State Papers – Day One: He charmed the Iron Lady after giving her a teapot

FOR Charles J Haughey the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis of February 16, 1980 was the republican equivalent of a coronation. He was returning in triumph at the head of the party in which he was a kind of outcast — a virtual pariah in the eyes of many — for the past decade.

In his presidential address he reminded the gathering that the country was living beyond its means, but he stressed that his government’s “first priority” was to end partition.

As far as he was concerned, Northern Ireland had failed as a political entity, so a new beginning was needed. He did not say that the British should announce their intention to withdraw. Rather, he asked that they declare “their interest in encouraging the unity of Ireland by agreement and in peace”.

His policy would be to seek the development of “some new free and open arrangement for which Irishmen and women, on their own, without a British presence but with active British goodwill, will manage the affairs of the whole of Ireland in a constructive partnership with the European community”.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told the House of Commons on the eve of her first Downing Street meeting with Haughey on May 21 that the constitutional affairs of Northern Ireland were “a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, this government and this parliament and no one else”. In short, she was saying in advance that Northern Ireland was none of Haughey’s business.

The new Taoiseach, who could be a rather prickly character, had one distinct advantage — the Irish public was unlikely to expect much from his meeting with the Iron Lady.

Haughey did not rush to meet Thatcher. He prepared himself carefully and he promptly disarmed her by presenting her with a gorgeous silver teapot, and then he charmed her. One member of her cabinet later told friends “he was sure he detected a ‘sexual’ attraction for the smallish, rather worse-for-wear Irishman”.

It was an auspicious beginning.

Haughey’s address to the Nation, January 10, 1980

“I wish to talk to you this evening about the state of the nation’s affairs and the picture I have to paint is not, unfortunately, a very cheerful one.

“The figures which are just now becoming available to us show one thing very clearly.

“As a community we are living away beyond our means. I don’t mean that everyone in the community is living too well, clearly many are not and have barely enough to get by, but taking us all together we have been living at a rate which is simply not justified by the amount of goods and services we are producing.”

“To make up the difference we have been borrowing enormous amounts of money, borrowing at a rate which just cannot continue.

“We must, first of all, as a matter of urgency, set about putting our domestic affairs in order and secondly, improving our trade with the rest of the world in so far as we can do so. We will have to cut down on Government spending.”

Chart Hits of 1980

* Blondie: Call Me.

* Pink Floyd: Another Brick in the Wall.

* Billy Joel: It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll To Me.

* Irene Cara: Fame.

* Johnny Logan: What’s Another Year.

* Bagatelle: Summer in Dublin.

* Queen: Another One Bites the Dust.

* Nolan Sisters: I’m In The Mood For Dancing.

Box Office Successes of 1980

* Raging Bull.

* Elephant Man.

* The Blues Brothers.

* Airplane!

* Fame.

* Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

* Private Benjamin.

* The Shining.

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd