Declassified Files: Thatcher admitted scale of unionist opposition to accord ‘unforeseen’

Massive loyalist rally at Belfast City Hall against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November 1985
Massive loyalist rally at Belfast City Hall against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November 1985

The Police Federation told the Government that the full spectrum of unionist opinion was opposed to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

At a meeting in January 1987, the police officers representative body said: “The entire unionist population objects to this agreement.

“The degree of objection from violent outbursts to sullenness may vary, but they all object. As a result the police have found themselves in many areas isolated from people who would have been their supporters.

“The personal pressure on police officers and their families has therefore been intense and has been sustained.

“Talk about the force being a professional organisation and that its officers are totally committed is correct but that does not hide the need to achieve some kind of reconciliation between the police and the majority community.”

The Federation told the Government that at that point some 600 police officers had been intimidated in one way or another, while nationalists had also “suffered dreadfully since the agreement”.

It said Housing Executive figures showed that 1,000 nationalists had been forced to seek alternative accommodation “and undoubtedly many others have been threatened”.

The Federation said that because so many of the population were against the agreement and the police had found itself in confrontation with unionists “the force believes that it is being used for political purposes”.

Just weeks after the Agreement was signed, a note of a December 12, 1985, meeting between the Prime Minister and senior figures from the Presbyterian and Methodist churches described the meeting as “restrained and rather sorrowful”.

“The church leaders said they could not conceal the very deep feeling of resentment among the unionist community about the Agreement.

“They stressed that they were urging their congregations to react to the Anglo-Irish Agreement by peaceful and constitutional means,

“They did not expect a repeat of the violence of 1969. Rather the unionist reaction was one of numbed shock.”

It added: “The Prime Minister acknowledged that the reaction among the unionist community had been stronger than we had foreseen.

“She had been disappointed…[but] she could not accept the pessimism of the church leaders. She was determined to implement the Agreement and believed that moderate unionists could be brought eventually to see the advantages which it offered them.”