Declassified files: Diplomat proposed strategy to get tough with Dublin

The diplomat feared the  Irish government using the Anglo-Irish Agreement to over-stretch UK officials
The diplomat feared the Irish government using the Anglo-Irish Agreement to over-stretch UK officials
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A veteran British diplomat suggested that if faltering political talks to restore devolution failed then the government should consider being tougher with the Irish government.

Files declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast include a confidential memo from Martin Williams, a Foreign Office diplomat who had worked in Iran and India who was seconded to the Northern Ireland Office for two years in the mid-1990s.

The February 26, 1993 memo was sent to senior NIO official Peter Bell and set out a “contingency plan” if the talks failed. He said that the Irish government may in that instance attempt to expand the Anglo-Irish Agreement, something he referred to as “a transcendental Agreement Mark II”, but he assumed that Britain would simply resist such a move.

However, even within the terms of the agreement as it was at that point, he envisaged difficulties because it had been “very broadly written”.

He said: “It gives the Irish the right to intervene on virtually all matters of substance concerned with Northern Ireland and relations between the two parts of the island of Ireland.”

However, in a section which has been underlined by hand, with the word “good” written beside it, he said that “although we are unlikely to be able to turn down any Irish initiatives as outside the scope of the agreement, we should not hesitate to resist any suggestions which seem to us ill-conceived, or at least ask for clarification and more detail.

“In some cases we may wish to ask for Irish proposals to be put in writing, to which we might choose to reply in writing. In appropriate cases, it might be useful to ask whether proposals put forward by the DFA have the support of the relevant ministry which has the responsibility for that particular area of policy.

“Our aim should be not to seem unhelpful, still less obstructive, but to try to prevent Irish demands through the agreement from making excessive demands on the time and energies of NIO and Northern Ireland department officials; as well as those of the security forces.”

He said that the second part of the UK approach should be “to look for ways of using the agreement for our own benefit”.

In a section which again has been underlined by hand, he went on: “It is in the area of security that we might have most to gain. Hitherto, we have tended to limit our requests of the Irish to areas where we see a reasonable prospect that they will be able to agree with what we want, and will not be upset by our asking for it.”

Although he said that approach had been beneficial to the UK in strengthening working relationships between the RUC and the Garda, he said that “it may be worth considering an alternative approach”. Mr Williams went on: “The Irish have never been inhibited from making proposals or requests about Northern Ireland by the fact that they might not be welcome to us, or that we would be unlikely to be able to agree to them at once.”

He said there was evidence that where London had consistently pressed Dublin on the issue of extradition, the Irish had gradually moved.