Irish State Papers: The Anglo-Irish Agreement, Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA

In part 1 of 2 reports RTÉ’s round-up of the newly released confidential Irish State papers from 1986 includes a couple of items worth highlighting in relation to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.  First up is an account of a meeting in Belfast in April 1986 between David Barry, of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Anglo-Irish division, and solicitor PJ McGrory – whose son Barra McGrory, also a solicitor, has previously represented Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, and in 2011 was appointed Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions.

From the RTÉ report

11. IRA believe Anglo-Irish Agreement will fall apart

New files released by the Department of Foreign Affairs give an insight into views on the Provisional IRA’s strategy in 1986. David Barry, of the department’s Anglo-Irish division gives a detailed account of a meeting he had with solicitor PJ McGrory at his Belfast home in April 1986.

The files noted that McGrory was providing legal representation for well-known republicans Gerry Kelly and Bik McFarlane who were caught on the run in Amsterdam. McGrory “has never taken seriously the idea that Adams is Chief-of-Staff of the IRA…he is satisfied Adams has a remarkably strong influence on the Republican movement.”

The account continues, “McFarlane and Kelly, who are strong individuals in their own right, ‘think the world of him’ and even hardened Provos in the Maze who might normally be expected to view with a jaundiced eye someone outside who is promoting a political approach, attest to considerable affection and respect for Adams. This applies particularly to the Provo OC in the Maze, Robert Storey.”

The Belfast solicitor believed that under Adams’ influence the IRA had decided to “lie low” until the Anglo-Irish Agreement “falls apart of its own accord.”

“They expect the Taoiseach and Mrs Thatcher to make some concession on the Agreement which will appease unionists and alienate nationalists. They will stand in the wings ready to reap the benefits when the time comes.”

The IRA believed the “agreement will become a ghost” and this would result in “a massive electoral shift to Sinn Féin and increased recruitment to the Provos.”

McGrory said that “the Provos would allow the agreement disintegrate by itself but not try to hasten its demise to any significant extent.”

And in a somewhat related item in the same RTÉ report

13. Anglo-Irish Agreement offers ‘best chance of defeating Provos’

A newly-released document labelled ‘Secret’ outlines a meeting between Bishop Cathal Daly and David Donoghue from the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast on 20 July 1986.

On the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, Bishop Daly tells Donoghue that it must be got across to the British, and to the Unionists, that the Agreement offers the last chance of “saving this society from anarchy.”

The briefing document also notes that the Bishop believed, “The Provos have been hit hard by the Agreement – it is clear from their defensive attitude towards it that they feel threatened by it. In overall terms, there is probably less terrorist violence now than before the Agreement.

“The Agreement if honoured by the British, offers the best, and indeed the only, chance of defeating the Provos. Of the British give in to Loyalist pressure as in Portadown, “that chance will be lost forever.”

By November 1986, Sinn Féin had narrowly voted to end their policy of abstentionism from the Dáil and any Northern Assembly – leading to a walk-out from the ardfheis led by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill, and the establishment of Republican Sinn Féin.  The Irish Times covers that episode here

In his address, Adams attacked the Anglo-Irish Agreement and claimed that internment North and South and the proscription of Sinn Féin were on the cards. He also warned Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey that no Irish person had the authority to negotiate or renegotiate a treaty with the British government while the latter claimed jurisdiction over any part of Ireland.

In the lead-up to the Sinn Féin ardfheis, senior foreign affairs official Michael Lillis reported on British perceptions of Sinn Féin arising from conversations at the Maryfield secretariat.

The British felt Sinn Féin had been surprised by the fact that the two governments had been able to finalise the Anglo-Irish Agreement as well as the substance of that agreement.

“Their view is that it is not possible to distinguish between Sinn Féin political strategy on the one hand and the campaign of violence on the other,” wrote Lillis. “We argued forcibly that there has been a change in the situation in the past five years; that short-term political opportunities and problems now matter significantly to the leadership of both the IRA and Sinn Féin and that the IRA, by becoming deeply involved in the politics of nationalist alienation, have put themselves into a position where they have no option but to respond politically. [added emphasis]

“We suggested that this was different from the concerns of the republican ‘warriors’ who previously ran the movement from the South and whose concern was exclusively with the single objective, however long-term, of forcing the British to withdraw,” said Lillis.

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