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.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London