Tuesday 25 June 2019

Thatcher warned of 'civil war' in North over any Anglo-Irish power-sharing deal

Signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement at Hillsborough Castle, 15th November 1985... An Taoiseach Dr Garret Fitzgerald shakes hands with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Pic: Matt Walsh
Signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement at Hillsborough Castle, 15th November 1985... An Taoiseach Dr Garret Fitzgerald shakes hands with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Pic: Matt Walsh

Ralph Riegel and Chris Parkin

BRITISH Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher bluntly warned Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald she feared Northern Ireland descending into civil war and the emergence of a Central American-style Marxist society.

The warning came as she angrily ruled out any question of joint authority in Northern Ireland, saying it would never be acceptable to Unionists who loyally fought with Britain in World War II.

The private exchanges between the two leaders - carefully described as "rapid and vigorous" in a secret Government memo - saw Mrs Thatcher, at one point, asking Dr FitzGerald if "the future in the south was as dark as in the north."

A memo written by David Nally of the Department of the Taoiseach set out just how hard-hitting the meeting at Chequers was on November 19,1984.

The media famously reported the meeting as difficult, but the memo reveals it was even tougher.

In a private letter, sent by Dr FitzGerald to a US friend on December 24, he admitted the meeting was "very direct and, at times, difficult."

The meeting took place just over a month after Mrs Thatcher had narrowly escaped being killed by the IRA in their massive timed bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

Mrs Thatcher wanted to focus the meeting on security in Northern Ireland and security co-operation between London and Dublin, but Dr FitzGerald kept insisting a political deal had to be involved.

Mrs Thatcher also queried the demands of the Nationalist minority.

"She cited the Macedonians, the Croats, the Serbs and the Sudeten Germans as examples of minorities who were not, as of right, given particular prerogatives," Mr Nally wrote.

She asked why Nationalists in Northern Ireland should have the right to fly the Tricolour when Sikhs living in London don't seek to fly their flag.

She warned the escalating terrorist campaign could have disastrous consequences.

"There was a real danger that a Marxist society could develop. She did not ever want that to happen. When she looked at the strategic aspects of the problem she understood what the US feels about Nicaragua."

Mrs Thatcher said she couldn't understand why people were objecting to being "frisked" in Northern Ireland by the RUC and British Army when improved security would ultimately allow them live in peace and safety.

She also said the RUC was trying to recruit more Catholics to address Nationalist concerns.

But Dr FitzGerald insisted political concerns had to be tackled.

"The people in the North had fought with Britain in the last war. The Prime Minister referred to Winston Churchill's praise of their contribution. "Power-sharing was just not on for those people. Sunningdale still lives vividly in their memory."

An Irish suggestion that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland work closely with his Irish counterpart was rejected out of hand.

"The Unionists would say that you are giving up your Constitutional claim but you are coming across the border and don't really need the claim. That would put us well on the way to civil war," she said.

Other proposals were dismissed by Mrs Thatcher as "a repartition even if you are not doing it geographically."

Dr FitzGerald's suggestion of Irish ministers agreeing relevant matters in Northern Ireland with their British counterparts prompted a vehement reaction from the Conservative leader.

"The Prime Minister reacted strongly to this. She said 'No, No - that is joint authority.' You are giving them 40pc of our country."

Irish Independent

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