to separate talks with the chaplains outside of the prison," Mr Mahon wrote.

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The papers go on to state that neither the UDA nor the INLA were involved, with the former excluded in part due to "fears regarding the level of security force penetration of the UDA".

Monsignor John Murphy, who died in 2016, was a chaplain to paramilitary inmates in the Maze prison

However, it was suggested that UUP leader James Molyneux knew about the talks and Fr Murphy "did not expect any trouble" from him.

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The Co Tyrone-born priest, who died in 2016, was a chaplain in the Maze from the mid-1970s until its closure, including during the hunger strike period.

He claimed that the flexibility being shown by the UVF was "indicative of the general uncertainty among loyalists as regards their future in a changed Anglo/Irish relationship".

The memo said bishops were not aware the talks had moved outside the prison and knowledge was confined to "the leadership of the IRA and UVF, two chaplains and now, ourselves".

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