Irish Times view on Anglo-Irish relations: keeping sight of mutual interests

Criticism by unionists of Intergovernmental Conference meeting reveals potential for Stormont stand-off to infect relationship

Last week’s meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, was a step towards ensuring the positivity that developed in the course of the peace process is not allowed to wilt. Above, Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan (left) and Tánaiste Simon Coveney after the meeting in London. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire

Last week’s meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, was a step towards ensuring the positivity that developed in the course of the peace process is not allowed to wilt. Above, Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan (left) and Tánaiste Simon Coveney after the meeting in London. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire

 

Relations between the Irish and British governments have become testy in the course of the Brexit negotiations. It is imperative that they are put back on a sound enough footing to withstand the inevitable tensions that will arise as negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom reach a critical stage.

Last week’s meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), the first in 11 years, was a step towards ensuring the positivity that developed in the course of the peace process is not allowed to wilt in the face of current difficulties. The decision to hold another IGC meeting in the autumn was welcome and indicates both sides are determined to do their best to avoid a deterioration in relations regardless of what happens in the Brexit talks.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney struck the right note after last week’s meeting. Announcing that senior officials in both administrations had been instructed to come up with proposals on how the two governments can have a structured dialogue at cabinet level after Brexit, he pointed to the way that happens between France and Germany.

The criticism of last week’s meeting by unionist politicians who accused the Irish Government of meddling in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland revealed the potential for the continuing stand-off between the parties at Stormont to infect Anglo-Irish relations. The measured response of Irish and British ministers was an encouraging sign that they will be able to put the Brexit tensions behind them when the issue is finally settled. The continuing stand-off between the two biggest parties in the North makes it imperative that the governments stick to a common approach to try to get the power-sharing institutions up and running again.

Whatever the current difficulties, relations are still immeasurably better than they were 30 years ago, as illustrated by the latest release of British state papers. Back in 1988 British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and taoiseach Charles Haughey made no secret of their fundamental disagreement about how to deal with the threat of IRA terrorism.

They revealed their disdain for each other in a number of exchanges. Thatcher told Haughey at a face-to-face meeting that the Irish Republic had the largest concentration of terrorists anywhere in the world, apart from Lebanon, and was not doing nearly enough about it, while Haughey lectured the British ambassador to Ireland about 800 years of oppression.

Thankfully that level of mutual animosity between the leaders of the two countries does not exist today. Leo Varadkar and Theresa May have had their difficulties over the wording of the Irish Border backstop and while those differences have not been resolved, common sense and mutual goodwill should ensure a deal is done.

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