26 November 2009 Edition
Remembering the Past BY MÍCHEÁL Mac DONNCHA
BY MÍCHEÁL Mac DONNCHA
IN 1984, the British Tory Government of Margaret Thatcher and the 26-County Fine Gael/Labour Government, led by Garret FitzGerald, were trying to cope with resurgent Irish republicanism as the IRA continued its armed campaign and Sinn Féin increased its electoral rise in the Six Counties.
To help prop up the SDLP, FitzGerald had established the New Ireland Forum in Dublin, a conference of nationalist parties from which Sinn Féin was excluded. In May, the Forum issued its report, describing a united Ireland as the desire of nationalists but also posing a federal/confederal state and joint authority with Britain as possible solutions. Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey, then playing the green card in opposition, stressed Irish unity more than the others and the forum fizzled out with no strategy on offer from the parties represented.
British efforts to smash the IRA in the prisons had been defeated at great cost in 1981 and the widespread use of paid perjurers in 1982 and ‘83 had also failed to defeat the guerrilla army.
The H-Block escape of 38 prisoners in September 1983 and the IRA bombing of the Tory Party conference in Brighton in October 1984 showed that militant republicanism was as strong as ever.
Seeking a common approach, FitzGerald embarked on a round of diplomacy with Thatcher and they met in Chequers on 18 November 1984, issuing a communiqué that talked of recognising the “identities of both the majority and the minority communities” in the North. FitzGerald tried to make the most of this and to present the summit as a major step forward. He was vague on detail, however, and his approach and the forum report were soon blown out of the water. Thatcher declared at her post-summit press conference the next day that the options presented by the forum were “out... out... out”.
While this statement is well-remembered, less so are the equally telling comments of British Secretary of State Douglas Hurd who said any form of joint authority was “unworkable” and “unacceptable” and that there was no evidence of nationalist alienation from the Six-County state.
It was with all this still ringing in Irish ears that Thatcher came to Dublin at the start of December for an EU summit in Dublin Castle.
Protests were organised against the visit and almost 2,000 people took part in a march to Christ Church Place, near Dublin Castle, on the night of the summit. Among the speakers was former student leader and now well-known RTÉ broadcaster Joe Duffy, who attacked FitzGerald for “entertaining and protecting” the head of a government “that is occupying part of our country”.
Joe Duffy continued:
“Instead of repudiating that foreign occupier, the Coalition Government wines and dines her. It is a studied insult, it is gratuitously offensive for this government to play to a person who arrogantly dismisses the rights of the Irish people.”
Duffy compared British repression in the North with police attacks on the striking miners in Britain.
Áine Nic Mhurchadha of Sinn Féin also expressed solidarity with the striking miners.
She said that Thatcher had “made it quite clear that the only role she will willingly concede to any Dublin government is the continued squandering of £500 million in Irish taxpayers’ money in maintaining her border and nothing else”.
Protests greeted Thatcher when she came to Dublin on 3 December 1984, 25 years ago next week.
• Protests greeting Thatcher in Dublin, December 1984
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.