British officials considered redrawing Border, 1984 papers show

One option would have ceded more than half the area of Northern Ireland and reduced population to 1m

A Garda border checkpoint in  Donegal. Photograph: Alain Le Garsmeur/Getty Images

A Garda border checkpoint in Donegal. Photograph: Alain Le Garsmeur/Getty Images

Fri, Jan 3, 2014, 01:00

A repartition of the Irish border was seriously considered by British officials in 1984 and even reached the desk of prime minister Margaret Thatcher, though it was eventually rejected as unrealistic and impractical.

The question of partition was revisited by the Northern Ireland Office in response to the research of Paul Compton, a demographer at Queen’s University Belfast who described the 1920 partition of Ireland as “necessary and justified” but “flawed” in execution.

On June 20th, officials discussed a range of options for boundary adjustments, included one that would cede more than half the geographical area of Northern Ireland and reduce the population to 1 million. While the idea was rejected, repartition re-emerged as a political issue in November 1984, when taoiseach Garret FitzGerald spoke publicly against it, saying it would lead to a more permanent division of the island.

On a minute referring to those remarks, Thatcher wrote “that’s why he doesn’t like it”. Her cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong also noted, however, “Prime Minister, the fact that the Taoiseach’s against it does not necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. But there are other more serious objections”.

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