Diary, Christmas 1984 - Norhtern Ireland Office, Fianna Fail in Dun Laoighre

  • 24 December 1984
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OFFICIALS AT THE NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE WERE excluded from the preparatory talks for the Anglo-Irish Summit - until ahnost six weeks before the meeting at Chequers. "It seems they don't trust the natives," was the comment from North of the Border. The decision to keep them at bay left the NIO hopping mad, and ensured that several pro-unionist spannners were determinedly thrown into the works in the vital final weeks before the Irish and British Prime Ministers met. Storrmont Castle knows all about the unionist veto.

In any contact between Irish and British officials based on the 1980 Anglo-Irish proocess, three British departments of government take part: the Foreign Office; No 10 Dowwning Street, the Prime Minisster's own office; and the Northern Ireland Office. Of the three, the Foreign Office has always been the most open to the Irish point of view and most sympathetic to the idea of a settlement outside the immediate Norrthern Ireland context. The Northern Ireland Office, tradiitionally pro-unionist has beecome even more entrenched since the shifting out over the last three years of offi- Douglas Hurd cials who were central to the "totality of relationships" summit between Mr Haughey and Mrs Thatcher in 1980, officials who accepted the need for a radical rethink of British policy on the North.

Dublin can only have been relieved to be free of N 1 0 obduracy in the major preeparations for the summit, and pleased that Downing Street, who took the sensitive deciision, saw such a need for proogress. But it was a tactic which backfired in the end.

The Northern Ireland Offfice, furious at this implied iticism of their impartiality of their discretion, set to work on their new and impressionable Secretary of State and in the final weeks of the preparatory talks, changed the climate disasstrously, from Dublin's point of view.

Security concessions which had already been refused by Dublin, were once again deemanded by the other side. The NIO made quick work of proving that the fait was not at all accompli.

By the time Douglas Hurd, two days after the disappoinnting summit, declared that a consultative, not an execuutive role, was what was ennvisaged for Dublin in the running of Northern Ireland, the Irish government was totally out of temper. Dublin protested to London about Hurd's breach of confidentiality and the Taoiseach let his hair down completely at the subsequent Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting.

But then Dublin had also fallen into the trap of its own wishful thinking. The Forum, because of its necesssarily high profile, raised pubblic expectations of progress. Had the Forum been pubblished well before the marchhing season started in the North, and well before Mrs Thatcher was preoccupied with the miners' strike, or so the argument goes in Dublin, there might have been a better response. But still the talks got off to a head start and continued throughout the summer in the amiable atmosphere which exists beetween the Department of Foreign Affairs and its Foreign Office and Downing Street colleagues.

Even the then Northern Ireland Secretary, Jim Prior, was to all intents and purrposes shut out, maybe because he talks too much.

In this atmosphere, free of the constant reminder of the unionist reality, the Irish developed their position: executive or political involveement in the running of Norrthern Ireland, a joint security commission (but only in the context of political involveement), reform of the security forces, and some form of joint courts - all these prooposals were later to be echoed in the Kilbrandon Report which Dublin saw, rightly or wrongly, as an unofficial exxpression of British thinking.

If Kilbrandon was a form of British morse code, the Irish had been sending their own signals. To encourage British concessions, the Taoiseach's Anglo-Irish advisers decided to indicate Irish readiiness to change Articles 2 and 3, claiming jurisdiction over Northern Ireland, if the deal was good enough. This partiicular message-in-a-bottle was' sent out from Banna Strand in the form of a speech by Dick Spring at the unveiling of a memorial to Roger Caseement. The Tanaiste was a little bemused by the cryptic code. Eventually, however, he agreed to include a rhetorical question about the killing by the RUC of Sean Downes, asking what Articles 2 and 3 had done to protect his life, or the lives of other Northern nationalists.

It was an elegant diploomatic game, as coquettish as the raising of a petticoat above a well-turned ankle, or the waving of a white lace handkerchief across the Irish sea. But once the Northern Ireland Office moved in as chaperone, and bent Mrs Thatcher's ear, the game, for the moment was over.

Not that Dublin has totally given up hope. Mrs Thatcher, according to many of those close to her, often takes arguuments on board even when she seems to be least recepptive. And some comfort has been taken from the fact that she did, after Chequers, volunteer the information that there was a possibility of some change in the legislative, judicial and _prisons area, and that while she ruled out the three Forum models, she didn't rule out "other opptions".

Dublin would probably hope for some small nugget, if not from a February summit, at least in time for the May local elections. This time round, though, the Belfast chaperone will be firmly in place. The NlO may not make for a sweetheart relaationship, but like the million unionists they seem to repreesent, they make for a more realistic one.

The Borough

"AND I'M GLAD TO SEE," said Brian Lenihan approvinggly as he wound up the Dun Laoghaire Fianna Fail selecction conference, "that the matter has been dealt with in the manner one associates with this part of the world."

The Dun Laoghaire deleegates took the compliment as their due. Charlie Haughey smiled down at his hands. What manner, he may well have been wondering, would Brian associate with the part of the world north of the Liffey? Blood and guts all the way to the ballot box, facction fights on the second count, Adrian Hardiman's hide hung out to dry on Dollyrnount Strand?

But, as Scott FitzGerald said in not too different a context, Dun Laoghaire people are different. They conduct their business with an eye to propriety. Any necessary shafting is done with a touch of class.

"And tell me, Mr Hardiiman," one cumann member asked sweetly after Ireland's rising legal star had canvassed their support, "when did you leave Fine Gael?"

Fianna Fail, like the Cathoolic church, are suspicious of converts and of Hardiman's student associations with the Other Lot.

Overall, though, for a newcomer and one with such a strong profile, Hardiman didn't do too badly, in his first political outing, lying fourth in the end, one vote ahead of the equally fancied local councillor, Anne Brady.

A 1.3% swing gives Fianna Fail a second seat in Dun Laoghaire so there was no shortage of hopefuls looking for the nomination: at one stage a dozen were offering. It came down to ten in the end.

Fianna Fail, though, have an extra complication in Dun Lacghaire in that the party organisation, who select deleegates, are not necessarily reppresen ta tive of the constituency electorate. Dun Laoghaire, after all, was one of the five constituencies which rejected the anti-abortion amendment. Hardiman, a prominent spokesman for the antiiamendment campaign, would undoubtedly have benefitted electorally. However, many of the party activists in the area were pro-amendment Àunderstandably so since that was the party line - and Councillor Anne Brady was overheard to warn voters at one polling booth that a No vote was a victory for the British.

Apart from resistance to his amendment stance, Hardiiman faced another obstacle in the area, namely David Andrews.

In Dun Laoghaire, Andrews is King and young Hardiman might not have been too ready to recognise that. Hardiiman, who moved into the Donncadh 0 'Malley cum ann in Cabinteely in the spring, got some encouragement from headquarters, but constiituency democracy still rules to some extent in Fianna Fail and headquarters doesn't push its luck too far.

After all, for party worrkers, it's one of their few moments of power. They sit like Gods and survey the supplicants. One local party man gave his eve of poll runndown on some of the runners:

Patrick Madigan (Madlaw):

"The sort of fella who comes into town before the circus, to suss out the site before the Big Top goes up. His citizens defence ideas reminnded too many people of the B Specials. Not a serious candidate for Fianna Fail in Dun Laoghaire."

Patrick 0 'Reilly also of the People against Crime Associaation: "Y ou'd think he and Madigan were going for the White House with theirpamphhlets and their literature. One of the pamphlets gave a great personal boost to Pat, what a great fella he was and all, and it was signed 'The Commmittee to elect Pat Reilly'. Who are they, Pat, I asked him. Oh, a few friends of mine, says Reilly."

Adrian Hardiman: "A close candidate, they tum 'em out in some factory for South Dublin constituencies."

Dr Richard Conroy: "People in Dun Laoghaire are funny. They go for doctors. It's the ascendancy hangover. They'll always vote for their betters. "

In the end, they did vote for their betters - former Senator Richard Conroy was selected after a campaign where he cleverly overturned the criticism that he had been a three-time loser in Dublin South West. He had always known, he argued, that there were only two seats in South West and he had run as the third candidate to ensure the election of Sean Walsh and Mary Harney. Having made that unstinting sacrifice for the party, he was now looking for a real run in Dun Laoghaire.

Ed McDonald, IDA execuutive and former councillor, came third. He has a reputaation for being a tough poliitical operator, dating back to his council days. Andrews will be pleased with his selecction having worked closely with him in the past. Andrews might have preferred Anne Brady to Conroy, sharing with her, it is said, similar leadership views within the party, but he's still ahead.

And he left the leader in no doubt about that as the convention closed. Dun Laoghaire had spoken, he warned. Headquarters, he hoped, had taken note. In other words, David wants no additions from Mount Street or an attempt to re-run the whole operation next year.

In Dun Laoghaire, as Brian Lenihan quite rightly says, they have their own way of doing things.