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Thursday 22 February 2018

Anglo-Irish Agreement: ‘We both have the same fears. We are both afraid we have gone too far’

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Dr Garret FitzGerald at the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Pic: Matt Walsh
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Dr Garret FitzGerald at the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Pic: Matt Walsh

Ralph Riegel and Chris Parkin

The Anglo-Irish Agreement talks almost collapsed weeks before the deal was hammered out as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned she may have "gone too far" while Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald said Ireland could not afford to be "fooled by the British again".

Mrs Thatcher also bluntly raised the issue of the IRA using the Republic as a safe haven - and asked how the Dublin Government would react if Dundalk were bombed to stop it?

The incredible tensions felt by both leaders in the build-up to the landmark agreement are revealed in secret memos released as part of the 1985 State Archive.

One Department of An Taoiseach document, marked 'Personal and Secret', recounted a hard-hitting meeting between Mrs Thatcher and Dr FitzGerald on June 29, 1985.

The meeting took place on the fringe of an EU summit in Milan.

Dr FitzGerald warned that the Irish demand for a system of joint courts over Northern Ireland was effectively a deal-breaker.

"If I didn't know that a system of this sort would come into existence under the agreement then I could not go ahead with this agreement," he said.

"This question has to be considered now. People have been saying that I have been led up the garden path. They would say this even more strongly. They would say that we have been fooled by the British again," the Fine Gael leader said.

Mrs Thatcher warned that she could not afford to be seen to be giving the Republic "a foot in the door" in terms of sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

"We both have the same fears. We are both afraid that we may have gone too far," she said.

"I have to look to the Unionists. You have to look to the Irish dimension."

Mrs Thatcher bluntly warned that the UK had made significant concessions to the Republic.

"To (John) Hume that may not look much. But it will bring out the Paisleyites."

In another secret briefing memo, following a meeting in Luxembourg, Mrs Thatcher urged Dr FitzGerald to use his influence to get the moderate Nationalist opinion onside.

"I am very worried about developments," the Conservative leader warned the Taoiseach.

"You have all the glory. We have all the problems. The Unionist reaction has been much worse than expected."

Mrs Thatcher said she also needed tougher action in the Republic against the IRA.

In reply to a request from Dr FitzGerald for evidence against specific IRA suspects, she cited the recent Israeli attacks on Palestinian targets in north Africa.

"People in the south come to the north to commit criminal acts and then dash back," she said.

"That is what I said to the Americans when the Israelis bombed Tunis. What would you say if Dundalk were bombed to stop this?"

Dr FitzGerald countered by asking for evidence from the British authorities - and said that, in fact, the intelligence Dublin had was that the Maze Prison escapees were not in the Republic but in Scotland.

Mrs Thatcher also reacted incredulously to a suggestion of relief for prisoners convicted of terrorist offences as part of the agreement.

Ironically, such a clause became a key part of the Good Friday Agreement.

"That would be dynamite - no, not dynamite, nuclear," she warned.

"We could not think of relief for people guilty of bombing, of murder and other atrocities."

Mrs Thatcher was speaking less than 12 months after she narrowly escaped death when the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference.

The archives reveal Britain attached enormous importance to SDLP backing for the process.

Irish Independent

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