21 February 1986 - 23 February 1986

Northern Ireland

Chair: Sir Reginald Hibbert Director & Sir Robert Armstrong

In February, on the weekend 21-23, the Foundation addressed itself to the difficult and highly contentious question of Northern Ireland. The conference had been included in the programme a year ago, but it was for a long time uncertain whether the beginning of 1986 would be a propitious time for it. The way did not become clear until the conclusion of the Anglo-Irish Agreement on 15 November 1985, after protracted negotiations, had provided a new perspective in which an agenda could be set. It was then very late to organise a conference for February. There was lively interest in the plans for the conference in London, Dublin and the United States, and it was difficult to keep numbers down from those three sources. On the other hand it was difficult to secure adequate representation from Northern Ireland. Unionist politicians declined invitations: SDLP representation was secured but then lost at the last minute. Two members of the Dáil fell out of the list when it was too late to secure substitutes: as a result there was no representation from Fianna Fáil. This meant that three of the prime actors in the drama were missing. Various participants who were not strictly their adherents made commendable efforts to represent their points of view. Their absence made the conference a good deal less contentious than it might otherwise have been and this made it possible to have some cool analysis of the current situation. But the conference became to a considerable extent a seminar on the current situation conducted by British and Irish Ministers and senior officials, under close questioning from parliamentarians, informed academics, journalists and writers. The US, Canadian and German participants were cast largely in the role of audience, but they too helped with some well-directed questioning. One particular difficulty which arose at the last minute was that the chairman of the conference had to withdraw because of a sudden bereavement: I stepped into the chair for the plenary sessions on the Friday, and Sir Robert Armstrong, the Secretary of the Cabinet, kindly agreed to chair the plenary sessions on the Sunday. Another difficulty arose from a last-minute delay in the arrival of the Minister of State from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, due to a debate in the Dáil on a motion of no-confidence. This was overcome by having a plenary session after dinner on the Friday, and all the participants showed the necessary stamina for this to be successful. There were more late arrivals and early departures than usual, but these proved to be a blessing as they eased the pressure of numbers.

The consensus which emerged during the conference was very definitely that the Anglo-Irish Agreement, having been concluded, should not be allowed to fail. This was reluctantly admitted even by those who disliked the agreement. It was accepted that, in a certain sense, there was nothing the Unionists or the Sinn Féin could do to destroy the Agreement: it was an agreement between governments to cooperate together and only the governments could halt this process. The question was how to turn the Agreement to benefit in the security field while simultaneously trying to make political progress towards devolved government in Northern Ireland. On the one hand, success in setting up a devolved government in Belfast and devolving powers to it would diminish the role of the Anglo-Irish Conference established under the Agreement, and could do so to the point where the Conference dealt only with matters which would in any case fall within the British Government's "reserved" powers (security, external relations, etc.). On the other hand the Unionist attitude was that they would not talk about devolution (and therefore about power-sharing) as long as the Agreement existed. On which side of this antithesis was the chicken, and on which side the egg? Many of the participants (including those from overseas) exhorted the British government to stand firm. They also counselled flexibility, openness and readiness to inform and consult the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland about every phase of Anglo-Irish discussion, in the hope that the people of Northern Ireland, and more especially the Unionist rank and file, would come to see that the Agreement did not contain the dangers which the Unionist politicians had attributed to it. Unionist opinion was in a state of shock. The Unionists' familiar political ground had been disrupted, even removed. It remained to be seen if the they could adapt themselves adroitly to their shorn state or would try to act like Samson. It also remained to be seen if the Northern Irish population would follow them in a hard, destructive line if they could not be persuaded to negotiate for devolution.

There was general agreement that a constructive line as regards devolution was urgently needed from the SDLP, and that great tact and reticence would be needed from Dublin in coming weeks in its public pronouncements on security and other incidents in Northern Ireland. Everyone on the British side also emphasised the importance of the Republic being seen to make a strenuous effort to contribute to improved security. There was much discussion of the significance of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in relation to the Republic's constitution and its claims and/or aspirations in relation to Northern Ireland. This was helpful and reassuring; but of course the people who need to be reassured were not present. Nothing significantly new was said about the details of the security problem or about the needs of the Northern Irish economy.

Perhaps the most telling impression which the conference conveyed was of the dramatic improvement which has occurred in relations between London and Dublin now that both countries are partners in the European Community and have found a way of talking constructively together about Northern Ireland. But the prior, deeply rooted impression remained that nationalist fervour on the one side and Unionist fervour on the other will only very slowly become other than impervious to the sort of enlightenment which was being canvassed at Ditchley.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairmen:
Sir Reginald Hibbert

Director of the Ditchley Foundation (plenary sessions on Friday evening)
Sir Robert Armstrong
The Secretary to the Cabinet (plenary sessions on Sunday)

Mr Leighton McCarthy

President, McCarthy Securities Ltd, Toronto; Member, Board of Directors, the Canadian Ditchley Foundation
Mr Edward J McConnell
President, E J McConnell & Associates Ltd (Investment Counsellors), Toronto; Director, INA Life Insurance Co of Canada; President, The Ireland Fund of Canada

Herr Oberkirchenrat Klaus Kremkau

Lutheran Pastor; Director, Department for Europe and North Africa, Church Office of the Protestant Church in the Federal Republic of Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland); Member, Advisory Committee, Conference of European Churches, and Executive Committee, European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society; Secretary, German Churches’ Northern Ireland Joint Working Group
Frau Marianne Wichert-Quoirin
Correspondent, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Bonn

Mr John Bowman

Current Affairs Broadcaster, Radio Telefis Eireann, Dublin; Author, De Valera and the Ulster Question: 1917- 73
Mr George Birmingham TD
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs, Dublin
Professor Kevin Boyle
Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, University College Galway
Mr Martin Burke
Political Counsellor, Embassy of the Republic of Ireland, Washington DC
Mr Niall Crowley
Chairman, Allied Irish Banks pic, Dublin
HE Mr Noel Dorr
Ambassador of Ireland to the Court of St James’s
Professor Brian Farrell
Department of Ethics and Politics, University College, Dublin
The Very Rev Dean Griffin
Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin
Ms Mary Holland
Irish Correspondent, The Observer, Member, London Weekend Television research team
Mr Eamonn O'Toole
Department of Foreign Affairs, Dublin
Senator Mary Robinson
Member of Seanad Eireann (Independent); Lecturer in Law, Trinity College, Dublin

Sir Robert Andrew KCB

Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office
The Rt Hon Peter Archer QC MP
Member of Parliament (Labour), Warley West; Opposition front bench spokesman on Northern Ireland; a Recorder of the Crown Court; Chairman, Executive Committee, Fabian Society
Sir Robert Armstrong GCB CVO
Secretary to the Cabinet, Permanent Secretary to the Management and Personnel Office, and Head of the Home Civil Service
Mr Paul Arthur
Senior Lecturer, Department of Philosophy and Politics, University of Ulster
Mr Kenneth Bloomfield CB
Head of Northern Ireland Civil Service, and Second Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Member, Founding Board, Northern Ireland Management Centre
Mr Jim Daniel
Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
The Rt Rev Dr Robert Dickinson
The Moderator of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church in Ireland
Dr Roy Foster
Reader, Department of History, Birkbeck College, University of London
Mr David Goodall CMG
Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
HE Sir Alan Goodison KCMG CVO
Ambassador to Republic of Ireland
Mr Ian Gow TD MP
(Conservative) Eastbourne
Mrs Marigold Johnson
Secretary, British Irish Association, London
Dr Anthony Kenny FRSE FBA
Master of Balliol College, Oxford; Visiting Professor, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, Cornell, Stanford and Rockefeller
The Rt Hon Tom King, MP
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; Member of Parliament (Conservative), Bridgewater
Mr Michael Mates MP
(Conservative), East Hampshire; Member, House of Commons Select Committee on Defence; Vice-Chairman, Conservative Home Affairs Committee; Chairman, All-Party Anglo-Irish Group.
Mr Gordon Mawhinney
Chief Whip (Alliance Party), Northern Ireland Assembly
The Rt Hon Merlyn Rees MP
(Labour), Morley and Leeds South; Opposition Coordinator of Industry, Energy, Employment and Trade
Professor Richard Rose
Director and Professor of Public Policy, Centre for the Study of Public Affairs, Strathclyde University; Consultant Psephologist, The Times, Independent Television, Daily Telegraph, STV, UTV; Chairman, Journal of Public Policy.
Mr Nicholas Scott MBE JP MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Member of Parliament (Conservative), Chelsea
Mr Nigel Sheinwald
First Secretary, British Embassy, Washington, DC
Dr John Simpson
Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, Queen’s University of Belfast
Ms Margaret van Hattem
Political Correspondent, Financial Times

The Hon Samuel Bartlett

Consul General of the United States in Northern Ireland
Mr Charles U Daly
President, and Member of Board of Directors, The Joyce Foundation, Chicago; Lloyd’s Underwriter; Director and Executive Committee Member, The Ireland Fund
Mr Edward Doherty
Adviser on Politico-Military Affairs, United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC
The Hon Thomas S Foley
Member, United States House of Representatives (Democrat), 5th District, Washington State; Majority Whip and Deputy Majority Leader; Vice Chairman, Agriculture Committee, and Chairman, Subcommittee on Wheat, Soybeans and Feed Grains; Member, House Administration Committee
HE The Hon Margaret Heckler
United States Ambassador at Dublin
The Rt Rev Msgr Francis J Lally
Rector, Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston; Director, Tufts Civic Education Foundation; Secretary, Department of Social Development and World Peace, US Catholic Conference.
Dr Eoin McKiernan
Chairman of the Board, Irish American Cultural Institute, St Paul, Minnesota
Mr Thomas Melia
Associate Director, Free Trade Union Institute, Washington, DC; Columnist, Boston Irish News; Editor, How They Rate; Foreign Affairs Adviser to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1980-86)
Dr Karl Meyer
Member, Editorial Board, The New York Times
Father Edwin O’Brien
Rector, St Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie
The Hon William Shannon
Professor, Boston University; Member, Board of Directors, and Secretary, American Irish Foundation
Mr M James Wilkinson
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of State, Washington, DC