Why Did Unionists Oppose The Anglo Irish Agreement

The excessive language of politicians, the threats of violence of Protestant gunmen, who have a plethora of weapons, and the gloomy mood of the entire trade union community, from university intellectuals to unemployed workers, do not bode well for the reconciliation of the two northern communities, which is ideal for reaching the agreement. When the two governments worked on the agreement, there was no reason to doubt the words of Barry White, an editor of the Belfast Telegraph and a respected observer of the Nordic scene, who had written a few months earlier: “Protestant trade unionists in Northern Ireland and Roman Catholic nationalists were never further away.” In improving the political climate between Britain and Ireland, the heads of state and government of both countries met for negotiations. Ireland and Great Britain agreed that any changes to the status of Northern Ireland would only be done with the agreement of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland and an intergovernmental conference was set up to examine the political, security and legal relations between the two sides of the island. The agreement dealt a blow to Northern Ireland`s trade unionists by creating, through the Anglo-Irish secretariat, an advisory role of the Irish government in northern Ireland affairs. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and other trade unionists condemned the agreement and UUP MPs resigned their seats because of the issue (although 14 were won in 1986 in by-elections). The party organized mass protests and boycotts of municipal councils and filed a complaint questioning the legality of the agreement. But these efforts – which were joined by the Democratic Unionist Party – could not force the lifting of the agreement. The agreement was negotiated as a step towards easing long-standing tensions between Britain and Ireland over Northern Ireland, although trade unionists in Northern Ireland (who were in favour of the UK`s continued existence) strongly opposed their southern neighbour having a say on domestic policy issues. Many political leaders – including Thatcher, who had been strongly committed to British sovereignty in Northern Ireland – were convinced that a solution to years of religious violence in Northern Ireland could only be found through a comprehensive agreement. He then expressed concern that the agreement threatens Irish neutrality and forces the Republic of Ireland to accept the United Kingdom`s presence in Northern Ireland.