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Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald proposed terror trials using judges from the both sides of the border, new book claims

Memoirs reveal he approached NI’s Lord Chief Justice at rugby international

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Garret Fitzgerald

Garret Fitzgerald

Garret Fitzgerald

Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald proposed having ‘mixed courts’ presiding over terrorist trials in Northern Ireland and the Republic during negotiations that led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, according to a new book.

The idea, which came up when Dr Fitzgerald approached the Lord Chief Justice at a Rugby International in Dublin, would have seen judges from the Republic used alongside judges from Northern Ireland in these court cases, on both sides of the border.

Signed in November 1985, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, negotiated between the British and Irish Governments, gave Dublin a role in governing Northern Ireland, and also confirmed that there would be no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland unless a majority of its people agreed to join the Republic.

A new book of the memoirs of diplomat Sir David Goodall, former Deputy Head of both the Foreign and Cabinet Offices, reveals new details about the negotiations that resulted in the landmark agreement.

At the time, and still to this day, terrorist trials on both sides of the border were presided over without a jury, featuring one judge in NI and, in the Republic, a panel of three judges.

Dr FitzGerald’s proposal was one “confidence building measure” between the two sides that the Taoiseach was “personally attached to”, according to Sir David.

The book, The Making of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, edited by retired Irish diplomat Frank Sheridan, reveals that Dr FitzGerald actually approached NI’s Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lowry, at a rugby match in Dublin during the negotiations and floated the idea of mixed courts.

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“Dr FitzGerald himself encountered Lord Lowry (NI Lord Chief Justice) at a Rugby International in Dublin on 4 March and put the idea to him direct,” Sir David wrote in his diaries.

“This particular instance of informal intimacy in cross-border relations proved unfortunate. Although Lord Lowry must have known that the idea was in the air, he had apparently not realised that it was being seriously canvassed in the negotiations.

“Taken aback and indignant, he minuted to the Prime Minister that he was strongly opposed to it on both constitutional and practical grounds and would “feel bound to resign” rather than participate in such courts.

“His opposition was endorsed by the Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham); and we were obliged to make it clear to the Irish that although the idea might be considered it was very unlikely to prove a runner.”

As history shows us, the idea did not “prove a runner”.

Sir David’s memoirs also tell of a humorous exchange that took place during a meeting between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Geoffrey Howe, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Douglas Hurd, and other diplomats during the negotiations.

During the meeting, Mrs Thatcher was “at her most unreasonable”, according to Sir David.

“Towards the end I put in a word or two edgeways myself; but for most of the time I sat back and listened with a mixture of amusement and distaste,” he wrote.

“I think that this got through to the Prime Minister, because she suddenly turned on me with a disarming smile and said ‘Mr Goodall: wouldn’t you like to go and be an Ambassador somewhere else — a long way away?’ Returning sharply to earth, I said ‘Where would you suggest, Prime Minister?’ ‘Indonesia, perhaps’.”

As the meeting closed with Mrs Thatcher suggesting little in the way of concessions to Dublin, Sir David said: “I think I’ll take you up on Indonesia, Prime Minister.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

The Making of The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 - A Memoir by David Goodall. Published by The National University of Ireland. Distributed by Four Courts Press


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