Haughey seen as using neutrality 'as a cloak to an anti-British attitude'
BRITISH VIEW:Margaret Thatcher’s government was so angry at Irish opposition to the Falklands war in 1982 that it considered taking away the voting rights enjoyed by Irish citizens living in Britain and introducing a trade boycott on Irish goods, newly released state papers at the National Archives in London reveal.
Within a matter of weeks of Charles Haughey’s return as taoiseach after the 1982 February election, British officials were warning their prime minister: “Mr Haughey has given us cause to doubt his good faith and to make us wonder what he is playing at.”
By May 5th, 1982, a senior official at the foreign office wrote: “I fear that Anglo-Irish relations are in crisis even if ministers have not, as far as I am aware, formally declared them to be so.”
The first source of tension emerged when Haughey was seen to “torpedo” an attempt by Jim Prior, the Northern Ireland secretary of state, to establish partial or rolling devolution in Northern Ireland with an elected Assembly, by urging the SDLP to boycott it. Prior was already facing considerable opposition from unionists and the right wing of the Conservative Party and could barely withstand a nationalist boycott too.
Much more damaging to relations, however, was the British perception that the Irish government had “behaved over the Falklands with breathtaking irresponsibility, ineptitude or even worse”. On June 22nd, Sir Leonard Figg, the British ambassador in Dublin, produced a detailed diplomatic report on the “serious worsening” of relations, which suggested the damage “may be long lasting”.
Initially, on April 3rd, the Irish government had supported UN Security Council Resolution 502 which demanded an immediate withdrawal of Argentine forces from the Falklands. Following the British sinking of the Argentine naval cruiser General Belgrano on May 3rd, however, which took 368 Argentine lives, the Irish position changed markedly.
At a reception in Dublin the next day, the minister for foreign affairs, Gerard Collins, told Figg that he could not be seen to shake his hand in public.
When the Irish government supported a joint Spanish-Panamanian UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities, Britain was forced to exercise its veto as a member of the security council, causing considerable consternation in London at what was seen as an Irish volte face. Worse still, Ireland began to question the sanctions which the European Community had agreed to impose upon Argentina after the invasion.
The change was attributed to the “anglophobia of the green fringe of Irish politics”. Haughey and his advisers were accused of using Irish neutrality, “as a cloak to an anti-British attitude, [which] might be useful in domestic political terms”.
Instructions were immediately sent to officials in the Northern Ireland Office and British foreign office to “go slow” on any intergovernmental business “and to avoid doing anything that looks remotely like a favour to the Irish”.