Anglo-Irish Agreement - Political Aftermath
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The following text has been contributed by Alan Morton, Ph.D. Student with the Irish Peace Institute Research Centre, University of Limerick. The views expressed in this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
Political AftermathThere have been two major attempts to find a political settlement in Northern Ireland since the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The first emanated from Britain and aimed to involve all constitutional parties in a political talks process. The impetus for the second initiative came from nationalist politicians and the Irish Government, and hoped to induce an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire. Both initiatives were influenced by the workings of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and deserve some discussion.
The British Initiative
British attempts to find a settlement
were given fresh impetus with the arrival of Peter Brooke as Secretary
of State for Northern Ireland in July 1989. His initiative used
John Hume's three-stranded framework for analysis: relations
between the two communities in Northern Ireland; relations North
and South of the border in Ireland; and relations between Dublin
and London. The prognosis was not promising during the first
seven weeks of the talks as the political leaders struggled over
the agenda, the venue and the chair of the second strand of talks
between North and South. The Brooke talks process led to the
suspension of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference for
ten weeks and the gradually running down of the Maryfield Secretariat.
The process was abandoned in July 1991
when the planned Intergovernmental Conference went ahead. The
Anglo-Irish Agreement's structures were crucial to the failure
to reach a consensus. Unionists were unwilling to negotiate with
the continuing threat of the Intergovernmental Conference. In
the opinion of O'Leary and McGarry (1993), the 'Social Democratic
and Labour Party (SDLP) saw the Anglo-Irish Agreement as a minimum
and irreversible base-line from which to negotiate', while Unionists
were simply unwilling to contemplate further interference of a
'foreign country' in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
Peter Brooke presented a new formula
for talks in December 1991. Brooke's successor, Patrick Mayhew,
inherited this formula and created some space for negotiation
when the Intergovernmental Conference was suspended for three
months. However, these talks later failed after Unionists received
a luke-warm reception in Dublin during the second strand of negotiations.
What became clear during the Brooke
/ Mayhew initiative was the willingness of both Governments to
use the Anglo-Irish Agreement as a bargaining tactic to induce
compromise from Unionists.
The Irish Initiative
During the later stages of the Brooke
/ Mayhew initiative, Irish nationalists were pursuing an alternative
strategy. The Hume / Adams dialogue, which had started in 1988,
was re-established in the early 1990s and was to provide the main
stimulus for the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993.
The Declaration stated that Britain had 'no selfish, strategic
or economic interest in Northern Ireland' and aimed to bring Sinn
Féin (SF) to the negotiating table via a ceasefire from
the Irish Republican Army (IRA). This inclusive strategy was
boosted when the ceasefire was announced in August 1994, followed
shortly after by a ceasefire from the Combined Loyalist Military
The inclusive strategy faltered when
the IRA ended its ceasefire after 17 months. During this time
there had been little progress towards all-party talks. A talks
process was established in 1996 involving the two Governments
and ten political parties from Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin
was excluded due to the absence of an IRA ceasefire.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement was crucial
to the Irish initiative in terms of the established communication
channels of the Intergovernmental Conference. Despite some reticence
about the merits of the inclusive strategy from key figures, such
as Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew, and Irish Foreign Minister
Dick Spring, the inclusive approach now dominates the 'peace process'
in Northern Ireland. The formalised relationship of Anglo-Irish
relations through the Hillsborough Agreement has been a vital
aspect of this process.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within the University of Ulster.
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