Former Taoiseach Charles Haughey’s attempts to put pressure on the British government during the Falklands War backfired and threatened relations between the two countries at the highest level, Northern Ireland Office (NIO) files from 1982 claimed.
Ministerial meetings were shunned after the Irish government sought a meeting of the UN Security Council to call for a ceasefire following Britain’s sinking of the Argentinian ship the General Belgrano.
It is 30 years since the dictatorship invaded the British-ruled archipelago in the South Atlantic.
An NIO memo from the time said: “The Falklands crisis had given Mr Haughey the opportunity to seek to be a world statesman (though it was widely recognised that the attempt had rebounded to his disadvantage) and to apply pressure on the British government.”
In response, bilateral meetings of ministers were discouraged by the British government and attempts to introduce closer intergovernmental relations over Northern Ireland, then polarised following the hunger strikes and intensified levels of violence, were delayed, NIO documents said.
A summary in June 1982 said: “The Republic’s unhelpful role in the Falklands crisis and public awareness of it means attempts to develop the relationship (between the two countries) just now would be heavily criticised.”
A former leading diplomat has staunchly defended Ireland’s approach to dealing with the Falklands.
Noel Dorr, Ireland’s ambassador to the UN at the time and subsequently head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said efforts had been made to try to avert war.
An Irish government statement issued in May 1982 sought an immediate meeting of the UN Security Council, of which Ireland was a temporary member, to prepare a new resolution for immediate cessation of hostilities.
The statement failed to mention another British-sponsored resolution which called for the withdrawal of Argentine forces and came in the middle of negotiations and the day before both warring sides were to respond to proposals from the UN secretary general. Ultimately, the phrase “immediate meeting” was replaced with “immediately seeking a meeting”.
According to another NIO file, Northern Ireland Secretary James Prior discussed Irish actions on the Falklands with the UK ambassador to Ireland, Sir Leonard Figg, in June 1982.
The note said Mr Haughey showed “fundamental inconsistencies” in attempting to seek developments on Northern Ireland while simultaneously “souring” Anglo-Irish relations by his dealings on the Falklands and other matters.
There were also misunderstandings over the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council (AIIC) initiative, a precursor to the British/Irish Intergovernmental Council.
It was established by former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald in an effort to improve British-Irish relations but the NIO described contradictions between the two governments’ interpretations, the UK arguing that the council was only incidentally concerned with Northern Ireland, while Ireland believed it entitled southern officials to play a role in Northern Ireland’s future.
“The contradictions were masked because Dr Fitzgerald acknowledged the need for continuity in the Republic, both in attitudes generally and in the constitution. He avoided aspects of the AIIC which would disturb the unionists,” the archived document said.
“With Mr Haughey’s return to power he seems to have set out to upset the balance.”
It noted that the former Fianna Fáil leader claimed parts of the AIIC were likely to promote negotiations leading to Irish unity.
“He speaks of this in terms which do not necessarily accept the need for this to be achieved with the consent of the majority of people in Northern Ireland,” the record stated.
The NIO said Mr Haughey’s references to the AIIC strengthened unionist fears that it could be a device leading to a united Ireland, investing Anglo-Irish meetings with political overtones and dangers for unionists while increasing the SDLP’s tendency to look south rather than to the nascent Assembly at Stormont.
“This makes it very difficult for Her Majesty’s Government to develop the AIIC as quickly or as fully as it might otherwise have done. Irish actions during the Falklands crisis have compounded the difficulties which Mr Haughey’s attitude to the AIIC had placed in the way of continuing the normal round of ministerial meetings,” the report said.
It added for that moment bilateral meetings were avoided unless they had developed from business activity already under way which had demonstrable practical benefits.
“Efforts are being made to get across the fact that the obstacles to the development of the AIIC have all come from the Irish side.”