The iconic image of of Bishop Edward Daly in Derry ‘negotiating’ a safe passage for Jackie Duddy, a victim of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry on the 30th January 1972, resurfaced in the media on the occasion of the death of the Bishop recently. The image was a stark reminder of just how much relationships between the hostile communities of NI and the Irish and British governments, have improved and progressed since the grim, dark days of ‘The Troubles’.
The death of another ‘negotiator’ who played a key role in bringing about the end of ‘The Troubles’, was recorded in an obituary in the Irish Times (06/08/2016) just a few days prior to Bishop Daly’s demise. Sir David Goodall was, part of a hardworking diligent and resilient team – which included the Irish Taoiseach, Garrett Fitzgerald – in bringing about an agreement in the 1980’s between the Republic of Ireland, the British Government and more reluctantly, the politicians and communities of the so called ‘Six Counties’. The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 was the result of a long and arduous process, brought about by the dogged determination of both Garrett Fitzgerald and Maggie Thatcher to ‘do something’ about the NI situation.
Several efforts had been made since the collapse of the Stormont government in 1973, to reach a compromise on changing the relationship paradigm, – which had existed since the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922, – between the two ‘sovereign states’ of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. In 1982, the New Ireland Forum was set up by Garret Fitzgerald, with the backing of John Hume, the leader of the SDLP in NI. Its participants included members of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour parties from the Republic and the SDLP from NI.
The New Ireland Forum was established for consultations on the manner in which lasting peace and stability could be achieved in a new Ireland through the democratic process and to report on possible new structures and processes through which this objective might be achieved. (Sinn Féin: Report on the New Ireland Forum)
The Forum came up with three scenarios to present to the British PM, Maggie Thatcher, in 1984.
The New Ireland Forum Report was published in May 1984. It suggested three scenarios for the future of the island: (a) a united Ireland (b) a confederation of Northern Ireland and the Republic (c) joint authority over Northern Ireland.
Both the PM and Taoiseach held what was considered to be an amicable and productive meeting at the Anglo-Irish Summit held at Chequers in 1984 where ‘Thatcher expresses the shared aim of “lasting peace and stability in Northern Ireland”’. However at a subsequent press conference she:
dismissed each of the potential solutions for the conflict in Northern Ireland outlined in the New Ireland Forum Report.
In what became known as the ‘out’, ‘out’, ‘out’ speech, Thatcher comments:
I have made it quite clear – and so did Mr Prior when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – that a unified Ireland was one solution. That is out. A second solution was confederation of two states. That is out. A third solution was joint authority. That is out. That is a derogation from sovereignty. We made that quite clear when the Report was published.
She continued by stating that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom because ‘that is the wish of the majority of her citizens’. (RTE Archives)
This might have been the end of the matter but Fitzgerald and even a contrite Thatcher herself, persisted in negotiations, ably assisted by a team of both Irish and British civil servants of which Sir David Goodall was a key player.
Although a cursory glance at his life and times would indicate that Goodall was the epitome of a British Government public servant – educated at a public school (Ampleforth Benedictine Abbey) and Oxford (Trinity College, where he obtained a First) his family had Irish connections which he acknowledged and nurtured.
His ancestors had fought on both sides of the 1798 Rising. He had:
a lifelong scholarly interest in Irish and, especially, Wexford, history. He was President of the Irish Genealogical Research Society from 1992 -2012 (Irish Times 06/08/2016)
He was also a skilled negotiator and perhaps most importantly trusted and liked by Thatcher who fondly called him her ‘favourite clergyman’.
Two years after the disastrous press conference, Fitzgerald and Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, in spite of ongoing, virulent opposition to it by the Ulster Unionists – who politically had always supported Thatcher and British Conservatism.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed by the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Ireland at Hillsborough, Co. Down on 15 November 1985.
The Agreement was the most important development in Anglo-Irish relations since the 1920s. Both Governments confirmed that there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its citizens. Both Governments also viewed the Agreement as a means of inducing unionist leaders in Northern Ireland to accept a devolved power-sharing arrangement. (CAIN)
The Agreement was significant in breaking the nexus between the ‘sovereign states’ of the Republic and the British government both of which refused, up to this point, to acknowledge the role of the other in NI affairs. Thus, Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of GB over any part of the 32 counties, while Great Britain refused to acknowledge Irish involvement in the government of the ‘Six Counties’.
The Agreement also made provision for the Republic to have a much greater involvement in the affairs of the ‘Six Counties’ by introducing cross border institutions, forums and conferences
The Irish Government through the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and Maryfield Secretariat, was provided with a consultative role in the administration of Northern Ireland for the first time. (CAIN)
This compromise could not have happened without the dedicated, shrewd, enlightened mindset of the ‘committee’ of civil servants assigned to negotiate the rocky path to peace in NI. Although Sir David Goodall was only one member of this group, by all accounts it was his good humour, patience and charm, which facilitated and contributed to the positive outcome, which resulted in the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The Northern Ireland Unionists continued to oppose the agreement and Thatcher in her memoirs reneged on her acceptance of it.
The primary objective of the Agreement was to foster peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. With regard to this objective, the Agreement failed. The two communities in Northern Ireland were as polarised in the 1990s as they ever had been. However, in terms of co-operation between the Irish and British Governments in relation to security and legal affairs, cross-border co-operation, and political matters, the Agreement has had some success. (CAIN)
Most importantly, the Agreement institutionalised Anglo-Irish relations. The Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference provided a vital channel of communication between the two sovereign powers that has produced increased understanding and promoted a bi-partisan approach to the Northern Ireland conflict. (CAIN)
There can be no doubt that the Anglo- Irish Agreement is the precursor of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and many of its clauses –including the all important one removing the right of Unionists to veto decisions made by the NI government with which they did not agree, – paved the way for similar concessions in the 1998 Agreement.
This in turn has led to the revolutionary idea that if a majority of the people of NI wished to be reunited with the Republic, the Unionists could not veto their desire to do so. It is interesting that only recently, Enda Kenny raised the possibility that this obscure Article 2 Annex 2 of the Belfast Agreement/Good Friday Agreement could be evoked if the people of NI – the majority of whom regardless of religion, creed, political and social persuasions voted to Remain in the recent Brexit referendum, – sought reunification with the Republic because of the, for them, adverse Brexit result.
But one suspects, it would take a David Goodall to achieve this outcome!
Liz is a member of the Tinteán Editorial Team