Belfast Telegraph

Major marks Declaration anniversary

Former UK prime minister Sir John Major will travel to Dublin next month to mark the 20th anniversary of a landmark in Anglo/Irish cooperation.

The Downing Street Declaration between the ex-Conservative leader and then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds began the process which resolved the constitutional disagreement between the governments over Northern Ireland.

By 1998 the Republic of Ireland had voted in a referendum to drop its claim to the region and political powersharing had been installed in Belfast.

Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore said: "I am pleased to say that John Major has accepted my invitation to come to Dublin next month to speak on that agreement which prompted a chain of events that fundamentally changed our relations for the better.

"I have also asked him to set out his thoughts on how far British Irish relations have come - and how they may yet develop."

The Declaration argued for self-determination on the basis of consensus of all the people of Ireland.

It said that any agreement had to be based on the right of people on both parts of the island to "exercise the right of self determination on the basis of consent freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland if that is their wish."

Hardliners were outraged. Ian Paisley called the Declaration a sell-out to Dublin. The more moderate Ulster Unionists were prepared to consider the document.

Mr Gilmore told a dinner in Belfast over the weekend that the visit to Ireland by the Queen and the return visit in due course by Irish President Michael D Higgins will set the seal of normality on relations.

"The challenge for our two governments is to imagine what 'normal' means between two neighbours whose economies and people are so closely integrated," he added.

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