Jake O'Kane: Derry needs a statue of peacebuilder Brendan Duddy

Jake O'Kane

Jake O'Kane

Jake is a comic, columnist and contrarian.

Brendan Duddy
Brendan Duddy

ONE benefit of writing for this newspaper is that I get to check back and see the odd occasion where something I’ve proposed has become a reality.

In my column of June 27 2020, I wrote: "I suggest we erect more statues, but not of politicians – we’ve enough of them.

"Instead, let’s erect statues of individuals who’ve excelled in other fields, especially if they originate from minorities seldom memorialised, such as women".

The good news is that Belfast City Council recently submitted planning permission to erect statues of Mary Ann McCracken and Winifred Carney. While not so arrogant to believe this decision was due to anything I wrote, on the off chance that someone is listening, could I offer one final statue suggestion?

Having just finished Peter Taylor’s brilliant book Operation Chiffon about the secret negotiations between the British and IRA culminating in the ceasefire and peace, I discovered the story of Derry’s Brendan Duddy, whose secret work for peace wouldn’t be out of place in a spy novel and cries out for recognition.

Brendan Duddy
Brendan Duddy

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Brendan, a successful businessman, could have chosen a comfortable, secure life, but instead took on the onerous and dangerous role of being a secret conduit between successive British governments and the IRA leadership.

For decades, he worked in complete anonymity to end the violence by ensuring a line of communication remained open. This was dangerous work which involved dealing with British intelligence and resulted in him being interrogated by the IRA on several occasions, suspicious that he may have been a British agent.

Undeterred, Duddy’s decades of effort bore fruit with a meeting in his home between Martin McGuinness, Gerry Kelly and a representative of the British government – a pivotal moment in the peace process which wouldn’t have happened but for his indefatigability.

The MI6 agent liaising with Brendan had the codename ‘The Mountain Climber’, but both he and Brendan climbed the same mountain with no guarantee of ever reaching the summit: luckily, they persevered.

At his Requiem Mass, Peter Taylor paid him this tribute: "John Hume and David Trimble deserved the Nobel Peace Prize – but Brendan Duddy deserved it too".

I hope the good citizens of Derry soon see fit to memorialise this forgotten hero of our peace process.

Jake O'Kane in Rome
Jake O'Kane in Rome

I FELL in love with Rome on a school trip as an eleven-year-old. My most recent visit last week with my family was the seventh I’ve taken over the years. We arrived on August 15 at the beginning of an Italian holiday called ‘Ferragosto’, when the sensible citizens of Rome evacuate to the coast or surrounding hills from the stifling heat of the city.

Having visited Rome for decades, I noticed subtle changes, such as new entrance charges for places such as the Pantheon, with other attractions including the Vatican Museums and Colosseum now so popular you need to book weeks in advance.

Thankfully, one thing which hadn’t changed was the citizens of Rome.

While I understand why the Trevi Fountain or Spanish Steps are irresistible to visitors, a highlight for me has always been sitting outside a coffee shop watching the locals.

Invariably dressed impeccably and possessing a unique confidence and enthusiasm, they communicate with such physicality I can’t imagine what Italian sign language looks like. What would look like two guys ‘kicking off’ in our culture in Rome is nothing more than a friendly disagreement between friends over the result of a football game.

Long baffled at their ability to afford a lifestyle of designer clothes, fast cars and eating out, a friend explained that unlike us, they don’t aspire to own their homes, preferring instead to rent. This explained another conundrum about its residents, namely, why they looked so healthy and happy.

The heat and humidity during our visit was so heavy it sometimes felt like we were swimming rather than walking, but we still managed to hit most of the sights on our five-day trip.

My reward was visiting old friends such as The Dying Gaul sculpture in the Capitoline Museum and Michelangelo’s Moses in San Pietro in Vincoli.

Not content to just visit St Peter’s Basilica, my wife – the Protestant – insisted we go to the top of its dome, involving a climb up its claustrophobic corkscrew staircase of 551 steps – in stifling heat. Even the priests who oversaw my school visit as a child didn’t inflict such a punishment.

I only half-joked that her enthusiasm for the seat of Catholicism may yet prove enough to ensure her ascension into Heaven.