Sean Donlon

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Irish diplomat

Laneside meeting

At a meeting at Laneside on 20 November 1973, James Allen accused Donlon of being the head of Irish intelligence in the north, probably because he was cultivating political contacts.

I said that I was under instructions to express concern about Dr Fitzgerald's visits and our very real suspicion as to what he, Donlon, was up to here. There were rumours about that he was the Head of Irish Intelligence in Northern Ireland. Mr Donlon replied that they had taken note of our views on Dr Fitzgerald's visits and that was the reason why the Inter-Party Committee had not visited Trade Unionists or Church leaders in the North. He explained in reply to a question that the talk on Friday near Aughnacloy, between Messrs Hume and Devlin and Messrs Fitzgerald and O'Brien was the result of an SDLP request to be briefed on Common Law enforcement as a result of doubts which had been placed in their minds at the Inter-Party talks as to what the South really were prepared to do. Messrs Fitzgerald and O'Brien had not been at the meeting with the Taoiseach on Friday and therefore could not possibly have passed on the contents of Mr Heath's message. He assured me that the SDLP had been given neither their paper on Council of Ireland not their paper on Common Law enforcement although he admitted that a summary of the latter had been passed over at Aughnacloy. As to his own role he regarded himself as an ordinary diplomat doing a diplomatic job and it was only the constitutional complications which explained why he was not on the staff of the Irish Embassy in London.
He said that he was going down to Dublin immediately today and that there would be a Cabinet meeting which might issue instructions requiring him to return to the North. I said that our suspicions might be slightly allayed if he were to make a point of 'phoning me every time he came to Northern Ireland.[1]

Anglo-Irish negotiations

The first tentative contacts between the British and the Irish took place in 1982. David Goodall, a senior British diplomat attached to the Cabinet Office, from a Catholic family with connections to Ireland, began talking to Michael Lillis, a senior Irish diplomat, ferociously clever and with staunch republican antecedents. The NIO disapproved of the whole exerecise and, as a result, was largely kept out of the loop. The negotiations were conducted in great secrecy with Goodall joined by the Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong on the British side and Lillis joined by another senior Irish diplomat, Sean Donlon, along with Dermot Nally, the Irish Cabinet Secretary.[2]


  1. National Archives file CJ 4/1759.
  2. Great Hatred, Little Room, Making Peace in Northern Ireland by Jonathan Powell,The Bodley Head, 2008, p59.