Unionists ‘hoped Falkland conflict would repair damage’

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UNIONISTS hoped that the Falklands war showed that the UK would repair the damage caused by appeasement of anti-British factions, a Cabinet paper records.

A political briefing to the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Prior, explains how the Falklands conflict was seen by unionists as a test of the British Government’s “commitment to the principle of self-determination for the islanders and the protection of their Britishness from an aggressive neighbour”.

The memo was written on April 16 at the height of the crisis, two weeks after the invasion and while the rapidly-assembled Task Force was sailing on the long journey south to recapture the islands,

David Blatherwick, of the Northern Ireland Office’s political affairs division, observes in the document that the sudden emergency in the South Atlantic has been “to some extent ... helpful” by dominating the headlines and taking attention off the White Paper on plans to restore devolution.

He writes: “Unionists rapidly drew parallels between the Falklands and Northern Ireland. They noted that both territories are claimed by foreign states, though a majority of the population of each wants to remain British.”

Reports of past discussions between Britain and Argentina over the future of the Falklands “have enhanced unionist fears that similar talks are taking place with the Republic concerning the future of the North and UK sovereignty”.

Such reports boost what Mr Blatherwick describes as “the [Enoch] Powell/ [James] Molyneaux conspiracy theory of a Foreign Office-led plot to sell the North to the Republic”.

At the same time, he adds, unionists have taken satisfaction in the Government’s determination to retrieve the Falklands.

“Their growing conclusion seems to be that when alerted, the Government and nation can be brought to repair the damage created by the weak and dangerous appeasers in their midst,” he writes.

Nationalists, he observes, “have generally taken a rather bemused and more detached view”, ranging from concern at possible repercussions to “open disbelief at what they see as an out of date display of jingoism”.

“There has undoubtably been some rejoicing in nationalist/republican circles at considerable humiliation for the ‘Brits’,” Mr Blatherwick writes.

Due to a sense of common injustice at the hands of the British, “coupled with a common religion”, most northern Catholics “feel some affinity with Argentina in its struggle to ‘liberate’ the islands”.

The document notes that ‘Viva Argentina’ graffiti is said to have gone up in west Belfast within 24 hours of the Falklands invasion.

The paper concludes that “important judgments will not be made until the Falklands crisis is over, when both sides of the community will inevitably draw their own conclusions about how the Government, and the opposition parties, can be expected to face up to pressures over Northern Ireland”.