The aims of Irish government policy on Northern Ireland since the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985)

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009

12 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Anglo-Irish-Agreement
2.1 New Ireland Forum (1983-1985)
2.1.1 Background motives
2.2 The Anglo-Irish Agreement
2.3 Aims
2.4 Results and setbacks

3. The Peace Process (1993- )
3.1 Preparations - Prerequisites
3.2 The Downing Street Declaration
3.3 Reform or Constitutional Change?
3.4 Results

4. The Belfast Agreement
4.1 Terms and agreements
4.2 Background and Ideological Consequences

5. Further development

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

In this essay I am going to analyse the principle agreements of the Irish and the British government with regards to Northern Ireland and to outline the aims of the Irish government for their policy. The Irish policy underwent certain shifts of emphasis during the period from 1985 to the present day and I will examine these different approaches.

2. The Anglo-Irish-Agreement

At the beginning of the Eighties, Anglo-Irish relations were at an all-time low concerning the Northern Ireland question. Several developments in Northern Ireland, e.g. the hunger strikes and the continuing troubles, had contributed to this fact. The election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, who was an outspoken unionist, was another negative aspect complicating the relationship. Negotiations had come to a virtual standstill.

2.1 New Ireland Forum (1983-1985)

The New Ireland Forum, initiated by the Taoiseach FitzGerald, was the basis and the preparation for the later Anglo-Irish-Agreement. Its purpose was to find new ways in settling the Northern Ireland conflict and to submit their proposals to the British Government. The New Ireland Forum can be described as a body in which all democratic parties from North and South were involved, however, Ulster unionists did not participate. The Forum report published in 1984, offered three main suggestions:

1. a united Ireland
2. a federal or confederal state
3. a joint authority for Northern Ireland giving the Republic a more formal role.

(cf. Tannam, 76-77).

Margaret Thatcher’s response was more than explicit:

Speaking at a press conference in December 1984, she insisted: I have made it clear… that a united Ireland was one solution that was out. A second solution was confederation of two states. That is out. A third solution was joint authority. That is out. (Tonge, 126; as quoted in Connolly, 1990: 147).

Naturally, the British government was not prepared to discuss the first two options, however, the third one would later become the basis for further negotiations between Ireland and Great Britain. International pressure on Great Britain and a growing pragmatic view in London towards the Northern Ireland problem contributed to a change of opinion.

2.1.1 Background motives

In October 1982 elections to the Assembly took place. “Sinn Fein’s vote of 10.1 %, amounting to a third of the Nationalist vote, alarmed the British and Irish governments, which pondered how to bolster the constitutional nationalism of the SDLP.” (Tonge, 124). This is one of the main reasons why the Irish government felt obliged to take action. They were concerned about the rise of Sinn Fein and feared a destabilization of their own republic by extreme nationalist movements.

During the Seventies and Eighties Northern and Southern nationalism had developed in different directions. “Southern nationalism was engaged in building a state to meet the needs and interests of its 26 counties’ population; Northern nationalism was forced into an oppositional role in a state whose legitimacy it refused to accept.” (Ruane & Todd, 181).

2.2 The Anglo-Irish Agreement

Between 1984 and 1985, quiet diplomatic and informal negotiations between Ireland and Great Britain continued which would lead to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November 1985. The Agreement comprised several important terms:

1. a change in the status of Northern Ireland will only be carried out with the consent of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland
2. an Anglo-Irish Conference at Ministerial or official level will be set up to deal with political, legal and security matters and with cross-border cooperation.
3. a joint Secretariat shall be established to service the Conference on a continuing basis
4. the United Kingdom will accept that the Republic of Ireland will put forward proposals and views on matters relating to Northern Ireland
5. the Irish government will have a say as to policing matters, enforcement of criminal law, prisons policy etc.
6. cross-border cooperation regarding the economy, trade, tourism and social and cultural matters shall be promoted

(cf. Department of Foreign Affairs, Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985).

This was the first time the British government granted the Republic of Ireland a formal role in matters relating to Northern Ireland. On the other hand, Article 1 of the Agreement clearly stated that there would be no constitutional change unless a majority of the Northern Irish population is in favour of it.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


The aims of Irish government policy on Northern Ireland since the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985)
University of Ulster  (Irish History and Politics - Faculty of Arts)
Irish Government and Politics
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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382 KB
Northern, Ireland, Anglo-Irish, Agreement, Irish policy
Quote paper
Birgit Wilpers (Author), 2009, The aims of Irish government policy on Northern Ireland since the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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