Mullaghbawn man’s autobiography reveals truth behind Good Friday Agreement

October 25, 2011

by Bronagh Murphy

The direct input of a south Armagh man to the forging and implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has been laid bare with the publication of his self-penned book, ‘End of Term Report’.

Before he died in April 2009, Paddy O’Hanlon had almost completed his autobiography, which gives a detailed account how he, along with his two close friends Eugene Grant and Brian Feeney, debated a proposed path for peace in the North. Unknown to his two colleagues, Paddy has been commissioned by the Irish government to forge ideas from a Northern perspective to help bring an end to the Troubles.  Over months the trio exchanged ideas and suggestions.  With this information as a basis, in 1997 – eleven years before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Paddy O’Hanlon submitted his proposals to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin.  His findings on a number of contentious issues, such as policing and political prisoners, were used as a blueprint by the British and Irish governments to eventually form the Good Friday Agreement.

O’Hanlon’s documents covered six key areas – the criminal justice system, judicial appointments, political prisoners, a voting system for the proposed assembly and a fail-safe mechanism to operate during periods of suspension of the proposed power sharing executive.  These were viewed as major roadblocks to peace in the north.

He demanded that the origin of the document be concealed until such times as there would be a fully established power-sharing Executive, otherwise the purpose of the exercise would be frustrated, he believed. The Department of Foreign Affairs agreed and it has remained a closely guarded secret for more than ten years, until now.

The importance of this publication, not only as a posthumous tribute to its author, but also as an excellent reference on the origins of the Good Friday Agreement, is outlined in a review of the book by  Siobhan O Dubhain, author and director of the Tom Dunn Summer School.  She described Paddy O’Hanlon as “one of the unsung heroes” of the Northern peace process, and paid tribute to his outstanding contribution to Irish history.

“The Good Friday Agreement was nothing short of a miracle, symbolically ending 800 years of conflict between Ireland and its neighbouring island, and former colonial master.  A delicate balancing act on the part of the authors of this document, the agreement has since become a worldwide blueprint for how peace can be achieved in the face of tremendous odds.”

“One of the unsung heroes of the process, Paddy O’Hanlon, a barrister from south Armagh, son of a veteran fighter in the War of Independence, and one of the most brilliant legal minds of his generation, gives his unique insight into the forging of the historic Agreement, in the context of his personal experience of the Troubles, his family background in the village of Mullaghbawn and his own heroic struggles with an illness which eventually took his life.

One of the leaders of the civil rights campaign, he was the youngest MP ever elected to Stormont.  A founder member of the SDLP, a former senior county footballer for Armagh, a barrister at the Saville Enquiry, and a member of one of Ireland’s great political dynasties, Paddy was a gifted writer.  His wonderful flair for narrative, his sympathy and compassion for the many victims of the Troubles as well as a dry sense of humour and impatience with the ridiculous, makes this book both a great read and a reference work on the origins of the Good Friday Agreement”: Siobhán Ó Dubháin.

The input of the Mullaghbawn politician-turned-barrister cannot be underestimated as his vision for the future now forms the core of today’s policing, justice and voting systems in the North.

In the words of his close friend, Brian Feeney: “In life he never received the recognition he deserved, so now it is especially important to place on record the role he played in providing what became the outline draft of the Good Friday Agreement.  He distilled a lifetime’s thought and experience into his proposals.”

‘End of Term Report’ will officially launch in the coming weeks.