A draft version of the paper which went to the Cabinet before it agreed to authorise the Prime Minister to sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement was described by one official as “clearly unsatisfactory in a number of respects”.
The document said that, although there were likely to be adverse reactions to the agreement, “against [those factors] must be weighed the considerable acclaim that we can expect from world opinion — and not least from the United States — for ending the stalemate in Northern Ireland affairs that has existed for the past decade”.
A 26 September version of the draft paper to go to Cabinet for a discussion about the Anglo-Irish Agreement made clear that unionist reaction would be fiercely hostile.
But it added: “Our contacts with unionist leaders and intelligence analysis suggest that while there will probably be some violence, widespread violence and industrial action are not very likely.”
It added that the Government’s “best assessment” of the likely reaction was that opposition would be “containable”.
Elsewhere in the numerous files about the agreement, a note from Sir Robert Andrew to the Secretary of State reported back on a 19 September meeting with the permanent secretaries of Northern Ireland departments.
At that meeting, he had showed them, for the first time, the draft Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Sir Robert, a Whitehall official who headed up the NIO, said that he believed the views of the senior civil servants who were from Northern Ireland “should be accorded considerable weight”.
He said that “some thought it would prove disastrous. Others thought the agreement fatally flawed in what it did and did not deal with.”
But they added that “a firm Government stance [against inevitable unionist opposition] would be crucial. A climb down in the face of unionist pressure would be more disastrous than if an agreement had never been concluded”.