Hesitant moves towards Anglo-Irish understanding in the State papers of 30 years ago

The release of British State papers for 1983 as reported by John Bew in the Irish Times reveals the rocky road at the beginning of the journey towards the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985. Thatcher was irritated by FitzGerald’s preachiness as he tried to build some trust after Haughey’s disastrous first administration.  While FitzGerald was deeply frustrated by what he regarded as her narrow minded defence of endless Unionist political stonewalling, he detected enough potential flexibility in British official thinking to keep pegging away.

At one point in this period I was briefed to say that the FitzGerald would be prepared to accept the continuation of partition even if a majority in favour of unity emerged. This was hardly a practical policy but was presumably designed to show unionists that Irish pressure for political movement was not fixated on unity. The Irish Times published my BBC report verbatim alongside an Irish denial of its accuracy. But it was accurate, although nothing tangible came of it, except perhaps it was one among many gestures that impressed British officials in building confidence in FitzGerald ‘s coalition, in contrast  to Haughey’s earlier disastrous grandstanding over the Falklands and his visceral loathing of  unionism and the British presence  in Ireland.   This was covered by Irish UN ambassador Noel Dorr’s memoirs of his time at the UN during the Falklands war and memorably reviewed by Michael Lillis, one of the DFA’s most effective diplomats and perhaps the best known in Northern Ireland.

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  • “release of British State papers for 1983”

    For those who wish to read these papers.

  • Turgon

    One interesting part of what is mentioned here for me is the attitude of Garret Fitzgerald. He is always lionised as “Garret the Good” etc. When he died we were told how he respected Ulster’s unionist community etc. Yet this was the man who signed the Anglo Irish Agreement completely ignoring unionist wishes. Now it seems that he would have thought about not having a united Ireland even had there been a majority for it in NI.

    Walker may be correct about the idea’s impracticality but what comes across seems to be the mentality in Fitzgerald that democracy and democrat decisions are not really that important especially not in Northern Ireland. Much better that the great and the good decide whilst the little people’s views are left out.

  • Greenflag

    Fitzer was a good man and a good economist but he never quite reached the ‘cunning ‘ and manipulative political skills of a Haughey , Ahern or Paisley . He was first and foremost an academic with a penchant for odd socks . Thatcher found him less easy to listen to and deal with than Haughey .At least with the latter one knew where one stood in relation to British Irish relations .

    @ Turgon ,

    ‘what comes across seems to be the mentality in Fitzgerald that democracy and democrat decisions are not really that important especially not in Northern Ireland. ‘

    Indeed -keeping a lid on the place and avoiding a major uncivil war was and remains the main priority of all Irish and British Prime Ministers and the now NI FM/DFM .

    There are those who would say that ‘democracy and democratic decision making in NI 1920 until quite recently was a one party quasi fascist set up with zero particpation by the largely ignored Irish nationalist and republican population .

    ‘Much better that the great and the good decide whilst the little people’s views are left out.’

    Full marks for the obvious . But then in Ireland under the Union the ‘little peoples ‘view was not only left out but ignored entirely up to the mid 19th century which is one reason why there is a Republic . You could convince yourself from a ‘unionist ‘ perspective if you feel strongly enough that in present times NI Unionists or some of them at any rate may be feeling as ignored as their largely then Catholic fellow islanders felt back in the 19th century .

    Deja Vu already :(.

    Your cliched conjunction of the great with the good is not one I would share bar a few notable exceptions in the political field . In today’s world the ‘little peoples ‘views get almost as much attention as they did back when they did’nt have universal suffrage . The world (including NI/Republic/UK/USA is now effectively ruled by corporate oligarchs and international financiers and our elected politicians of all parties are their puppets whose main purpose is to rubber stamp the legislation which their corporate masters write for them .

    Barclays or Goldman Sachs could be better FM’s and DFM’s than the Peter& Marty duo .Of course you can be absolutely sure that neither of the former ever permit matters of denominational or religious differences to come in the way of the return on their investments .

    And the answer ?

  • @Turgon,

    “Garret the Good” was actually an insult employed by Haughey and his FF supporters meaning that FitzGerald was a goody two-shoes for trying to create an honest government free of corruption. We all now know why Haughey was so sensitive about Haughey’s anti-corruption efforts. He was up to his eyeballs in debt to a number of banks in order to support his lifestyle, which went way beyond his pay grade.

    The Anglo-Irish Agreement may have been reached without the consent of the unionist community, but partition was implemented without consent or input from the nationalist community. The AIA only gave Dublin a consultative role so that the nationalists would get a say, but not a veto, in appointments and policy in Northern Ireland. The fact that the unionists were so put out about the AIA is not evidence of democratic concerns but rather of majoritarian ones.

  • Turgon

    I think in a way that just strengthens my main point. You say the agreement was about majorities concerns etc. Now clearly I as a unionist would disagree but from a nationalist / republican perspective the revelations above about Fitzgerald show him in a very poor light. It appears that even in the event of a majority in Northern Ireland in favour of a united Ireland he thought it would be okay to ignore such a majority. Some democrat. As I said he seems to have been of the school that the important people should decide things and for whom democracy was an inconvince. A very modern European analysis one might suggest which is the sort of context in which I would view Fitzgerald.