Northern Ireland--Between War and Peace: The Political Future of Northern Ireland

By Paul Bew; Henry Patterson et al. | Go to book overview

3
'No SELFISH STRATEGIC
INTEREST': THE SEARCH FOR
A SOLUTION, 1985–92

In an effort to reassure worried Unionists, both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King, argued that the Anglo–Irish Agreement would strengthen the union, presumably by reducing the degree of Nationalist alienation. Interestingly enough, Garret FitzGerald agreed. In his contribution to an Edinburgh document, Northern Ireland – A Challenge to Theology, Dr FitzGerald spoke of making the 'status quo work'. The Anglo–Irish Agreement signalled the end of Irish irredentism: it was instrumental in promoting recognition that Irish unity would not come about for two generations and then only by consent (as indicated in chapter two, FitzGerald had rejected his previously more optimistic views on this point as unrealistic). Even more remarkably, in his Edinburgh text Dr FitzGerald acknowledged that the Irish government had responsibility without power in the north and that in that sense 'nothing substantive had changed'.

Yet it remained difficult to see why Britain had any material interest in the strengthening of the union; indeed Mr Peter Brooke, Mr King's successor, insisted in November 1990 that Britain had 'no strategic economic' interest in the union. As argued in chapter two, a section of opinion in Whitehall seemed to see the Agreement as the first step in a process of decoupling Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, precisely because Northern Ireland was a drain on the political and economic resources of the British state. The implication was that Britain perceived itself – correctly or not – to have no quarrel with Irish constitutional Nationalism (or the gradual and peaceful extension of its hegemony over the whole island of Ireland) but it was opposed to both revolutionary Nationalism and Ulster

-69-

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