|Unionists protest the Agreement – taken from The Bow Group’s magazine, Crossbow, Summer 1986 [PUB 195/14]|
The Conservatives’ 1983 general election manifesto stated, ‘We believe that a close practical working relationship between the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic can contribute to peace and stability in Northern Ireland without threatening in any way the position of the majority community in the Province’ (see the Manifesto text). The statement opened the door to secret negotiations between the British and Irish governments, beginning in 1985 and culminating in the Agreement’s authorization on 15 November.
|Conservative Political Centre internal Party discussion brief: ‘Northern Ireland: Opportunities for Progress,’ August/September 1984 [PUB 179/17]|
The Agreement set out two key points. It required that the Irish Government accept the present constitutional status of Northern Ireland – contrary to Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution – agreeing that no change to this could be affected without a majority in the Province. The Agreement also required Britain to acknowledge that the Irish Government had a valid interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland. An Intergovernmental Conference was set up to discuss areas of mutual interest – especially relating to cooperation over cross-border security – and a permanent secretariat of civil servants from both countries was established in Belfast (read the full terms of the Agreement).
|Conservative Party’s Members’ Brief, 21 November 1985 [PUB 91/2]|
Although the British Government objectives in the Agreement were met, the reaction elsewhere was generally hostile. The Agreement passed the House of Commons by 473 to 47, but its reception in the Dáil was less than enthusiastic with 88 votes in favour and 75 against. In Parliament Mrs Thatcher faced opposition from both the Ulster Unionist and Democratic Unionist leaders James Molyneaux and Ian Paisley, while the Ulster Unionist MP Enoch Powell famously asked her in the Commons on 14 November 1985, ‘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?’ (text of the exchange is available from the Thatcher Foundation).
In the Republic, Charles Haughey, leader of Fianna Fáil, was hostile to any acknowledgement of the change in the constitution; Mary Robinson, the future President of Ireland, resigned. In Northern Ireland not only was the Agreement opposed by Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, but the UUP and DUP MPs resigned en masse, orchestrating a campaign of civil disobedience.
|MP protests – taken from The Bow Group’s magazine, Crossbow, Summer 1986 [PUB 195/14]|
As the BBC reported, Thatcher herself ultimately came to the opinion that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was a mistake (BBC News, 23rd November 1998).
Multi-Party peace talks on the future of Northern Ireland did not occur until the IRA began decommissioning its weapons in 1997; eventually these talks led to the Good Friday Accords, which superseded the Anglo-Irish Agreement.