Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Unionism's collective amnesia on Thatcher is memorable

IN the wake of Baroness Thatcher's recent death, it almost appeared as though unionists had suffered a rare form of collective amnesia.

Most statements paid glowing tribute to the Tory leader, politely mentioning their opposition to her role in the Anglo-Irish Agreement only in passing.

These days, words like 'diktat' rarely pass the lips of a politician. The 'Ulster Says No' banners have been taken down from town halls and leisure centres, and talk of "being sold down the river" is but a memory.

It's easy to forget that the 1985 accord signed by Mrs Thatcher and Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald signalled the start of a historic low in relations between unionism and the UK Government.

Furious unionists had been excluded from the negotiations, but their campaign against an agreement that legitimised "Dublin interference" in Northern Ireland's internal affairs shook the political landscape.

In the poisoned political atmosphere, their strong sense of betrayal led to a breakdown in relations with the Government.

The UUP and DUP joined forces, and unionist MPs quit in a mass resignation. At Belfast City Hall, Ian Paisley famously bellowed to hundreds of thousands that he would "never, never, never, never!" accept the accord.

Unionist MPs refused to write to Tory ministers on behalf of their constituents. Loyalists physically attacked them. It was this void that Brian Mawhinney believed he was filling in meetings with Peter Robinson.

Thatcher later wrote that she regretted the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and it did fail in many ways.

But it laid the foundations for what came after, and that process has led Mr Robinson to where he is today.

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