Northern Ireland news

State papers: Shadowy figure behind German talks revealed

Dr Brian Mawhinney in Lurgan at the scene of a car bomb in 1992
Éamon Phoenix

THE identity of the shadowy figure who convened secret talks between the Northern Ireland parties at Duisburg in West Germany in October 1988 is revealed.

He was Dr Eberhard Spiecker, a Lutheran pastor with contacts in the Irish Presbyterian Church.

In a memo for Dr Brian Mawhinney, the minister of state at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), an official wrote: "Dr Spiecker, a Lutheran clergyman, appears to have been the progenitor of the Duisburg talks last October between political representatives and to have chaired the discussions."

While well-meaning, there were some doubts "as to how much he really knew about the NI political scene".

The previously confidential papers reveal the representatives of the main parties in the north were joined at Duisburg by "a fifth person" representing the views of the republican movement.

At their meeting in February 1989 Dr Mawhinney thanked Dr Spiecker for the role he had played in the talks.

In response, the pastor informed him that the "Duisburg proposal" was that a meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference should not be held for an agreed period to facilitate contact between the parties in Northern Ireland.

Asked by Mawhinney what he thought was needed to allow the SDLP to consider devolution, Dr Spiecker replied that "on the nationalist side there must be a chance of an all-Ireland dimension".

The minister then told the German pastor that the British government knew of "a fifth person" attending the talks and asked about his contribution.

According to the minutes, "Dr Spiecker said this fifth person – he did not mention his name – had a most difficult role to play".

"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 – though not a member – and who would be able to report back to them."

The pastor said that it had not been easy for this "fifth person" to confirm the decision of the talks but he had agreed to do so.

The attendance of a proxy as a representative for the republican movement at the talks attended by the DUP's Peter Robinson in the late 1980s has not been generally known until the release of these files.

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