Such an attempt had already been made in 1973. In Northern Ireland, a power-sharing executive made up of Irish nationalists and unionists was created, and Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave participated in talks with British Prime Minister Edward Heath that led to the Sunningdale Agreement. This agreement recognised that Northern Ireland`s relations with Great Britain could not be changed without the consent of a majority of its people and provided for the creation of a Council of Ireland composed of both members of the Dáil (the lower house of the Irish legislature) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. This agreement collapsed in May 1974 due to a general strike inspired by unionist opponents of power-sharing. The Anglo-Irish agreement was signed on 15 September. It was signed in 1985 by the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Ireland at Hillsborough, Co. Down. The agreement was the most important development in Anglo-Irish relations since the 1920s. Both governments have confirmed that there will be no change in Northern Ireland`s status without the consent of a majority of its citizens. The two governments also saw the deal as a way to persuade Northern Ireland`s union leaders to agree to a decentralised power-sharing deal. To dramatize their claim that the deal contradicts democratic sentiment in the province, the Unionists, who held 15 of Northern Ireland`s 17 seats in the House of Commons, resigned as a group. There was some risk in this maneuver, as four of the unionist seats are in nationalist areas.
Unionists represent these districts only because the moderate SDLP and the more militant Sinn Fein have divided nationalist voices. To protect themselves from a split in their own voice, the Unionists arranged an electoral pact that appointed only one of them in each constituency. Although she is a divisive figure in history and perhaps very unpopular with the Irish, Michael says Margaret Thatcher deserves great credit for what she did to make the deal possible. The final agreement was signed in November 1985 by Thatcher and FitzGerald in Hillsborough. It contained the following points: no one expected the Unionist community or its leaders to like the deal, but an attempt was made to allay the unionists` fears as much as words could. Both governments promised that Northern Ireland`s constitutional status could only be changed with the consent of a majority of its population, and they recognised that the current desire of a majority was not a change. On the other hand, no effort was made to involve the unionists in the negotiations. It was accepted that they would firmly reject any role of the Dublin Government in Northern Ireland, regardless of how that role might be defined. No one could have predicted after the “out, out, out” press conference in November 1984 that the next meeting of the two Prime Ministers for a summit a year later would be marked by the signing of an Anglo-Irish agreement.
The events that led to the evolution of Mrs Thatcher`s thinking date back not only one year, but four. At the other end of the political scale, Republican hardliners rejected the deal because Dublin recognised British sovereignty over Northern Ireland. The Provisional IRA claimed recognition of the deal, suggesting that its armed campaign had forced the British to make concessions to the nationalists. Sinn Fein simply chose to reject the agreement and condemn it at every opportunity. Paramilitary violence continued on both sides, but did not escalate significantly. He then expressed concern that the agreement threatened Irish neutrality and threatened to force the Republic of Ireland to accept the British presence in Northern Ireland. Former Cabinet Secretary Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone, then chairman of the Greater London Council, also rejected the deal because they believed Britain should withdraw from Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the agreement was largely unpopular.
The Unionists bitterly rejected it, arguing that Thatcher had not included them in the negotiations. They also rejected the proposal for an Intergovernmental Conference, fearing that Dublin would play a role in the levers of the Ulster government. The agreement, which was finally published in November 1985, represented the culmination of 18 months of negotiations which began at official level almost immediately after the publication of the New Ireland Forum report in May 1984. Along the way, there were the two Prime Ministers` Summits, their four informal meetings on the margins of the European Common Market Conferences, six meetings of Ministers and 35 between lower-level officials. Meanwhile, the British prime minister had also dealt intensively with the death in October 1984, when IRA bombs blew up the Brighton hotel where she and most of her cabinet were staying for a Conservative Party conference. “She made a very big decision when she agreed to sign the deal with Fitzgerald. And it took him a long time to get there. And it took a lot of time and persuasion to get them to this point.
The functioning of the Intergovernmental Conference has been carefully described. (The term “conference” has been used in place of the Council or the Commission, partly because the number and identity of ministers present should vary depending on the issues discussed, and partly because “conference” seems less structured and sustainable and could therefore be less intimidating for trade unionists.) The Intergovernmental Conference must meet at ministerial or official level, its meetings must be held “regularly and frequently” and its work “shall be carried out at the highest level”. The Irish Minister, who has been appointed Permanent Ministerial Representative of Ireland, and the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be co-chairs. The Agreement establishes a joint secretariat to assist in the follow-up to the decisions of the Intergovernmental Conference and in the planning of future meetings. The creation of this secretariat with offices near the Northern Ireland Government Complex in Stormont means that for the first time since 1922, civil servants from the south of Ireland are working in the north. The failure of the Prior Assembly initiative made it clear to the British Prime Minister that if it were to take any action to change the unpromising dynamics of the situation in Northern Ireland, it would have to do so through an agreement with Dublin. In this sense, the 1985 agreement is an expression of British despair at the stubbornness and sterility of the Unionist position. The agreement was opposed on both sides of the Community.
It was rejected by the Unionists because it gave the Republic a role in the administration of the six counties, while the Republicans rejected it because it confirmed Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. The Irish government has also given a voice to the nationalist minority in the way Northern Ireland is governed. .