Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Anglo-Irish Agreement was an agreement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland which aimed to bring an end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The treaty gave the Irish Government a voice in Northern Ireland's government while confirming that Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK unless a majority of its citizens agreed to join the Republic. It also set out conditions for the establishment of a devolved consensus government in the province.
The Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference
The agreement established the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, made up of officials from the British and Irish governments. This body was concerned with political, legal and security matters in Northern Ireland, as well as "the promotion of cross-border co-operation". It had a consultative role only — no powers to make decisions or change laws were given to it. The Conference would only have power to make proposals "in so far as those matters are not the responsibility of a devolved administration in Northern Ireland". This provision was intended to encourage the unionists (who opposed Irish government involvement in Northern Ireland through the Conference) into power-sharing devolved government.
Reaction to the Agreement
The agreement was rejected by republicans because it confirmed Northern Ireland's status as a part of the UK. The Provisional IRA continued their violent campaign and did not sign up to the agreement.
The nationalist Fianna Fáil political party in the Republic of Ireland also rejected the agreement. The Fianna Fáil leader, Charles Haughey, claimed the agreement was in conflict with Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland because it recognized Northern Ireland as part of the UK. Despite this opposition, all the other main parties in the Republic supported the agreement, and it was ratified comfortably by the Oireachtas.
On the other side, it was rejected by unionists because it gave the Republic of Ireland an increased influence over Northern Ireland, and because they had been excluded from the agreement negotiations. The Ulster Unionist Party and Democratic Unionist Party led the campaign against the agreement, including mass rallies, strikes, civil disobedience and the mass resignation from the British House of Commons of all the unionist MPs. UUP politicians Christopher and Michael McGimpsey even brought a suit against the Irish government in the Irish Supreme Court arguing that the Agreement was invalid because it contradicted Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland. (This argument was unusual coming from a unionist because of the traditional unionist opposition to these two articles.)
Of the main parties in Northern Ireland, only the moderate nationalist SDLP and the cross community Alliance supported the agreement. The by-elections called after the Unionist MPs resigned did not quite offer the electorate a clear-cut choice on the agreement due to the reluctance of the other parties to contest them. No unionist candidate opposed another, whilst both the SDLP and Sinn Féin only contested the four seats where at the previous election there had been a majority of votes cast for nationalist candidates. In the process the SDLP gained the Newry & Armagh seat. The Alliance formally committed to fighting all the seats on a platform of support for the Agreement, but some local branches declined to select candidates. The Workers' Party stood in a few seats. In four constituencies where no party would oppose the Unionist MP a man called Wesley Robert Williamson changed his name by deed poll to "Peter Barry" (the name of the Irish Foreign Minister) and stood on the label "For the Anglo-Irish Agreement" but did not campaign. Despite this he garnered nearly 7000 votes and saved three deposits. The Unionist parties between them garnered over 400,000 votes and over 71% of the total poll, but as no by-elections took place in the staunch nationalist seats of West Belfast and Foyle this latter figure is skewed. Nevertheless the Unionists trumpeted the results as a rejection of the Agreement by the electorate.
The agreement failed to bring an end to political violence in Northern Ireland, nor did it reconcile the two communities. The devolved power-sharing government envisaged by the agreement never became a reality. However, it did improve cooperation between the British and Irish governments, which was key to the creation of the Belfast Agreement a decade later.
Other treaties between Britain and Ireland:
- Treaty of Limerick (1691)
- Anglo-Irish Treaty (1922)
- Sunningdale Agreement (1973)
- Belfast Agreement (1998)
- The CAIN project archive on the Anglo-Irish Agreement
- Text of the Agreement
- McGimpsey v. Ireland — Irish Supreme Court judgement in the case brought by Michael and Christopher McGimpsey
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