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Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985. How wrong were its opponents?


Aristodemus

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Seems an opportune time to look at the opposition to this agreement back in the day. They really are an odd assortment.
The most implacable of opponents were obviously Unionist MP's who resigned en masse and fought the by-elections on one issue, opposition to the agreement. They lost one seat as a result.
Sinn Feín opposed it and their vote dropped in those by-elections.
Fianna Fail opposed it when it came up for ratification in Dail Eireann.
Perhaps the most odd opponent was Mary Robinson, subsequent President of Ireland, who resigned from the Labour Party as a result.
When one looks at some of the language used in the House of Commons by Unionist MP's I'm sure some of them will be embarrassed by its intemperate nature. Here are a couple of examples from Hansard, the official record of Parliament:


Peter Robinson:
To what extent is the Prime Minister's word her bond? Does she recall that in November 1984 she signed a communiqúe with the same viper that she took to her breast in Hillsborough castle? In that communiqúe, she promised that any political structures or processes affecting Northern Ireland would have to be acceptable to both sections of the community. What test of acceptability does the Prime Minister intend to use? Has she the least appreciation of the deep sense of betrayal felt by the people of Northern Ireland at this act of political prostitution?

Harold McCusker:

I never knew what desolation felt like until I read this agreement last Friday afternoon. Does the Prime Minister realise that, when she carries the agreement through the House, she will have ensured that I shall carry to my grave with ignominy the sense of the injustice that I have done to my constituents down the years— when, in their darkest hours, I exhorted them to put their trust in this British House of Commons which one day would honour its fundamental obligation to them to treat them as equal British citizens? Is not the reality of this agreement that they will now be Irish-British hybrids and that every aspect—not just some aspects—of their lives will be open to the influence of those who have harboured their murderers and coveted their land? Is the Prime Minister aware that that is too high a price for me and hundreds of thousands of others in Northern Ireland to pay?

Enoch Powell:

Does the right hon. Lady understand—if she does not yet understand she soon will—that the penalty for treachery is to fall into public contempt?

Certainly from reading those and other comments at the time there was a total over-reaction by Unionists and a complete misunderstanding of what that agreement meant. The reaction of Sinn Fein was as expected, unrefined and ill thought out logic encapsulated with a "Brits Out" slogan. Fianna Fail's opposition can be put down to Haughey's cynical opposition to ALL Government initiatives at the time. Mary Robinson's stance is merely bizarre.
 


Cruimh

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They were quite right to object. Mary Robinson deserves credit for her refusal to go along with it.

While they talked about change in the status of NI –they did not clarify that status, which was different in the eyes of both governments – and of course in 1985 as the ROI still had its irredentist constitution, in the eyes of the ROI NI was already part of its territory.


So much so that in fact Mrs Thatcher and Garret Fitzgerald signed two different copies, one for the British Government and one for the Irish Government.


British Copy – Mrs T signed as ‘Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’


Irish Copy - Mrs T signed as ‘Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’


Dr Fitzgerald signed both copies as prime Minister of Ireland – implying that NI was part of an all-Ireland State.
 

meriwether

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Its opponents are very, very much on the wrong side of history.

It was an important milestoen along the way, in that it created a structure in which meaningful negotiations could take place, once the conditions were in place - that is, once the violence had stopped, which happened in 1994 and 1997.

The Downing Street declaration logically flowed from it also.
 

Hitch 22

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At the time Northern Ireland was a wheel stuck in the mud.
The British government could not defeat the IRA.
The IRA could not force the majority of Northerners to join a united Ireland against their will.
The Irish government had to face up to the fact that Articles 2 & 3 were pie in the sky.
Unionists refused to accept that the old days of a Protestant Ulster were dead and gone.

Anything that got the ball rolling toward some sort of peace process was better than nothing.

The peace that exists today is patchwork and messy and still flimsy.

Politics is the art of the possible.
 

Keith-M

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The AIA made the very same mistakes as Sunnigdale. It was done over the heads of the people of N.I. (why people like Mary Robinson were against it) and it gave (admittedly very limited) executive power to this country, over N.I. That's why it failed.

If we are to look back at it now, it's only use was to provide additional confirmation of how NOT to proceed, how the parties in N.I. needed to be involved, how the role of this country should be minimal and how to deal with all three strands together and not just focus on one.

The only thing it did do was to confirm that the British and Irish governments could work together but that's it. That's why Thatcher knew the AIA was a mistake from the moment she signed it and why it was a dead end.
 

meriwether

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The AIA made the very same mistakes as Sunnigdale. It was done over the heads of the people of N.I. (why people like Mary Robinson were against it) and it gave (admittedly very limited) executive power to this country, over N.I. That's why it failed.

If we are to look back at it now, it's only use was to provide additional confirmation of how NOT to proceed, how the parties in N.I. needed to be involved, how the role of this country should be minimal and how to deal with all three strands together and not just focus on one.

The only thing it did do was to confirm that the British and Irish governments could work together but that's it. That's why Thatcher knew the AIA was a mistake from the moment she signed it and why it was a dead end.
The AIA and the Sunningdale were products of their time.

No agreement was going to bring peace until the violence was exhausted.

Indeed, you might want to outline to us how you believe SF, for example, could have been brought into the process of the AIA (which is what you're advocating)?
 

Aindriu

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Even Thatcher herself regretted signing it.
 

Ren84

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History has shown how utterly wrong unionists were, and still are, in opposing this agreement. Thankfully they were defeated and Ireland today remains a key partner in NI affairs. Though it's pretty strange hearing the glowing tributes to Thatcher from unionists given the level of vitriol they directed towards her. Truly odd people.
 

Rocky

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They were quite right to object. Mary Robinson deserves credit for her refusal to go along with it.

While they talked about change in the status of NI –they did not clarify that status, which was different in the eyes of both governments – and of course in 1985 as the ROI still had its irredentist constitution, in the eyes of the ROI NI was already part of its territory.


So much so that in fact Mrs Thatcher and Garret Fitzgerald signed two different copies, one for the British Government and one for the Irish Government.


British Copy – Mrs T signed as ‘Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’


Irish Copy - Mrs T signed as ‘Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’


Dr Fitzgerald signed both copies as prime Minister of Ireland – implying that NI was part of an all-Ireland State.
The name of the Irish State that I live in is Ireland. It was then and is today. The Island also happens to be called Ireland and although that was intentional in 1937, it doesn't change the fact that according to the Irish Constitution, the name of the State is Ireland. He coudln't sign it under any other name.
 

Rocky

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The AIA made the very same mistakes as Sunnigdale. It was done over the heads of the people of N.I. (why people like Mary Robinson were against it) and it gave (admittedly very limited) executive power to this country, over N.I. That's why it failed.

If we are to look back at it now, it's only use was to provide additional confirmation of how NOT to proceed, how the parties in N.I. needed to be involved, how the role of this country should be minimal and how to deal with all three strands together and not just focus on one.

The only thing it did do was to confirm that the British and Irish governments could work together but that's it. That's why Thatcher knew the AIA was a mistake from the moment she signed it and why it was a dead end.
The reason for the AIA was the Unionists at that time would not play ball and would not engage and there had been no movement on any peace plan for years as a result, really since Sunningdale. The AIA had two fundamental aims and one of them was to show Unionists that if they did not engage the Irish and British governments would move on without them. That's why they were so terrified and opposed to it.

That realisation brought Unionists to the table. It is obviously no concidence that talks began in the aftermath of the AIA and talks were conducted on the basis that the AIA would be suspended while talks were ongoing. Without the AIA there was no bargining tool, as Unionists were reasonably happy with direct rule and prefered that to making the neccesary compromises.

Without the AIA we would have got nowhere because Unionists would never have come to the table.

It's other fundamental purpose was to show Nationalists that peace could work and bring results. That there was another way to violence and it was a success there as well.

What was in the agreement was actually a lot less important than the message it sent out to both communities.

Before the AIA the North was stuck in a never ending circle of violence and there was no real talks or movement on any peace plan. The AIA changed all that. It broke the impasse and began the process.
 
Last edited:

PO'Neill

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Certainly from reading those and other comments at the time there was a total over-reaction by Unionists and a complete misunderstanding of what that agreement meant. The reaction of Sinn Fein was as expected, unrefined and ill thought out logic encapsulated with a "Brits Out" slogan. Fianna Fail's opposition can be put down to Haughey's cynical opposition to ALL Government initiatives at the time. Mary Robinson's stance is merely bizarre.
Nothing bizarre about it, Robbo is a West Brit through and through, her concerns were for the welfare of unionists first and foremost.
 

Josip Broz

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Feb 15, 2005
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Seems an opportune time to look at the opposition to this agreement back in the day. They really are an odd assortment.
The most implacable of opponents were obviously Unionist MP's who resigned en masse and fought the by-elections on one issue, opposition to the agreement. They lost one seat as a result.
Sinn Feín opposed it and their vote dropped in those by-elections.
Fianna Fail opposed it when it came up for ratification in Dail Eireann.
Perhaps the most odd opponent was Mary Robinson, subsequent President of Ireland, who resigned from the Labour Party as a result.
When one looks at some of the language used in the House of Commons by Unionist MP's I'm sure some of them will be embarrassed by its intemperate nature. Here are a couple of examples from Hansard, the official record of Parliament:


Peter Robinson:
To what extent is the Prime Minister's word her bond? Does she recall that in November 1984 she signed a communiqúe with the same viper that she took to her breast in Hillsborough castle? In that communiqúe, she promised that any political structures or processes affecting Northern Ireland would have to be acceptable to both sections of the community. What test of acceptability does the Prime Minister intend to use? Has she the least appreciation of the deep sense of betrayal felt by the people of Northern Ireland at this act of political prostitution?

Harold McCusker:

I never knew what desolation felt like until I read this agreement last Friday afternoon. Does the Prime Minister realise that, when she carries the agreement through the House, she will have ensured that I shall carry to my grave with ignominy the sense of the injustice that I have done to my constituents down the years— when, in their darkest hours, I exhorted them to put their trust in this British House of Commons which one day would honour its fundamental obligation to them to treat them as equal British citizens? Is not the reality of this agreement that they will now be Irish-British hybrids and that every aspect—not just some aspects—of their lives will be open to the influence of those who have harboured their murderers and coveted their land? Is the Prime Minister aware that that is too high a price for me and hundreds of thousands of others in Northern Ireland to pay?

Enoch Powell:

Does the right hon. Lady understand—if she does not yet understand she soon will—that the penalty for treachery is to fall into public contempt?

Certainly from reading those and other comments at the time there was a total over-reaction by Unionists and a complete misunderstanding of what that agreement meant. The reaction of Sinn Fein was as expected, unrefined and ill thought out logic encapsulated with a "Brits Out" slogan. Fianna Fail's opposition can be put down to Haughey's cynical opposition to ALL Government initiatives at the time. Mary Robinson's stance is merely bizarre.
What a strange post. Could you outline the objectives of the agreement and illustrate how it fulfilled them. Then we may judge whether opposition to it was misplaced or not.
 

Nemesiscorporation

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They were quite right to object. Mary Robinson deserves credit for her refusal to go along with it.

While they talked about change in the status of NI –they did not clarify that status, which was different in the eyes of both governments – and of course in 1985 as the ROI still had its irredentist constitution, in the eyes of the ROI NI was already part of its territory.


So much so that in fact Mrs Thatcher and Garret Fitzgerald signed two different copies, one for the British Government and one for the Irish Government.


British Copy – Mrs T signed as ‘Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’


Irish Copy - Mrs T signed as ‘Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’


Dr Fitzgerald signed both copies as prime Minister of Ireland – implying that NI was part of an all-Ireland State.
The whole thing was a complete dogs breakfast.

On the positive side, it was at least an attempt to turn the mess in Northern Ireland into a political process instead of a shooting war.

It was badly thought out, but at least it was a first faltering step in communication in working together between the governments.
 

Keith-M

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History has shown how utterly wrong unionists were, and still are, in opposing this agreement. Thankfully they were defeated and Ireland today remains a key partner in NI affairs. Though it's pretty strange hearing the glowing tributes to Thatcher from unionists given the level of vitriol they directed towards her. Truly odd people.
Is the border still in place?
Was the territorial claim in our constitution removed?
Was Stormont brought back?
Have the terrorists accepted that politics is the way forward?
Have any executive powers by the Irish government been removed?

The answer to all of these questions is "yes", so the Unionists clearly won. The price they paid for victory may have been to share power with one time terrorists and seeing murderers and criminal released early from prison, but the victory was worth it.
 

meriwether

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Is the border still in place?
Was the territorial claim in our constitution removed?
Was Stormont brought back?
Have the terrorists accepted that politics is the way forward?
Have any executive powers by the Irish government been removed?

The answer to all of these questions is "yes", so the Unionists clearly won. The price they paid for victory may have been to share power with one time terrorists and seeing murderers and criminal released early from prison, but the victory was worth it.
Are you illiterate?
 

Keith-M

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The AIA and the Sunningdale were products of their time.
Accepted, they were both failed attempts.

No agreement was going to bring peace until the violence was exhausted.
Accepted and back in the 1970s and 80s, the IRA still thought they could get their way through physical force.

Indeed, you might want to outline to us how you believe SF, for example, could have been brought into the process of the AIA (which is what you're advocating)?
I don't believe that they could have been, because the penny had not dropped.

As I said, the AIA failed for many reasons, so giving it any kind of credit is crazy. It was an honest if misguided attempt at a solution, but it was a poor agreement , by the wrong people at the wrong time.
 

Glaucon

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The one, and perhaps only, virtue of the agreement was that it showed Unionists that they could not break the will of the two governments by threats, blackmail, protests and alliances with terrorists (as in 1974) to shut down Northern Ireland. Their "never, never, never" mentality was broken once and for all.

The advisory role of the Irish government was, of course, meaningless, but at least it was a beginning in recognizing that Northern Ireland was and is a problem relating to the end of the British Empire, and not merely an internal "as British as Finchley" law and order issue.
 

Cruimh

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The whole thing was a complete dogs breakfast.

On the positive side, it was at least an attempt to turn the mess in Northern Ireland into a political process instead of a shooting war.

It was badly thought out, but at least it was a first faltering step in communication in working together between the governments.
This is well worth a read : http://www.umb.edu/editor_uploads/images/mgs/mgs_moakley_chair/Religion_and_Conflict_000.pdf

Page 15 onwards.
 

meriwether

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Accepted, they were both failed attempts.



Accepted and back in the 1970s and 80s, the IRA still thought they could get their way through physical force.



I don't believe that they could have been, because the penny had not dropped.

As I said, the AIA failed for many reasons, so giving it any kind of credit is crazy. It was an honest if misguided attempt at a solution, but it was a poor agreement , by the wrong people at the wrong time.
This responce is making my eyes bleed.

What did the AIA 'fail' at, on the basis that it didn't set out to end the violence by involving all parties, as this involvement was impossible, and therefore not pursued, at that time?
 

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