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Anglo-Irish Agreement - Political Aftermath

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Text and Research: Alan Morton
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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.

Political Aftermath

There have been two major attempts to find a political settlement in Northern Ireland since the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The first emanated from Britain and aimed to involve all constitutional parties in a political talks process. The impetus for the second initiative came from nationalist politicians and the Irish Government, and hoped to induce an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire. Both initiatives were influenced by the workings of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and deserve some discussion.

The British Initiative

British attempts to find a settlement were given fresh impetus with the arrival of Peter Brooke as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in July 1989. His initiative used John Hume's three-stranded framework for analysis: relations between the two communities in Northern Ireland; relations North and South of the border in Ireland; and relations between Dublin and London. The prognosis was not promising during the first seven weeks of the talks as the political leaders struggled over the agenda, the venue and the chair of the second strand of talks between North and South. The Brooke talks process led to the suspension of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference for ten weeks and the gradually running down of the Maryfield Secretariat.

The process was abandoned in July 1991 when the planned Intergovernmental Conference went ahead. The Anglo-Irish Agreement's structures were crucial to the failure to reach a consensus. Unionists were unwilling to negotiate with the continuing threat of the Intergovernmental Conference. In the opinion of O'Leary and McGarry (1993), the 'Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) saw the Anglo-Irish Agreement as a minimum and irreversible base-line from which to negotiate', while Unionists were simply unwilling to contemplate further interference of a 'foreign country' in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Peter Brooke presented a new formula for talks in December 1991. Brooke's successor, Patrick Mayhew, inherited this formula and created some space for negotiation when the Intergovernmental Conference was suspended for three months. However, these talks later failed after Unionists received a luke-warm reception in Dublin during the second strand of negotiations.

What became clear during the Brooke / Mayhew initiative was the willingness of both Governments to use the Anglo-Irish Agreement as a bargaining tactic to induce compromise from Unionists.

The Irish Initiative

During the later stages of the Brooke / Mayhew initiative, Irish nationalists were pursuing an alternative strategy. The Hume / Adams dialogue, which had started in 1988, was re-established in the early 1990s and was to provide the main stimulus for the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993. The Declaration stated that Britain had 'no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland' and aimed to bring Sinn Féin (SF) to the negotiating table via a ceasefire from the Irish Republican Army (IRA). This inclusive strategy was boosted when the ceasefire was announced in August 1994, followed shortly after by a ceasefire from the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC).

The inclusive strategy faltered when the IRA ended its ceasefire after 17 months. During this time there had been little progress towards all-party talks. A talks process was established in 1996 involving the two Governments and ten political parties from Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin was excluded due to the absence of an IRA ceasefire.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement was crucial to the Irish initiative in terms of the established communication channels of the Intergovernmental Conference. Despite some reticence about the merits of the inclusive strategy from key figures, such as Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew, and Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring, the inclusive approach now dominates the 'peace process' in Northern Ireland. The formalised relationship of Anglo-Irish relations through the Hillsborough Agreement has been a vital aspect of this process.

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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