Anglo-Irish Agreement was subject at table of London club
State Papers 1986: diplomat Richard Ryan and two Tories talked politics over port
Ian Gow: maintained the agreement would “cause more bloodshed for no good return” and would prolong Ulster’s agony. Photograph: PA
The concerns of two leading Conservative politicians about the Anglo-Irish Agreement were conveyed to Irish diplomat Richard Ryan at a convivial dinner at a well-known gentleman’s club in London in the summer of 1986.
The dinner at Pratt’s club in July was hosted by Ian Gow, who had resigned from the British government in protest at the agreement. The MP was murdered by the IRA four years later.
In a report back to Dublin, Mr Ryan records that the dinner at Pratt’s took place at a common dining table, around which the club members gather for meals.
“It became quickly clear that I was pretty well included on the menu,” he wrote.
“Gow had, it seemed, mentioned to Jonathan Aiken MP and a group of friends – mostly highly successful figures in business, banking and so on – who have an interest in the Irish matter largely because their friend, Gow, resigned from the government over the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that we were to have a conversation about the Northern Ireland question.”
Speaking to Mr Ryan in private before the dinner, Mr Gow said he deeply regretted that the efforts to get the unionists to return to parliament had so far failed but he thought they could not play the abstentionist game indefinitely.
“We rehearsed on both sides, but without any acrimony, indeed with a great deal of Osric-like fluttering attendant on any conversation with Gow, our armoury of arguments for and against the agreement.”
Mr Gow maintained that as time passed it only reinforced his view the agreement would “cause more bloodshed for no good return” and that it would prolong Ulster’s agony.
“On the other hand he was effusive in his obeisances to our Government’s motives and the genuineness of our convictions; he just thinks our case is misfounded and, large as he is, he wriggles deftly from the grip when he is invited to give a counteranalysis of the broad problems of an alienated minority in a state run by his friends.”
When the two men sat down to dinner with the rest of the guests, a round table discussion opened up and it went on all evening.
“This lasted five hours, during which one’s only ally was the port decanter which was pushed round at them as fast as possible, all the quicker to wear them down,” recorded Mr Ryan.
He also gave his impressions of Mr Aiken, whom he described as “high Tory - landed, aristocratic, rich” who was born at the British legation in Dublin during the war and knows Anglo Irish Ireland very well.
“He has a great affection for us (touched with a hint of benevolence) and he supported the agreement last November. However, he said, the niggling doubts which he quelled in November are now growing within him and he feels the agreement may have been a mistake, that it may have hooked HMG and Westminster on something that may produce little or no positive results but, rather, may reap trouble which they may not easily get out of.”
Mr Aiken added he would love the agreement to work “and, supported noisily by the assembled diners, and Mr Gow, he said the one thing that would raise the cloud cover now settling on the whole thing would be some major success in the security field”.
Mr Ryan recorded the overall mood was some scepticism about the agreement but a preparedness to be proved wrong and both Tories suggested further contact and conversation.
“The group parted, fairly refreshed, in the early hours, pretty well talked out for one night,” he concluded.