The secrecy with which the agreement was put together is evident in the files which have been released at the Public Record Office.
One fairly unremarkable submission from Tom King to Margaret Thatcher was marked ‘secret’ — which is not uncommon in the files — but also ‘personal’, despite the fact that there was nothing vaguely personal in the paper, which is about the establishment of the International Fund For Ireland.
It appears to be an attempt to ensure that the paper went directly to the Prime Minister (along with Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong and “all members of OD (I)), rather than being seen by numerous officials across the two departments. Numerous other documents discussing the negotiations in the run-up to the agreement are also marked ‘personal’ as well as ‘secret’.
The note was sent by Mr King just 12 days after he was appointed as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
A 27 September memo from Mr King to Mrs Thatcher expressed considerable concern about the advanced Anglo-Irish negotiations which he had inherited.
Sent just three weeks after arriving in Northern Ireland, the seven-page memo expressed fears which would later prove to have been prescient.
He told the Prime Minister: “I have to say, with some reluctance — since I recognise that the wording of the draft has emerged from many months of negotiation — that the agreement as it stands strikes me as offering considerably more to the Irish than it does to us.
“It will certainly be so perceived by the unionists. The imbalance seems to me to lie in the following: the Irish are being given an unprecedented foothold in the internal affairs of a part of the United Kingdom.
“This must be balanced by some comparable benefit to the advantage of the UK generally and of the majority community. The Irish have not been able to surrender their constitutional claim on the North. The [greatest] advantage for us will be in better security co-operation, but so far we only have a rather vague indications that the Republic will redeploy their Task Force to border areas to help combat terrorism...”
After making further points, he went on to say coldly: “If these points can be met, I still believe it right to seek an agreement; but the balance of advantage is a fine one.”
However, the provision was never used to set up cross-border courts, due to the legal and political difficulties of doing so.