Sean O'Callaghan

Jonathan Powell is wrong – talks with the IRA prolonged the Troubles

Jonathan Powell seems to be unavoidable at the moment. Having read his first two books a couple of times I felt a weary sense of resignation on news of the third. It wasn’t until I saw and heard him on channel 4 news that I felt serious irritation. We, whoever ‘we’ may be, should talk with everyone, everywhere, at any time, because we always do anyway – pretty much summed it up.

Words are important – the more so when they are delivered by Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, who is much credited  with making a serious contribution to the Belfast Agreement. Jonathan Powell is a serious man, although one would be hard pushed to recognise that if you tuned into his Channel 4 performance.

What really annoyed me was his statement that the British government had spoken with the IRA in 1972, then in 1974 and 1975, and that this had led rather seamlessly to the talks which began in the late 1980s. In fact, the talks with the IRA in 1972 were an unmitigated disaster. Democratic politicians were left out of the loop, the Irish government and parliamentarians ignored. The late William Whitelaw and a handful of mandarins and spooks felt it was about time they had a look at ‘these chaps’. The IRA delegation was over the moon. For them this was 1921 all over again.

The IRA was negotiating the future of Ireland with the British government. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were then utterly ignorant of the political realities of life in these islands. Of the survivors, Ivor Bell is presently awaiting trial in alleged connection with the murder of Jean McConville.

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