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The first steps towards peace

The Making of the Anglo- Irish Agreement 1985, a memoir by David Goodall, gives a unique inside account of the protracted, tense and ultimately fruitful negotiations that culminated in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 was a significant turning point in the history of Northern Ireland and the first major step on the road to a peaceful resolution of the Troubles.

It was the forerunner to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that would see an end to the conflict.

Sir David Goodall was one of two key negotiators on the British side and the book is based on his personal journal which he kept throughout the negotiations.

Michael Lillis, chief negotiator on the Irish side, told The Irish World that the negotiations started from a difficult place as there was much suspicion on both sides.

Michael said: “The background was very difficult.

“It’s a good thing that time moves on. We can’t stay in the swamps and lining up for a battle, you have to actually cooperate.

“And that’s what started at the time of this agreement because immediately before that, we had had ten years of very, very bad relationships.

“And then Mrs. T came in, and she tried to do something with Charlie Haughey and that quickly ran into the sand.

“And then we had the hunger strikes.

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“And then (Taoiseach Garret) Fitzgerald came in with a big majority. And the two of them were there, and they were going to be there for several years.

“So then a negotiation started against a difficult background.

“It was a kind of hopeless background.

“I was involved as the advisor to Garrett Fitzgerald.

“I mean Mrs. Thatcher was not terribly well disposed to this country.

“She learned a lot in the two years of negotiation.

“She made a very big decision when she agreed to sign the agreement with Fitzgerald. And it took a lot for her to do it. And it took a lot of time and persuasion to get her to that point.

“What we were trying to get to was to reform the situation whereby both communities would feel identity with those who maintained law and order and also the courts.

“So these are the issues that were on the table for about two years.

“We made what were called in the agreement itself, ‘determined efforts to resolve differences’.

“And that was an obligation that both sides accepted. And we worked on it. And it was difficult but it did actually work.

“And, of course, the problem was that violence continued whilst all of this was being attempted.

“But at the same time, a lot of reform was achieved.

“And that was built on later by the Good Friday Agreement.”

The Agreement was signed on 15 November 1985, at Hillsborough Castle.

For the first time since partition, the agreement gave the Irish government the right to have a significant input into the processes of the government of Northern Ireland and a permanent presence in Belfast.

Although she is a divisive figure in history and perhaps very unpopular to Irish people, Michael says Margaret Thatcher deserves great credit for what she did to make the agreement possible.

“I say this as somebody who started as feeling, shall we say, very unsympathetic to her leadership: She made huge concessions to the Irish side. Concessions which I think no other British leader at the time could have made.

“She was pretty inflexible in her approach but in the end, she reckoned that it was in the interests of the United Kingdom that the system of government in Northern Ireland should include a much stronger convention representing the minority community.

“The simple fact is that without the concessions she made in the Anglo- Irish agreement of 1985, I highly doubt we would have made all the progress that was made subsequently, the Good Friday Agreement and the end of violence which was really what everyone was praying for.

“Most Irish people would hesitate to say this- I am a Nationalist myself by family tradition but I would say that we actually owe her a debt from an Irish point of view.

“We were amazed that she did this. We wanted her to because it was the right thing to do but I’ve always been asking myself the question, ‘How did she actually bring herself to do it?’

“Because she moved the tectonic plates.

I’m not going to set up to be the leader of her fan club because I’m not but one of the truly remarkable things in the whole saga is that Margaret Thatcher brought herself to make the concessions to the other side which made the Anglo- Irish Agreeement possible and created all of the possibilities and all the good things that have happened since then.

“She deserves credit for that.”

It was in the period of negotiations that the IRA attempted to kill the British PM with the Brighton Bombing of 1984. Five people were killed in the blast with Thatcher herself only narrowly escaping. This compounded her distrust of Irish Nationalism but did not derail the negotiations.

“Very difficult events took place. One was the attempt to murder Margaret Thatcher and the entire British cabinet in the Brighton Bombing in 1984.

It was a miracle that she was not killed.

“That was one of the things the surprised Goodall and would be surprising to anybody. She did not try to stop the negotiation despite that extremely violent event.”

There were setbacks along the way and Thatcher’s ‘Out! Out! Out!’ press conference caused embarrassment to the Taoiseach.

“During the same period, she also gave a press conference  which was very blunt and abrupt and gave no hostages to anything in which she dismissed several models which had been suggested by what was called the New Ireland Forum which was the institution set up by all the Nationalist parties in Ireland, not including the IRA, which proposed a number of proposals for a solution to the Northern Ireland problem and it produced three illustrative models.

“They were Irish unity through a new unitary state, a federal Ireland or joint authority, two governments working together to rule Northern Ireland.

“She gave a press conference which became known in history as, ‘Out, out, out’.

“Unitary state: She said, ‘That’s out’.

“Federal solution: ‘That’s out’.

“Joint authority: ‘That’s out’.

“The whole thing was reported in a way that was extremely humiliating for the Irish government, in particular the Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald.

“It took a while to repair the damage that had been done there.

“Her way of expressing herself was so blunt it was felt by audiences in Ireland north and south that she just wanted to destroy the whole negotiation system.”

The most important pressure for the Agreement came from the US with President Ronald Reagan, who was also Irish-American and visited Ireland in June 1984, increasingly encouraging Thatcher to make progress on Anglo-Irish talks.

“In recovering from that, the United States played an important role. Her dear friend President Reagan impressed upon her to change her tone and to make it clear that negotiations would continue and hopefully reach a solution which is what actually did happen through the Anglo- Irish Agreement.

“At one stage Margaret Thatcher herself when asked about why she signed the agreement she was said to have said, ‘The Americans made me do it’.

“I’ve asked a number of people, including David Goodall, in the following years, ‘Was that the whole story?’ And his view was very strongly that it was not. She did it because she decided it was the right thing to do.

“The Americans influenced it but she would not have done it in his view unless she decided it was what needed to be done.”

There was opposition to the agreement on both sides of the community. It was rejected by Unionists because it gave the Republic a role in the governance of the six counties while Republicans rejected it because it confirmed Northern Ireland as part of the UK.

“On the Catholic side, the SDLP led by John Hume, was totally in favour of it.

“The first article was there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland unless the majority agreed but in the same article it said that if the majority in Northern Ireland should make it clear that they want Irish unity that the British government would do the necessary to facilitate that and make it happen.

“This is Margaret Thatcher in an international treaty that created an obligation in international law for her.

“Hume used that as his principle argument to try and persuade Adams some years later to end the campaign of violence of the IRA.

“On the unionist side, they couldn’t believe it that their great and favourite British Prime Minister had betrayed them, as they saw it.

“Their MPs resigned. It forced them to re-think and that’s what led to the Good Friday Agreement. It forced them to re-think and to say, ‘We have to negotiate. It’s not enough for us to just say, ‘We won’t talk to anybody, we hold all the cards’.’

“They had to face the reality that they had to negotiate a situation where they would themselves have to make concessions to the other side of the community and that’s what happened and it wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the shock treatment that the Anglo- Irish Agreement gave to them.

“That could only happen because Margaret Thatcher had changed the rules of the game and given everybody quite a shock.

“But then we went from there onto the Good Friday Agreement which seemed as close as we were going to get to a final solution.

“And then, of course, nobody had expected that we would have something as momentous as Brexit, which really broke all the cutlery in the previous agreement.

“I’ve just been watching the debate in the House of Commons and it reminds me of a lot of what I would call the bad old days when things were not on a good basis between Dublin and London.

“It’s not like the worst times in the early 70s but it’s not good.

“It’s not promising for the way forward although I personally believe that the only way for us to manage these difficulties is through both sides working for the closest possible cooperation and understanding possible. I don’t think that’s what’s happening.

“I actually fundamentally believe that we will, because there isn’t any alternative.”

The Making of the Anglo- Irish Agreement, a Memoir by David Goodall, with contributions by Morweena Goodall, Michael Lillis, Robin Renwick, Charles Powell Stephen Collins and Maurice Manning is out now on Four Courts Press.

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