Tuesday 19 November 2019

Anglo-Irish Agreement his crowning glory

Formidable negotiator famously broke Thatcher's resolve, writes Sam Smyth

THE crunch came as the clock ticked toward 2am at a meeting with Margaret Thatcher after an exhausting two-day EEC summit in Milan.

Dr Garret FitzGerald was sipping Paddy whiskey with the British prime minister explaining that there could be no Anglo-Irish Agreement without "confidence-building measures".

The then Taoiseach elaborated on proposals to reform the RUC and deal with the loyalist paramilitary UDA, understating their significance.

Realising that he had psychological advantage, Dr FitzGerald upped his already energised animation while Mrs Thatcher was wilting.

"Oh Garret, you just mean implementation measures?" said Mrs T, and agreed to his proposals on "confidence-building measures" as her four advisers sat around the table.

That meeting at the end of June 1985 cleared the last major obstacle for the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement on November 15, 1985.

In tributes from around the world yesterday, his successful negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was regarded as the crowning achievement of his long career. It broke the diplomatic stalemate and made the Good Friday Agreement possible 13 years later -- and cracking Mrs Thatcher's resolve showed a formidable negotiating style that Dr FitzGerald had managed to disguise.

Delivering the Anglo-Irish Agreement was the first step on the long road to reconciliation that had its finale in Dublin Castle on Wednesday night -- hours before Dr FitzGerald died.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement defined his political career, but Dr FitzGerald was always extremely generous in sharing the credit with the team who supported him.

The then cabinet secretary, Dermot Nally, led Sean Donlon, Michael Lillis and Noel Dorr -- the only member of the team who didn't drink alcohol.

They faced the British team led by the secretary to the cabinet, Robert Armstrong and his deputy David Goodall.

The end game was conducted against a background of Mrs Thatcher's "out, out, out" dismissal of proposals put forward by the New Ireland Forum in November 1984 -- just a month after IRA bombs blew up a Tory conference in Brighton.

Mrs Thatcher had built up a surprisingly friendly rapport with the previous Taoiseach Charles Haughey and Dr FitzGerald worked hard to win her trust.

A newspaper picture showing him wearing odds socks had created an image of Dr FitzGerald as a sort of otherworldly and benign boffin and he did nothing to dispel it.

"He was actually really shrewd in negotiations, calculating the consequences of failure," one of his negotiating team said yesterday.

Dr FitzGerald was suspicious that the British would conduct secret talks with the Provisional IRA -- and it later emerged that they had made contact with them.

Michael Lillis, the shrewd diplomat from west Cork who introduced him to Paddy whiskey, was regularly in the FitzGerald home at 7am updating the Taoiseach on progress.

Earlier he had appointed another Corkman Peter Barry, a Republican Fine Gaeler in the tradition of Michael Collins, as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

It was Barry who kept his leader grounded on what was "do-able" with the republican ethos of the party and the country.

Sean Donlon had been the only ambassador who the then US President Reagan visited at his home in Washington -- and Mr Donlon had given him a dog as a present.

Donlon used his enormous clout in Washington to ask House Speaker Tip O'Neill and President Ronald Reagan to put pressure on Mrs Thatcher. By January 1985, Mrs Thatcher told Tip O'Neill that "press reports of her alleged differences with prime minister FitzGerald were exaggerated".

Donlon and Lillis had a close relationship with SDLP leader John Hume and they won the support for the agreement with northern nationalists.

Dr FitzGerald expected the British to brief unionist leader James Molyneux, but he later discovered they had not brought him on board.

After the meeting in Milan on June 29, where Mrs Thatcher agreed with Dr FitzGerald's "confidence-building measures", it was a matter of completing the detail.

The final agreement, negotiated over thee weeks by Michael Lillis and David Goodall, ran to 35 pages. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed at Hillsborough Castle with Mr Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill standing alongside Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald.

And Dr FitzGerald persuaded Mr Reagan to support the International Fund for Ireland that has distributed €750m to projects in border areas over the past 25 years.

Irish Independent

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