Key Negotiators of Anglo Irish Agreement Speak at Trinity Event

Key Irish and British officials who negotiated the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement gathered to discuss the legacy of the historic treaty at a public event organised to mark the 30th anniversary of the agreement in Trinity College Dublin on Monday, November 16, 2015.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement signed in Hillsborough Castle on November 15th, 1985 by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, is regarded as a major stepping stone in the peace process.  At the time, however the agreement was viewed by most Unionists as a reckless if not a treacherous act and seen by some in Ireland as a betrayal of Irish aspirations for unity, according to event organiser Eunan O Halpin, Professor of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity.

"The agreement marked the first formal concession by a British government of a consultative role for the Irish State in the governance of Northern Ireland. It also reiterated the principle that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom could not be changed without the explicit consent of a majority within the province."

“At the time the agreement caused the resignation of Ian Gow MP, one of Mrs Thatcher’s most trusted aides who was later murdered by the Provisional IRA, and a ferocious House of Commons attack upon her by her ideological idol Enoch Powell MP. In Ireland the leader of the Opposition Charles Haughey denounced the agreement as inept and a betrayal of legitimate Irish aspirations for unity, yet when he came into office in 1987 he personally assured Sir Robert Armstrong that his government would continue its operation, and so they did.”

Lord Robert Armstrong, Professor Eunan O'Halpin and Michael Lillis

The symposium, hosted by Trinity's Centre for Contemporary Irish History in conjunction with Trinity Long Room Hub, heard from various officials involved in the negotiation and implementation of the agreement. The event also considered whether the agreement met the expectations of each of the two governments and in particular whether it led to an improvement in the lives of Northern nationalists and an increase in the effectiveness of Anglo-Irish security co-operation.

At the event Lord Robert Armstrong, principal private secretary to prime ministers Edward Heath and Harold Wilson from 1970 to 1975, and Secretary to the Cabinet from 1979 to 1987 under Mrs Thatcher, offered his reflections on 'Dublin from Downing Street, 1970-87'. Noel Dorr, who served as Irish ambassador to the UK from 1983 to 1987, and Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs from 1987 to 1991, commented on continuities, discontinuities and developments in the approach of the Irish government to Anglo-Irish relations over the same period.

Speakers at the 'Anglo Irish Agreement, 1985: Expectations and Outcomes' conference at Trinity College Dublin

Key negotiators of the Agreement, Sir David Goodall and Michael Lillis, also offered their reflections on the negotiation and implementation of the agreement. Other former officials involved in framing and operating the agreement, including Daithi O Ceallaigh and Colonel Tom Hodson (retd.) of the Irish Defence Forces, also offer contributions.

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