Anglo-Irish Relations

The British interest in Northern Ireland was not as deep as unionists would have liked and this was also the case during the War of Independence era from 1919-21. Historically, there have always been pragmatic reasons for British politicians wanting to get the Irish question off the table at Downing Street, reasons that could take precedence over ideological commitment.

In relation to the contemporary Irish republican project, while the president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams moved south and won a seat in the Dáil in 2011, Sinn Féin’s bold move to have Martin McGuinness elected president of Ireland the same year did not go as well as it wished (he received 13.7% of first preference votes) and revealed that the legacy of the Troubles was still raw and partitionist mindsets still entrenched, and republicans were worried about lack of interest in Irish unity.

Ultimately, the most obvious thaw was in Anglo-Irish relations. This was encapsulated in Bertie Ahern’s words at the Palace of Westminster in 2007 when he addressed a joint session of parliament and declared:  “We are now in an era of agreement- of new politics and new realities…reconciliation has brought us closer”. The visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Republic in May 2011 was also an indication of confidence on the British and Irish sides that both were ready for a gesture of this significance and the British government took this development very seriously; the presence of Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague was also testament to this. At the outset of her speech in Dublin Castle during that visit, President McAleese declared: “this visit is a culmination of the success of the peace process” This belief was certainly underlined by the warmth of Anglo-Irish relations, but those sharing power in Northern Ireland were less effusive about what held them together and their capacity to overcome what still divided them.


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