Countless books have been written about the Irish peace process. Its origins - the principle characters and key dates. Who met who, and when, and where, and what was said? And yet there are still aspects of that process which have not been aired in public. Private meetings that took place. Conversations that were held in quiet, out of the way places involving men and women who are not household names. There is another book – a negotiators book – still to be written. One of these days.
The Negotiators Cookbook is not that book. It lifts the lid on one aspect of the negotiations known to only a few. When you bring a large team of hungry republicans together for days – sometimes weeks on end – how do you feed them? This is not a frivolous matter. There is a psychology to the planning and running of negotiations.
Castle Buildings where the Good Friday Agreement negotiations occurred had a good canteen. Siobhan O’Hanlon and Sue Ramsay developed a great relationship with the catering staff that ensured the Sinn Féin team had tea, coffee, sandwiches, and hot food readily available. Then, and in the years since the Good Friday Agreement was agreed, negotiations would sometimes move to other venues. Downing Street, Leeds Castle, Weston Park, Lancaster House, St. Andrews, Hillsborough Castle, Castle Buildings and Dublin Castle. The hours could be long. Round the clock.
Talks in Downing Street were a particularly hungry event. It may not look it but the building on the inside is very large. And there are lots of people working between the interconnecting buildings that run the length of the street. But the British idea of welcoming the negotiating teams didn’t extend to providing food. It didn’t matter if you were there from early morning to late at night, or whether you were a unionist or republican, all that was provided was an occasional cup of tea or coffee and maybe a biscuit.
The late Brian Faulkner, the last Prime Minister from the old unionist regime, once complained that there was no food provided during crisis meetings in Downing Street on 19th August 1969.
Food is a simple way to break down barriers and create a relaxed atmosphere. Martin McGuinness and I met Tony Blair regularly for ten years or so. Some of our better conversations were held in Chequers over dinner. But in the main food was generally in short supply when the British side were organising meetings.
Others are less tight fisted when it comes to food. I have especially fond memories of a visit to Cuba in December 2001. I was part of a Sinn Féin delegation visiting Havana to meet with Cuban President Fidel Castro. The meeting with Fidel want on for three hours and after a short break it resumed over a dinner that began around 10pm and finished about 3am. Good food, good company, great craic.
When the negotiations went into the wee hours at Hillsborough Castle and elsewhere we would send someone off to the local chip shop. Eventually, however, Ted Howell stepped into the breach. As well as being an indispensible member of our negotiating team from the days when I was first meeting John Hume and the SDLP in the 1980s, Ted is also a first class cook. A culinary master. His occasional soirees are happy events for their great atmosphere but especially for the quality, quantity and diversity of dishes.
Ted started to make soups and bake bread and bring it up to the negotiations. It evolved over time into him arriving with bags laden with tubs of pasta, spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, salads, pies, hams, fish dishes, curries, soups and beans. Ted loves to cook with beans and his home-made breads, still warm, are delicious.
Padraic Wilson is another master baker. His specialities are fine deserts and pastries of all kinds, including exotic moist fruit cakes. Delicious and delightful.
This cookbook is dedicated to the ate Siobhan O’Hanlon and the Sinn Féin negotiations team, especially Ted and Padraic. It is a tribute to them. While the rest of us would go home and head to our beds for some sleep Ted and Padraic would be in their kitchens preparing for the next day. So, thanks to both. And thanks also to all of those who helped in the compiling and publication of the Negotiators Cookbook.
Finally, with this cookbook you have the opportunity to try out the recipes and the dishes that fed the Sinn Fein negotiating team. They would grace any dinner table. They are also healthy and nourishing. So, enjoy and bon appetite.
If you’re interested in purchasing a copy for yourself or a copy for someone’s Christmas stockings its available at www.sinnfeinbookshop.comor email@example.com or phone 00 353 18726100