Wednesday 24 July 2019

Editorial: 'Timely reminder of how grim Anglo-Irish relations can be'

Charles Haughey and Margaret Thatcher
Charles Haughey and Margaret Thatcher


A female British prime minister greatly at odds with her difficult and inflexible Irish counterpart.

Relationships on a knife-edge, massive security and economic implications... No we are not speaking of Theresa May and Leo Varadkar, but rather of Charles Haughey and Margaret Thatcher.

The latest State Papers revisit darker times from three decades ago. They have a particular significance as we earnestly hope for a thaw on Brexit.

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There is no wish to return to the ice age of previous Anglo-Irish relationships. Too many have suffered too much to jeopardise the gains of the Good Friday Agreement, which placed the principle of consent as the corner-stone of politics between the UK and ourselves.

A cursory look at the latest papers tells a story of extra-judicial killings in Gibraltar, and the IRA shooting of two soldiers. Ms Thatcher was furious at the time at what she saw as a lax approach to security south of the Border.

The truth was that the Irish Government was spending far more than it could afford to fight subversives, when the State coffers were empty. Then, as now, every effort was channelled into protecting peace.

Just as today's focus must be on no return to a hard Border, the links between communities and our two islands must be strengthened rather than sundered.

Consensus across parties here reflects the fact Brexit is the core priority.

Political instability here would be ruinous at such a pass.

In the UK, and closer to home, perceptions can make or break things, with equal facility.

Since the crash, there has been a mood swing against politicians. The wrecking ball that tore through society also did for trust in mainstream parties.

No one has emerged from the wreckage to command wide support. Our three main parties have fewer TDs than ever.

Politicians are not all surly curmudgeons, seething with suspicion or lacking in altruism. But sometimes it seems so, when it comes to finding common ground.

In Britain, hard Brexiteers and Remainers are further apart than ever. In the North, there is no co-operation at all.

Here, alienation is also an issue. Yesterday Tánaiste Simon Coveney said his party would be aiming to target more than 60 seats and a rainbow coalition.

But talk of elections right now is placing a shaky cart before a hobbled horse.

Let us remind ourselves, after the election in 2016 it took 63 days of talks before Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil could countenance a Fine Gael minority government. Few held out hope our Government would see the past year out. And yet it has. For now, Brexit is more than enough to contend with it.

Irish Independent

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