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We had good company

Read more about: Europe, Fianna Fail, Foreign Affairs     Print This Post

The Irish Times has a nice set of articles on the papers released under the 30 year rule, which cover 1982 — quite a year in Irish politics. Among the points of interest is the strain in UK-Ireland relations caused by the Falklands War. Deaglán de Bréadún gets perhaps a tad ambitious though in seeking to make the position of the Haughey government on the war into an entry in what would be a short book entitled Good Things About Charlie Haughey. Now credit where it’s due, Haughey’s reported description of the evolution of Ireland’s position is excellent: he was an intelligent man who understood a foreign policy brief as well as any foreign minister:

According to the newly released record of the meeting, he continued: “Argentina was certainly responsible for starting the conflict in the first instance but we feel that after that the matter should have been dealt with in the United Nations – the Security Council – and through negotiations.” The issue had “caused us some difficulty” in Ireland, he said, adding: “The EEC/Ten had wished to impose sanctions. We were prepared to do so but only as long as they were in support of political and diplomatic action. “Once it became clear that the UK was not prepared to pursue this course but had switched to a military approach we felt we had no option but to withdraw from sanctions. “Our approach, therefore, is that Argentina was wrong in the first place and that it should withdraw. This would mean a general cessation of hostilities. “A solution should then be found through the United Nations, the UN secretary general and the Security Council,” Haughey is reported as saying.

As he recognized, Mrs Thatcher was determined to pursue a military solution, and Ireland’s reluctant position was causing major friction, with the radical idea being floated (privately) in the UK of withdrawing de facto citizenship rights for Irish citizens resident in the UK, which had existed since 1922. So, can it be as Deaglán de Bréadún says, “that it could be argued that, for all his well-publicised failings as a political leader, this was, in the Churchillian phrase, Charlie’s finest hour?”

The big problem is that Ireland was not actually alone in its lack of enthusiasm for the way the Falklands conflict was headed. Among the peripheral Atlantic countries with ancestral links to the UK that were not too keen was … the United States of America! The Daily Telegraph has a good account of the deep divisions within the US government about how to handle it, with President Reagan’s instinctive leaning to Maggie’s position running into a significant view in Washington that their longer-term interests lay with keeping Argentina and Latin America more generally onside; the USA’s western hemisphere roots were definitely showing. And as one reads through the full package of IT articles on the crisis, it becomes clear that there was a large group of unhappy countries looking to slow down the rush to war, including Italy and Spain. Certainly knowing in hindsight that GUBU was just months away puts a touch of class on Charlie’s positioning on this issue. But overall it’s a ledger still too deep in the red to be rescued by one stance that was well within the logic of Irish foreign policy.

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2 Responses to “We had good company”

  1. # Comment by Veronica Dec 31st, 2012 07:12

    No one ever disputed Charlie Haughey’s intelligence; it’s the use he put it to that generally caused the problem. Charlie’s policy departure on the Falklands ultimately blew up in his face at the UN. En route it did very significant and potentially long term damage to Anglo-Irish relations, and Ireland’s interests generally, only salvaged due to the premature collapse of his government. The first rule of foreign policy is to look to your own country’s interests, not those of your political faction or your personal interest in courting popularity so as to hang on to political power.

    The position advocated by Haughey was only tenable if the good, democratic , and salt of the earth ruler of Argentina, General Galtieri, was prepared to negotiate. He wasn’t, as British 1982 papers confirm. So the choice left to the British government was to either leave him in possession of the Falklands or force him to withdraw. It would have been the same choice, irrespective of which party was in government in Britain at the time.

    Haughey’s foray into control of Irish foreign policy only served to make himself, and Ireland, look ridiculous.

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