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Reactions To The Anglo Irish Agreement

At his separate press conference, Prime Minister FitzGerald clung to the language and the timidly hopeful tone of the communiqué. He described the discussions as “broad and constructive.” He refused to be drawn into a public disagreement with the British Prime Minister. But their statements have caused a storm of criticism in Ireland. Hume, for example, characterized his language as a provocation of “deep and legitimate anger and insults.” Back in Dublin, during a closed-door meeting of his party`s MPs, FitzGerald described their remarks as “insulting for free,” a phrase that quickly entered the newspapers. The British Prime Minister has never been more inconsistent in his attitude and with Protestant trade unionists than during the hunger strike of irish Republican Army prisoners in the spring and summer of 1981. But, in retrospect, it appears that his harsh handling of this crisis triggered a course of events that led to the November 1985 agreement. No one expected the Unionist community or its leaders to like the agreement, but attempts were made to allay the fears of trade unionists to the extent that words could do so. Both governments promised that Northern Ireland`s constitutional status could only be changed with the agreement of a majority of the population, and acknowledged that the current desire of a majority was not a change. On the other hand, no effort has been made to involve trade unionists in the negotiations. It was accepted that they strongly oppose any role in Northern Ireland for the Dublin government, regardless of how that role should be defined. To dramatize their assertion that the agreement is contrary to the democratic atmosphere of the province, the trade unionists, who held 15 of Northern Ireland`s 17 seats in the House of Commons, resigned as a group. There was some risk in this manoeuvre, since four of the Unionist seats are in nationalist zones.

Trade unionists represent these districts only because the moderate SDLP and sinn Fein, more militant, have divided the nationalist voice. To avoid dividing their own vote, trade unionists have entered into an electoral pact that names only one of their votes in each constituency. The trial hit a major roadwork in September, when Mrs Thatcher Hurd was locked into a major cabinet reshuffle and went from the Northern Ireland Office to the Home Secretary. Christopher Patton, one of his junior ministers, who had the delicate task of having political discussions with the parties in Northern Ireland, was appointed junior minister in the Department of Education. These changes seemed, once again, to indicate the British view that Northern Ireland is not very important to the concerns of the continental United Kingdom. The reactions of the press in London and Dublin were negative, especially since Tom King, Kurd`s successor, was not a well-known political figure. Like most of his predecessors, he had little experience and little knowledge of the North. When it became clear that the agreement was already well advanced and that its details would be decided by the Prime Minister himself, those concerns faded.