German Chancellor Helmut Kohl told then Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald it would be possible to change Irish people’s “irrational” insistence on neutrality, newly declassified files reveal.
In notes marked “especially confidential”, Mr FitzGerald suggests a new relationship with Britain over Northern Ireland could be one way to get around Irish people being “emotionally” attached to the “obstacle”.
The leaders met in the Federal Chancellery in Bonn on December 1, 1983.
When their secret discussions turned to the European Community, the Taoiseach said Irish people had always been very “community-minded” and had done everything possible to advance the idea.
“However, in Ireland there was one problem about which he would wish to talk to the chancellor,” an official notes of Mr FitzGerald’s remarks at the top-level tete-a-tete.
“Ireland was emotionally attached to military neutrality.
“Any party would find it difficult to move in this particular area with about 85% of the people supporting the idea.
“Ireland wanted to be part of the whole movement forward enthusiastically, but we did not want to trip over this particular obstacle.” Notes of the meeting, just released into the National Archives under the 30-year rule, show the German chancellor told the Taoiseach it would be possible to change Irish people’s minds on the neutrality, to advance the European project.
“Mr Kohl said that it would seem possible to find a solution to this problem - some way, which could perhaps help the Irish people change their views,” the record of the meeting states.
The chancellor goes on to point out that the British had a professional army while Germany had a conscript system for its defence forces.
Conscription gave German people a very practical understanding and personal experience of serving their country, he said.
While he could understand the fear of many groups about involvement in a military alliance, he went on to speak about the German experience in two world wars, and how he did not need a lecture about war.
Chancellor Kohl told Mr FitzGerald that the Yugoslavian communist leader Josip Broz Tito, who fought the Nazi occupation in the Second World War, had told him personally to keep Nato strong.
The Taoiseach replied that Ireland too had experienced war, pointing out the Civil War was not that long ago.
Mr FitzGerald said the original decision for Ireland not to join Nato had nothing to do with its objectives but was because it protected existing borders and “Irish people, with their country divided and occupied by another Nato member, could not serve in an organisation with this objective in its chapter”.
“This type of argument was now much weaker,” he is noted as saying “What was supporting the Irish attitude was a great deal more irrational.
“There was one context in which things could, perhaps, develop. That was in the context of a new relationship with Britain over Northern Ireland.”
Asked by Mr Kohl about the chances of that happening, Mr FitzGerald said the position in the North was getting “very dangerous” because of the alienation of Catholics from government institutions and security forces.
The Taoiseach said it was important to recognise the identity of Protestant unionists and the dignity of the Catholic minority.
Possible solutions were a unitary State, or federal or confederal State, with joint sovereignty between Britain and Ireland, he claimed.