Anglo-Irish Agreement - Background Information
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The following text has been contributed by Alan Morton, Ph.D. Student with the Irish Peace Institute Research Centre, University of Limerick. The views expressed in this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
Background InformationAnglo-Irish Relations, 1922 - 1968
The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 established
the Irish Free State. Unionist objections to a united Ireland
had resulted in the establishment of Northern Ireland through
the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Relations between Dublin
and London soured shortly after the arrival to power of Eamonn
de Valera in 1932. The 1930s were dominated by a trade war, instigated
by de Valera's Fianna Fáil (FF) Government. Ireland ratified
a new constitution in 1937 and declared itself a Republic in 1948.
Britain responded with the Ireland Act 1949, which claimed exclusive
British jurisdiction over the administration of Northern Ireland.
Relations warmed through a series of
trade agreements in 1938, 1948, and 1960, culminating with the
Free Trade Agreement of 1965. Both countries also joined the
European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973.
Northern Ireland, however, was not an
important political issue for either government for most of this
period. Overall, the British and Irish governments attitudes
to the Stormont years in Northern Ireland (1922 to 1972) was one
of benign indifference. Despite traditional republican rhetoric
from Dublin and claims of exclusive British sovereignty from London,
neither administration were particularly interested in the affairs
of Northern Ireland.
Anglo-Irish Relations and the Emergence
of 'the Troubles'
The emergence of the civil rights movement
and subsequent political violence in Northern Ireland in the late
1960s strained relations between Dublin and London. Jack Lynch,
the then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), asserted:
the Irish Government can no longer stand
by and see innocent people injured and, perhaps, worse. The Irish
Government have ... requested the British Government to apply
immediately to the United Nations (UN) for the urgent dispatch
of a peace-keeping force to the six counties of Northern Ireland
(quoted in Hadden and Boyle, 1989).
The British Government responded that
'Northern Ireland had long been an integral part of the United
Kingdom and that events there were an internal matter for the
United Kingdom Government' (Hadden and Boyle, 1989). The Stormont
Government was prorogued and direct rule from Westminster was
established in March 1972. Direct rule was seen as a temporary
measure but has continued to this day.
The Sunningdale Experiment, 1973
The Sunningdale experiment of 1973 represented
an imaginative Anglo-Irish attempt to accommodate both national
identities in Northern Ireland. Its main provisions were a devolved
assembly, a power-sharing executive and a cross-border institution,
called the Council of Ireland. Although few of the provisions
of the accord were brought into effect, a power-sharing government
was established involving the Official Unionist Party (OUP), the
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Alliance Party
of Northern Ireland (APNI). The executive, however, only lasted
five months due to the Ulster Workers Council (UWC) strike of
Objections to the Sunningdale accord
from sections of the Unionist community centred on fears that
the Council of Ireland would become a stepping stone to a united
Ireland. Nevertheless, the experiment was a major development
in Northern Ireland politics and Anglo-Irish relations. Many
of the concepts and terms used in the Sunningdale agreement can
be found in subsequent communiqués between the two governments,
including the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. The various elements
of the Sunningdale agreement provided the parameters for subsequent
political discussions, up to and including the 'peace process'
of the 1990s.
Searching for an internal settlement,
1974 - 1980
Merlyn Rees, the then Secretary of State
for Northern Ireland, published a White Paper in July 1974 outlining
a plan for a Constitutional Convention. The United Ulster Unionist
Council (UUUC) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)
took 46 and 17 seats respectively in the subsequent election.
The Convention was unable to agree on a devolved form of government
and voted for a return to the Stormont system. The British Government
had rejected this with the introduction of direct rule in 1972,
and the Convention expired in November 1975.
Roy Mason succeeded Rees as Secretary
of State in September 1976 and sought to introduce another from
of power-sharing through his 'interim devolution' scheme of 1977.
This was based on the idea of a devolved non-legislating 78-seat
assembly from which sub-committees would be drawn to deal with
non-contentious issues such as health, social services and transport.
Discussions dragged on for some months but the approach failed
to attract much support. A similar fate awaited the Round Table
Conference initiated by Conservative Secretary of State Humphrey
Atkins in 1980, and Secretary of State James Prior's 'rolling
devolution' scheme of 1982.
The Thatcher / Haughey Initiative,
The focus of British policy shifted
from Belfast to Dublin following the failure of Atkins' Round
Table Conference in 1980. Margaret Thatcher led a high-powered
delegation to Dublin and met the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister),
Charles Haughey, in May 1980. The focus of the initiative was
the relationship between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. A number of joint
studies were commissioned concerning new institutional arrangements,
security matters, economic co-operation and measures to encourage
mutual understanding. The phrase 'totality of relationships between
these islands' also entered the political vocabulary for the first
The joint studies have provided the
back-bone of many of the developments in Anglo-Irish relations
since 1981. More immediately, however, they resulted in the creation
of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council, a series of intergovernmental
contacts at various levels, and the non-governmental Anglo-Irish
Encounter, primarily concerned with cultural and social issues.
It should be noted that much of the
Thatcher / Haughey initiative was over-shadowed by the hunger
strikes at the Maze prison. The hunger strikes concerned 'political
status' of prisoners and resulted in ten republican prisoners
dying from self-imposed starvation, including Bobby Sands MP (Member
of Parliament), elected in a by-election in Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
The hunger strikes were a major propaganda coup for Sinn Féin
(SF) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and heralded the entry
of Sinn Féin into electoral politics.
New Ireland Forum, 1983 - 1984
The New Ireland Forum was established
by the FitzGerald Government and sat from May 1983 to May 1984.
It was established partly in response to the rise of Sinn Féin
(SF) following the hunger strikes. The final report has been
described as 'the most authoritative restatement of the nationalist
ideal in recent times' (Whyte, 1990). The Forum was attended
by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) from Northern
Ireland, and the three main political parties in the Republic,
Fianna Fáil (FF), Fine Gael (FG), and the Irish Labour
Party. Other parties from Northern Ireland were invited to attend
but declined. The Forum received 317 written and 31 oral submissions.
The New Ireland Forum Report concluded
that 'a united Ireland in the form of a sovereign independent
state to be achieved peacefully and by consent' was 'the best
and most durable basis for peace and stability'. The Report also
put forward a federal or confederal state, and joint authority
as alternatives. The British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher,
in a famous press conference stated 'the unified Ireland was one
solution - that is out. A second solution was a confederation
of the two States - that is out. A third solution was joint authority
- that is out'.
Nevertheless, sections of the Anglo-Irish
Agreement draw heavily on the language and substance of the New
Ireland Forum Report, and its influence can be seen throughout
the Agreement. The Report also formed much of the basis for the
negotiations leading to the signing of the Hillsborough Agreement.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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