The John Whyte Oral Archive of British-Irish and Northern Irish Negotiations 1972–2006 is a collection of recorded and transcribed interviews with elites and witness seminars dealing with the process of British-Irish and Northern Irish negotiations from 1973–2006. It was created by researchers at the Institute for British Irish Studies (IBIS), University College Dublin. The archive is named to honour the role of the late Professor John Whyte as a pioneering analyst of Northern Ireland.
The archive was developed in two phases. The first, in 1998–2001, led by Jennifer Todd, recorded the recollections, perceptions and insights of key participants in the talks process that led ultimately to the Good Friday Agreement. This initiative was made possible by generous financial assistance from the John Whyte Trust Fund and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
The second, led by John Coakley and Jennifer Todd, and conducted between 2007–2011, is a much more extensive collection of interviews and witness seminars, primarily with British and Irish politicians and officials who had participated in British-Irish negotiations from 1973–2006. This project, entitled Breaking Patterns of Conflict: The Irish State, the British Dimension and the Northern Ireland Conflict, was funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (see www.ucd.ie/ibis/research/previousresearch/bps/). It focussed on British-Irish negotiations and on the senior politicians and officials who conducted them. It involved recording the reflections on the process of British-Irish negotiations of those involved in defining moments of those negotiations from the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 to the St Andrews Agreement of 2006. Research fellows and interviewers, together with Coakley and Todd, included Christopher Farrington, Michael Anderson, Susan McDermott and Robert Mauro, who with Dara Gannon, Ricki Schoen, and others helped in the task of editing transcripts and ensuring they were approved by the participants.
The resulting collection of transcriptions is distinctive in its focus on the negotiations that reshaped the British-Irish relationship and underlie the Northern Ireland peace process. It thus complements other important initiatives, which have focussed for example on negotiations with republicans (the Brendan Duddy archive at NUIG). From the beginning the project directors decided not to focus on security matters.
The Breaking Patterns of Conflict project ended in 2011, having fully met its objectives of documenting the perspectives and perceptions of those who engaged in the major British-Irish negotiations from 1973–2006. The final editing of transcripts and participants’ approval was completed and agreed by 2018.
The transcripts of thirty-four interviews from Phase 2 of the project were deposited in UCD Archives in 2018 by Professor Jennifer Todd and Professor John Coakley, UCD School of Politics and International Relations. Administrative assistance was provided by Ms Ricki Schoen, UCD Humanities Institute.
Scope and content
The transcripts record the memories of thirty-four of the central participants in the various rounds of negotiations, their recollections of events, and their interpretations of motivations in the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement (1998). The project leaders note that ‘It is now clear to us that the archive provides a benchmark of the evolving aims, principles and foci of disagreement between 1973–2006, of particular value to present and future researchers when the trajectory of British-Irish and Northern Irish relations appears less positive. It shows how elites in past decades framed their strategies and assumptions, and shows what did and didn’t work in the past’.
Topics covered include: Sunningdale Agreement (1973), Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985); Good Friday Agreement (1998); St Andrews Agreement (2006), the negotiations leading up to them and their effects; New Ireland Forum ( 1983–84); Downing Street Declaration (1993); British and Unionist reaction to the Anglo-Irish Agreement; impact of Anglo-Irish Agreement on IRA; post-Good Friday Agreement social and political climate in Northern-Ireland; the Northern Ireland Office; Irish civil service/Northern Irish Office relations; Northern Ireland Office relations with Unionists; Conservative/Unionist relations; the role of the Irish Foreign Minister in Northern Ireland; Belfast/London political relations over time; changing British/Irish relations; Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil relations with regard to Northern Ireland; political dynamics within coalition governments; differing roles and approaches of British Prime Ministers in Northern Ireland; Conservative and UK Labour Party internal divisions; the role of the EEC/EU; European Convention on Human Rights and its relationship with domestic policy in the Sunningdale negotiations; Northern Irish education system; perspectives on the British Army; prison policy; equality and human rights agenda; origins of the Troubles; extradition in the early 1970s; student politics and the civil rights movement; relationship between socialist politics and the SDLP; Alliance Party and its position in Northern Irish politics in the 1970s; Sinn Féin and IRA’s relationship with civil rights movement; Bloody Sunday; splits in the IRA (Provision/Official); hunger strikes; Wilson’s ‘Notorious Sponger’s’ speech (broadcast 25 May 1974); comparing RUC and Gardaí; cross-border economic co-operation; relations with Ian Paisley and other members of the DUP; direct rule and its impact; NORAID; Irish-American Lobby and tensions within it; Clinton administration and US involvement; Adams/Hume talks; role of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in fostering communication between groups; trust-building between Unionists/Nationalist in Northern Ireland; Anglo-Irish Secretariat; relationship between Irish state and northern nationalists/unionists; evolution of security in Northern Ireland (army/police relations, reform of police force); parades/Parades Commission.
Allied collections in UCDA
P215 Papers of Garret FitzGerald
P205 Papers of Dr P.J. Hillery
P175 Papers of T.K. Whitaker
P270 Papers of Professor James Dooge
Coakley, J. and Todd, J. (eds.). Breaking Patterns of Conflict in Northern Ireland:
Britain, Ireland and the Northern Ireland Question (Routledge, 2014)
Seven international journal articles and several book chapters using material from the project have been published individually by Coakley and by Todd, for example in West European Politics, 2011, Parliamentary Affairs 2011, Political Studies, 2014; 2 articles in Irish Political Studies 2014; Parliamentary Affairs 2017; Irish Studies Review 2017, and inter alia in Manchester University Press books edited by Aughey and Gormley Heenan (2011) and McCann and McGrattan (2017).