Monday 18 December 2017

Thatcher's 'uncommon ignorance' on region raised fears

Margaret Thatcher. Photo: PA
Margaret Thatcher. Photo: PA

Fergus Black and Ralph Riegel

TAOISEACH Charles Haughey and SDLP leader John Hume feared that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had an "uncommon ignorance" of Northern Ireland.

Mr Hume expressed "distinct reservations" to Mr Haughey about the Conservative Party leader and the prospects for a breakthrough in the crisis.

The state papers also revealed that while Mr Haughey was hopeful the British government might eventually agree to a declaration of encouragement for Irish unity, Mrs Thatcher was determined not to alienate the unionists and trigger any escalation in IRA violence. In a confidential briefing memo prepared for the Taoiseach, Britain's fears were starkly outlined.

"The British say they could not, on this analysis, make such a (unity) declaration. They consider that at the practical level its effects would be to provoke a strong, probably violent unionist backlash without any compensating reduction in IRA violence.

"On the contrary, IRA violence, the British feel, might well increase since the IRA would interpret the British declaration as a sign of weakness and a signal of incipient withdrawal."

The memo also warned the Taoiseach that Mrs Thatcher might well first demand an Irish government guarantee "safeguarding unionist interests and traditions and to working for a united Ireland on the basis of consent".

In a private telephone call to Mr Haughey, noted by the Taoiseach's staff, Mr Hume outlined his fears. "She had (as the Taoiseach had earlier indicated) shown uncommon ignorance of certain matters in Northern Ireland, eg, the number of government departments in Belfast, the operation of local government."

Mr Hume expressed particular fears about majority rule.

"She showed a regrettable tendency to think and talk about the setting up of what would, in fact, be a majority rule administration. She needed to be convinced of the evil of majority rule . . . the history of Northern Ireland seemed to be a closed book to her."

In contrast, British officials felt that Mr Haughey was "silkily" trying to get a declaration of support for Irish unity.

Irish Independent

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