Irish state papers released under the thirty-year embargo ruling have revealed that former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald and ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher discussed the notion of redrawing the Irish border during the build up to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.
During heated exchanges at a meeting between Mr Fitzgerald and Mrs Thatcher, the ‘Iron Lady’ expressed her view that giving Dublin a role in Northern Ireland affairs could plunge the state into civil war.
The then Prime Minister also appeared to believe that the North was veering towards becoming a Marxist state and put forward the idea that the resolution to the crisis was a matter of “simply” moving the border.
An official note records: “She wondered if a possible answer to the problem might not simply be a redrawing of boundaries.”
However, Mr Fitzgerald’s view was that would be a “fatal mistake.”
It has also been revealed the pair considered the idea of a ‘Belgian-style model’ for Northern Ireland-in other words a federalist approach.
The Toaiseach also said that he and his government had worked on dampening the hopes of some for an end to Northern Ireland in its then current format. He contended most people accepted that Irish “unity was not on” in the short term.
Mr Fitzgerald also pressed Margaret Thatcher for a new system of governance in the North based on agreed policies between the British secretary of state and an Irish minister. And, where those two individuals could not agree, he and Mrs Thatcher would step in.
Yet, according to the Dublin files, the British Prime Minister reacted “strongly” to the suggestions.
“No, no-that is joint authority. You are giving them 40 per cent of our country,” she said.
She also said that Catholics in the North, who were 40 per cent of the population, gave no allegiance to London “but they took the government’s money.”
They believed they were different from any other minority and were “drawing on resources which the Republic did not provide,” she told the Taoiseach.
“The nationalists feel that all they have to do is wait,” she continued.
However, she did accept that Catholics had difficulty getting jobs and admitted some areas “would not accept Catholics.”
Mr Fitzgerald said there had been an agreement on an Irish dimension in northern affairs and stated he would not ask the republic to surrender its territorial claim on the north without such a deal.
Yet, Mrs Thatcher insisted that that was joint authority. “That was definitely out,” she stated.
“The unionists would say your are giving up your Constitutional claims but you are coming across the border and don’t really need the claim. That would put us well on the way to civil war,” she added.
In a particularly sharp exchange she argued that Westminster was answerable for Northern Ireland, to which the Taoiseach replied “for 50 years they had regarded themselves as being answerable.”
“They had not permitted a question on Northern Ireland in the house. That was partly the reason for the present trouble,” said Mr Fitzgerald.
On the issue of a Belgian-style solution-a federal arrangement under a monarchy, Mrs Thatcher claimed she hadn’t ruled it out, “even though it would be attacked by the unionists as an effective repartition.”
“History shows that the Irish, whether the Scottish-Irish or Irish-Irish, don’t like to move. However, they all seem terribly happy to move to Britain,” she stated.
The British Prime Minister also complained there was too much public sector employment in Northern Ireland, no wealth creation and that it was costing London £2 billion a year in subventions at that time. At the top level meeting at Chequers which lasted for two hours she also revealed fears of more violence over the issue of Anglo-Irish discussions.
She said: “There was a real danger that a Marxist society could develop.”
Mrs Thatcher also said that if there could be no devolution would it be best to have proper local government or to “treat Northern Ireland as simply another part of the United Kingdom.”
At a press conference later that day Mrs Thatcher gave her now infamous “out,out,out” declaration when she panned a trio of options put forward by the Irish Government. Those suggestions were, Irish unity, a two-state federation or joint authority.
Mr Fitzgerald was later to say he thought Mrs Thatcher’s behaviour was “gratuitously offensive.”