Direct rule would mean return to Anglo Irish Agreement

UUP's Colin McCusker at Stormont, with a portrait of his father Harold McCusker.' Pic Russell Pritchard / Presseye
UUP's Colin McCusker at Stormont, with a portrait of his father Harold McCusker.' Pic Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Friday November 15, 1985 is a pivotal date in my life.

I was only 14, as well as being only two and a half months into my new school, Portadown College.

During the run-up to the Anglo-Irish summit, there had been a lot of media hype about what was going to happen that Friday.

In our household, we were either very relaxed about what was looming on the horizon, or my father was deliberately shielding us from what he believed was going to happen that day. I have no doubt it was the former.

He did not anticipate what was going to unfold in Hillsborough Castle that day.

Had he done so, the devastation that he felt in the aftermath may not have had such an impact on his life and that of his family.

Thirty years on, I can look back and have a better understanding of my father’s reaction to the betrayal by the Conservative government.

Here was a man who was a qualified teacher, and had proven that he had a transferrable skill set that allowed him to pursue a career in industry.

Ben Lowry: Unionists share some culpability for Anglo Irish Agreement

He was a gifted orator and debater, who had felt called to enter politics because of the failure of unionist politicians to face up to what was happening to the unionist population along the border with the Irish Republic.

For nine years he had represented the border constituency of Co Armagh and then Upper Bann. He believed that throughout his 11 years as an MP, the British government had heard and listened to his voice at Westminster. Because of this, his sense of betrayal by Margaret Thatcher was deeply felt.

Thirty years on, despite the assurances in the AIA and the subsequent Belfast Agreement of 1998, the constitutional question remains on the agenda. The ideology of Sinn Fein refuses to accept the reality that the people of Ireland, north and south, are content that Northern Ireland remains a part of the UK.

As a result of the inability of the current Stormont Executive to govern Northern Ireland, many are calling for a return to direct rule. For me, direct rule will bring about a return to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The AIA had such an impact on me that other life events were defined by whether they occurred before or after 1985. Ultimately, until my father’s death in 1990, the agreement cast a long and dark shadow over family life. Things that were once important prior to November 15, 1985 no longer mattered.

His beloved Glenavon Football Club could have won the league and it would not have mattered to him. As far as he was concerned, as long as we lived under joint authority with the Irish Republic, there was nothing to celebrate.

As my late father said on November 27, 1985: “I have suffered the systematic humiliation of being excluded from the government of the part of the country to which I belong because I thought that price was worth paying to be a British citizen.

“I will not suffer this humiliation. I will not come along here (Westminster) as a self-seeking time server and pretend that I am a Member of Parliament when I am not.”

If unionists are serious about learning the lessons from the Anglo-Irish Agreement, it is vital that we find a form of devolution that delivers peace and prosperity for all the citizens of Northern Ireland.

• UUP councillor Colin McCusker’s father Harold was an MP from 1974 to 1990

OTHER RECOLLECTIONS OF THE DEAL:

AIA: Chris McGimpsey - we fought it in the courts

AIA: Ben Lowry - Unionists share some culpability for it

AIA: Reg Empey - NI can now determines its own position

AIA: Alex Kane - It was a wake up and smell the coffee moment

OBITUARY: Geoffrey Howe, broker of Anglo-Irish deal

Letter on AIA: Unionists can use their brains

Letter on AIA: There has been no change