I am sorry that other commitments prevent me from joining my friend, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in the splendid surroundings of Iveagh House for your special event to mark the 30th anniversary of the signing of the
In reaching the agreement on 15 November 1985 Garret Fitzgerald and Margaret Thatcher both had to make difficult compromises. Mrs Thatcher had to make political concessions, much as she “disliked this kind of bargaining”, as she put it in her autobiography. For the first time, the government in Dublin was given a formal say – a consultative role – on matters relating to Northern Ireland.
For their part, the Irish Government agreed that there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its citizens. The principle of consent, thus coined, has been a cornerstone of the peace process ever since; it was enshrined in the 1993 Downing Street Declaration and was, of course, eventually agreed to by all parties to the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
As well as the constitutional bargain, the agreement provided a structure, the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, for exchanges between London and Dublin.
It soon became a vital channel of communication between the UK and Irish governments and fostered a bi-partisan approach to seeking lasting solutions to the troubles in Northern Ireland.
That spirit of bilateral cooperation was critical to the success of the Belfast Agreement and its successors. It continues today to underpin the UK and Irish governments’ work in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland no longer dominates UK-Irish relations, as once it did. But it remains a very important issue for us, as the Taoiseach and I discussed in London on Monday.
Both governments need to continue to encourage Northern Ireland’s politicians to work together to advance the goal of achieving a stronger society and a genuinely shared future. This goal is within reach, despite the challenges.
I commend Theresa Villiers and Charlie Flanagan for their patient facilitation of the negotiations, including this week in Belfast.
Looking back thirty years reminds us how far, despite its contemporary problems, Northern Ireland has come.
UK-Irish relations have never been stronger or more productive than they are today.
My pledge, on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement is that the UK Government will remain fully committed to working, alongside the Irish Government, to build a brighter, more secure future for the people of Northern Ireland, bringing them the peaceful and prosperous society that they deserve.
I wish everyone in Iveagh House, as you celebrate this important milestone in our relations, a most enjoyable evening.