Anglo-Irish Agreement ‘a great shock’ to Unionists, FitzGerald told Reagan

State papers 1986: Taoiseach thanked US president for his support during ‘long negotiations’

The Anglo-Irish Agreement came as a “great shock” to unionists and had “changed their whole perception of things”, taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald told US president Ronald Reagan.

During a visit to the White House on St Patrick’s Day 1986, FitzGerald thanked Reagan for his support during the “long negotiations” and on the signing of the historic agreement on November 15th the previous year.

A memo marked “secret and personal” in the Department of the Taoiseach files from 1986 noted the US president had expressed his support for the taoiseach in reaching the agreement.

“We hope and pray that the enterprise will be successful. There are some gentlemen who would not be too pleased to see the work succeeding. They are resisting what is happening. That is not a good thing,” Reagan said.


In his reply, FitzGerald noted the agreement had been passed “by an overwhelming majority in the British parliament.”

“In our parliament, the main opposition party opposed it. But among our people there is support now for the agreement of approximately four-fifths of the population. In the North, three-fourths of the nationalist population support it.”

Explaining the background to the conflict, FitzGerald told the president the problem sprang from the fact that “the unionist people felt they had a right to determine not merely their membership of the UK, but the way in which they should be allowed to govern or be governed within that country”.

Changed perceptions

“For this reason, the agreement has come as a great shock for them. It has changed their whole perception of things. For this reason, they are resisting what is happening and there are problems. I am hopeful, however, that these can be overcome with the firmness and determination of Mrs Thatcher and of my own government.”

FitzGerald said nobody could be sure how things would work out. “The great majority of people are convinced that the agreement is right and the framework for progress which it provides is right. Firmness in implementing it is most important. The change it brings about is truly historic.” The taoiseach also thanked Reagan for the aid package he had placed before the US Congress.

The files also contain a letter of March 5th, 1986, from Aer Lingus to the taoiseach’s private secretary Donagh Morgan, proposing material the taoiseach might include in his addresses to Aer Lingus-hosted functions in New York during his St Patrick’s Day trip.

Planning and commercial adviser Micheál Ó Riain noted a reference to Ireland “as a peaceful holiday location”.

“Our people in the US see this as being of special importance. We would like this point to be included in the taoiseach’s final text so that it could be picked up by the US media, as the tourist market is becoming unsettled due to reports of terrorism in Europe, apart altogether from our own North of Ireland disturbances.”