1985 deal rewarded Dublin despite its security failings

Morning View
Morning View

The 1985 cabinet papers out today shed light on a dark day for the pro-Union people of Northern Ireland.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement of that year was a reward for tribal Irish nationalism, signed behind the backs of those who had been loyal to Britain since the foundation of Northern Ireland in 1921 (and centuries before, as News Letter reports from 1739, serialised on the opposite page, often show).

The declassified files show how unionists were deliberately not informed of the diktat. This is not news but even so, most unionists will shudder to recall how the SDLP was kept close to it all.

The deal gave Dublin a say in running the Province, a shameful concession by the UK Government relating to territory over which it ought to have had unfettered sovereignty.

The deal was all the more unforgivable in light of the (at best) incompetence of the Republic’s authorities in apprehending sectarian, murdering, republican terrorist cowards, who roamed border areas picking off isolated Protestants, before fleeing across the frontier where they encountered little trouble from the Irish security services (and from where, when apprehended, they were almost never sent back north to face justice).

At worst, this security failing was a reflection of Dublin’s ambivalence about republicans (an interpretation that gains credence by the day, given nationalist Ireland’s willingness to legitimise retrospectively Provisional murder).

Sam Butler, then News Letter editor, said the deal ‘destroyed’ moderate unionism (including his editorial line). Even moderates were enraged by the deal.

It was a profound blow to unionists that such a patriot as Margaret Thatcher signed the deal. She later regretted it, because Dublin did not keep its side of the deal to bolster security.

Of course it didn’t. Dublin was always going to be more concerned with agitating on behalf of Ulster Catholics than getting tough with IRA terror, regardless of the atrocities.