British 'blatantly dragged feet' over studies


Cross-Border studies in '75: FitzGerald said British sought to downgrade the issue, writes Eamon Phoenix

The reluctance of the British government in 1975 to engage in cross-Border studies with the Republic is revealed in this year's Stormont cabinet releases.

The issue was discussed at a meeting in Stormont Castle on January 3rd, 1975, attended by the secretary of state, Merlyn Rees, the minister of state, Roland Moyle, and officials. The purpose was to consider the British government's response to recent criticism from the Irish foreign minister, Dr Garret FitzGerald, that "the British had been blatantly dragging their feet and seeking to downgrade the studies".

Dr FitzGerald had complained to Mr Rees that the British had failed to implement an agreement reached between the taoiseach (Mr Cosgrave) and the British prime minister (Mr Wilson) to prepare two major cross-Border projects.

After discussion, the meeting agreed to send a "robust letter" to Dr FitzGerald, "pointing out the need to avoid exacerbating Protestant fears of a British sell-out, which recent stories of government negotiations with the Provisional IRA had aggravated by embarking at this time on a grandiose economic study".

The result was a letter from Mr Moyle to Dr FitzGerald on January 10th, 1975. The Stormont-based minister stated that it would be better to avoid a large study covering a wide geographical area and to concentrate on a specific study of likely practical use. He added: "Our view has been that if we are to avoid stirring up political difficulties, any cross-Border studies must be small and severely practical."