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Anglo-Irish Agreement - Summary of Events

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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.

Summary of Events

"I had come to the conclusion that I must now give priority to heading off the growth of support for the IRA in Northern Ireland by seeking a new understanding with the British Government, even at the expense of my cherished, but for the time being at least clearly unachievable, objective of seeking a solution through negotiations with the Unionists."
Garret FitzGerald in his autobiography All in a Life (FitzGerald, 1991).

"I started from the need for greater security, which was imperative. If this meant making limited political concession to the South, much as I disliked this kind of bargaining, I had to contemplate it."
Margaret Thatcher in her autobiography The Downing Street Years (Thatcher, 1993).

The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed by the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Ireland at Hillsborough, Co. Down on 15 November 1985. The Agreement was the most important development in Anglo-Irish relations since the 1920s. Both Governments confirmed that there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its citizens. Both Governments also viewed the Agreement as a means of inducing unionist leaders in Northern Ireland to accept a devolved power-sharing arrangement.

The Irish Government, through the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and Maryfield Secretariat, was provided with a consultative role in the administration of Northern Ireland for the first time. It was this consultative role, accompanied by the continuing conditional nature of the British claim to Northern Ireland, that caused strong opposition to the Agreement from the unionist population of Northern Ireland. Republicans also opposed the Agreement as falling short of their demands for immediate British withdrawal and a united Ireland.

The primary objective of the Agreement was to foster peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. With regard to this objective, the Agreement has failed. The two communities in Northern Ireland are as polarised in the 1990s as they ever have been. However, in terms of co-operation between the Irish and British Governments in relation to security and legal affairs, cross-border co-operation, and political matters, the Agreement has had some success. The desire to head off the rise of Sinn Féin (SF) and isolate the Irish Republican Army (IRA) also succeeded, at least in the short-term.

The Irish Government has also provided a voice for the nationalist minority in how Northern Ireland is governed. Most importantly, the Agreement has institutionalised Anglo-Irish relations. The Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference has provided a vital channel of communication between the two sovereign powers that has produced increased understanding and promoted a bi-partisan approach to the Northern Ireland conflict.

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

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