Sunday, 15 November 2015

15 November 1985: The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed by the Irish and British Government at Hillsborough, Co. Down on this day. The Agreement was the most important development in Anglo-Irish relations since the 1920s. Both Governments confirmed that there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its citizens. But it also saw recognition by the British that the Irish State had a legitimate interest in the affairs of the North and would be consulted on a regular basis as to what policies would be followed in relation to its governance.

So the Irish Government, through the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and Maryfield Secretariat, was provided with a consultative role in the administration of Northern Ireland for the first time. It was this consultative role, accompanied by the continuing conditional nature of the British claim to Northern Ireland, that caused strong opposition to the Agreement from the unionist population of Northern Ireland. Republicans also opposed the Agreement as falling short of their demands for immediate British withdrawal and a united Ireland.

While the Irish Leader An Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald was chuffed to pull off what in his eyes was a diplomatc coup his co signatory Mrs Thatcher the British Prime Minister was not so sure. She saw the Agreement more as a security issue to get the southern government to crack down on the IRA rather than as a means towards a full political settlement. She also rightly forsaw that Unionist opposition to the Agreement would be strong and ferocious.

In retrospect the Agreement had mixed success. There was increased co operation in security issues between the police forces in both juristictions and the rise of Sinn Fein was temorarily stalled. But it was to be another 13 long years before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 laid the foundations for the current political settlement - something that most would consider to be still a ‘work in progress’...

"I had come to the conclusion that I must now give priority to heading off the growth of support for the IRA in Northern Ireland by seeking a new understanding with the British Government, even at the expense of my cherished, but for the time being at least clearly unachievable, objective of seeking a solution through negotiations with the Unionists."
Garret FitzGerald in his autobiography All in a Life (FitzGerald, 1991).

"I started from the need for greater security, which was imperative. If this meant making limited political concession to the South, much as I disliked this kind of bargaining, I had to contemplate it."
Margaret Thatcher in her autobiography The Downing Street Years (Thatcher, 1993).

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