WORK IN PROGRESS - IN THE FINAL STAGES OF EDITING A series of talks launched by Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for Northern in Ireland, which began in April 1991, and were carried on intermittently by Brooke and his successor, Patrick Mayhew, until November 1992.
People: 131, Procedures: 567, Documents: 370, Decisions: 1244 View more »
On 26 March 1991, the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke announced that ‘a basis for formal political talks now exists’. His observation that the endeavour was ‘an ambitious one’ was, if anything, an understatement Peter Brooke statement to the House of Commons, 26 March 1991. Any early hope that the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement would lead to the restoration and reformation of devolution within Northern Ireland had long since dissipated. While it had been welcomed by parts of the Nationalist community, it had led to a breakdown in relationships with the Unionist leaders. Only after three years of tentative ‘talks about talks’ were the parties ready to attempt to negotiate ‘a new, more broadly based agreement’. As Brooke had earlier outlined, arrangements for the restoration of devolved powers needed to be found which would ‘give appropriate weight to majority and minority aspirations and views’, while addressing the issue of how ‘the legitimate interest of the Irish Government in matters within Northern Ireland’, could be recognized ‘without dilution of UK sovereignty or the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom’ Peter Brooke, speech in Bangor, 9 January 1990
Initially talks were intended to take place during a ten-week suspension of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference from April-July 1991, but they later resumed and continued, with interruptions, until November 1992. After the British General election in 1992, Patrick Mayhew succeeded Brooke as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and historians generally refer to this series of talks as the ‘Brooke/Mayhew Talks’.
In setting out the basis for the negotiations, Brooke divided the agenda into three ‘Strands’, corresponding to the three main sets of relationships:
Strand 1 - Relationships within Northern Ireland, particularly between the Northern Irish political parties
Strand 2 - ‘North-South’ relations ‘among the people of the island of Ireland’
Strand 3 - ‘East-West’ relations, between the British and Irish governments
These strands went on to structure the later phase of the Talks that led up to the Good Friday Agreement, and, indeed, the Agreement itself.
Predictably, much time was consumed with questions of process and rules of procedure rather than more substantive questions. The minutes record lengthy discussions and disagreements about where and when meetings should take place, who should be present, and so on. However, the fact that negotiations took place at all and over all three strands was significant and raised the possibility that a negotiated multi-party settlement might be possible. Quentin Thomas has also argued that the fact that formal talks were taking place with the parties may also have helped to promote engagement in the political process with those outside it at this stage, in particular Sinn Féin (cited in Coakley, John, and Jennifer Todd, 'The Downing Street Declaration and Framework Documents, 1993–1995', Negotiating a Settlement in Northern Ireland, 1969-2019, pp.241-3 (Oxford, 2020)).
Although no agreement was reached by November 1992, small steps forward were taken. Each of the parties had had an opportunity to present position papers across a range of issues and there is indication of movement and refinement of those positions throughout the period. A large part of the productive work during the period was done in Sub-Committees and emerged in the form of various reports to Plenary, on which all the parties collaborated. One key example of this was the Strand 1 Sub-Committee report of 10 June 1992, which laid out a tentative framework for a devolved Government in Northern Ireland. There is also evidence that these reports fed into the later Framework documents drawn up by the two Governments, and when multi-party talks resumed under Senator George Mitchell four years later, papers ‘banked’ during Brooke-Mayhew talks were re-circulated, indicating the new baseline for negotiation.
We hope that the Quill model will help us to better evaluate the impact this early attempt at agreement had on the later talks process and understand the contribution of those who participated. One notable feature is the pressure the party leaders faced both from their wider delegations and those outside the process: a repeated theme is the need for confidentiality and the damaging impact of press leaks on their ability to compromise. As a result, the most constructive meetings seem to take place when the Secretary of State meets with the leaders by themselves. Other trends to observe are the increasing divergence between the two Unionist parties and a wariness of the presence of Sinn Féin as an increasingly significant political force outside the process. We see the emergence of a number individuals who will play significant roles in future years, including Peter Robinson who is influential in the sub-committee discussions in particular. For example, he played a key role in prolonging consideration of Strand 2 issues by ensuring that the DUP retained a ‘non-negotiating’ presence in Sub-Committee after he and Ian Paisley had left in protest over Articles 2 and 3 being placed fourth on the agenda (see s16413).
In the light of more recent history, it is interesting to trace how the role of the then-EC is interesting to trace. While Hume is undoubtedly the most Eurocentric in his approach, all the parties agree to the following statement, ‘Northern Ireland's relationships with the EC, with the rest of the United Kingdom and with the Republic of Ireland, have an important bearing on Northern Ireland and its people. Real progress will only be possible through finding ways of giving adequate expression to the totality of the three main relationships mentioned in the statement of 26 March 1991.’ Political Talks: Common Themes (4 May 1992)
The Brooke-Mayhew talks were originally selected by Quill as a proof-of-concept model in part because of the ready availability of the necessary source materials and the similarity in structure to the later talks in the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement. As the original Quill methodology was designed for a more formal process of negotiation, it was necessary to explore how a more fluid negotiation process might be modelled. By representing bilateral discussions with the Chairman as separate ‘committees’ within the Quill structure, and showing the Chairman take the same proposal to each delegation in turn before returning to the ‘Office of the Chairman’ with their comments and amendments, we hope we have successfully shown the process of testing for ‘zones of convergence’ before proposals would be finally brought to the plenary sessions for formal voting. See for example this visualization.
The current model of the Brooke/Mayhew talks remains under construction. While some of the potential of the model is already evident, such as the possibility to lay multiple perspectives on the same event side by side, as seen in the account of the DUP Opening Statement on 24 June 1991, it will be greatly enhanced when additional source materials and archives are incorporated alongside those to which we have already gained access.
Part of: Writing Peace.
This page shows the complete source-material for this negotiation.
Users with the appropriate permission can use this screen to make changes to the convention records from here.
This page gives access to the main visualizations used to explore the work of committees or individuals.
It is the best place to start if you have specific research questions to investigate.
This view shows a timeline of the events with an indication the
flow of documents between committees.
This will help make sense of the relationship between committees. The page also shows how busy committees were at different times.
This view offers a set of tools to examine shifting alliances.
This view shows a summary of the topic keywords associated with events during this negotiation, and
allows users to find events associated with each keyword.
This page offers a series of views for exploring the work of those involved in this process of negotiation, focusing on the hierarchical
relationship of proposals rather than on the sequence of events. Other tools presented here show the volume of work handled by each committee, or the number of events that each
individual played a leading roll in.
A tool mostly useful for those using Quill to run meetings.
This page shows the documents currently agreed to or under consideration by various committees.
From the mid-1980s, John, now Lord, Alderdice, was intimately involved in the Irish peace process. His archive spans more than thirty years of negotiation and implementation, from his early days in the Alliance Party in the 1980s, through his leadership of the party during several phases of multi-party talks in the 1990s, to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement during his time as the first Speaker of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. It also includes a small section on the Sunningdale Conference, inherited from previous party leaders, as a testimony to the origins of the 1998 Agreement. The documents that can be viewed in this resource collection were used to model Brooke/Mayhew talks and span the period from 1985 to 1992. They are also contained in the John Alderdice Collection, which includes all the documents digitized by Quill.
From the mid-1980s, John, now Lord, Alderdice, was intimately involved in the Irish peace process. His archive spans more than thirty years of negotiation and implementation, from his early days in the Alliance Party in the 1980s, through his leadership of the party during several phases of multi-party talks in the 1990s, to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement during his time as the first Speaker of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. It also includes a small section on the Sunningdale Conference, inherited from previous party leaders, as a testimony to the origins of the 1998 Agreement.
Cite as: Ruth Murray, Annabel Harris and Sofia Panourgias, Northern Ireland Brooke/Mayhew Talks 1991-1992, Quill Project at Pembroke College (Oxford, 2023).