The Assassination of Airey Neave by Dr Stephen Kelly

“Please God, don’t let it be Airey”:
The Assassination of Airey Neave, 29 March 1979

By Stephen Kelly (Liverpool Hope University)

The Westminster terrorist attack on 22 March 2017, by lone attacker, fifty-two-year-old Khalid Masood, who drove a car into pedestrians and fatally stabbed PC Keith Palmer, is not the first time that terrorists have selected the Palace of Westminster, and surrounding area, to perpetrate an act of violence.

Thirty-nine years ago, on 30 March 1979, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) murdered Airey Neave, Conservative MP and Margaret Thatcher’s shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, in a devastating car bomb attack. Apart from reaffirming Thatcher’s determination to defeat Republican paramilitaries, Neave’s assassination robbed the Conservative Party of one of its most open-minded, albeit controversial, thinkers on Northern Ireland.

By the standards of the day, Neave was a remarkable figure. On the one hand, he was a public figure: war-hero, writer, barrister and politician. He had escaped from Colditz, a Nazi prisoner of war camp during the Second World War; was the author of five semi-autobiographical books; established a practice at the bar; and was Conservative Party MP for Abington, 1953-1979.

On the other hand, he was an elusive and secretive individual, retaining close links to the British Secret Intelligence Service throughout his adult life. During the Second World War, he worked for MI9, a subsidiary of MI6, later holding the rank of commanding officer of the Intelligence School 9, Territorial Army (TA).

Neave’s greatest contribution to political life came in the autumn of his career, following his promotion as shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland in 1975. Neave’s appointment to Thatcher’s shadow cabinet, in the wake of her election as leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975, had important ramifications for the Conservative Party’s Northern Ireland policy.

From the moment he took up his new shadow cabinet portfolio, until his murder by the INLA, Neave’s ‘first priority’, as he noted in April 1978, was to defeat Republican terrorism. Although often preoccupied by security related issues, and despite misguided arguments to the contrary, Neave remained committed to finding a workable solution in the hope of ending direct rule in Northern Ireland.

As a pragmatist, confronted by the political reality that the mainstream political parties in Northern Ireland could not agree on the terms of devolution, he instead championed reform of local government in Northern Ireland, as an interim measure. By initially supporting the establishment of his so-called ‘Council of State’, subsequently followed by a proposal to create one or more Regional Councils in Northern Ireland, Neave sought to end, as he phrased it in November 1977, ‘civil servants’ paradise’, which existed under direct rule.

Unfortunately, Neave’s assassination by the INLA robbed him of the opportunity to implement his proposals to reform local government in Northern Ireland. On 30 March 1979 Neave commenced his working day, like any other. Following breakfast, he left his flat at Westminster Gardens, got into his powder-blue Vauxhall Cavalier saloon, and made the short journey to the Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster.

His morning was spent preparing for the forthcoming British general election (scheduled for 3 May) and dealing with day-to-day constituency matters. Following lunch, he decided to stop for the day and return home to spend time with his wife Diana. It was in the members’ lobby that Neave held his last conversations, chatting to colleagues before crossing to the members’ exit and taking the lift to the five-floor underground car park to pick up his car.

At 2.58p.m., an enormous explosion engulfed New Palace Yard. Soon after, as Neave’s sole biographer Paul Routledge wrote, smoke was seen billowing from the smouldering wreckage of a Vauxhall car on the ramp leading up from the MP’s underground carpark. It was a ‘haunting image’, with sheets of headed House of Commons writing paper ‘blowing gently in the breeze’, recalled Lord Lexden, Neave’s former political advisor on Northern Ireland.

Police officers rushed to the scene and came upon an unidentifiable man, dressed in a black coat and striped trousers. Initially, the victim was believed to be Alan Lee Williams, Labour MP. In fact, in the car lay sixty-three-year-old Neave. Surveying the burning wreckage, the mangled frame of the car and the glassless windows, it was apparent that some type of bomb had exploded. “He’s still alive! Clear the area!”, a policeman shouted. Within minutes, an ambulance crew arrived to find the still unidentified figure, who was breathing, slumped over the steering wheel, his face burned beyond recognition.

A doctor, nurse and firefighters soon joined the entourage, before Neave, with his right leg blown off below the knee, was eventually freed after half an hour. He was quickly taken to Westminster Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. It was too late. Neave died on the operating table.

Thatcher received news of Neave’s murder while preparing for a party political general election broadcast at BBC headquarters. Her first thought was reportedly: “Please God, don’t let it be Airey”. When it was confirmed that Neave was indeed the victim Thatcher was described as ‘numb with shock’. Later that day she informed a BBC reporter that ‘… some devils got him and they must never, never, never be allowed to triumph, they must never prevail’.

Following Neave’s murder attention immediately turned to who had perpetrated this brutal crime. Initially, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) claimed responsibility. In fact, the real perpetrators were the INLA. Formed in 1975, with a pledge to establish a ‘republican and socialist’ state, the movement had previously been known as the People’s Liberation Army, which sprang up in late 1974, when the Official IRA attacked members of the newly formed Irish Republic Socialist Party (IRSP). At the time of Neave’s death, it was believed that the INLA had approximately sixty active members.

The INLA basked in the publicly following Neave’s murder. A spokesperson for the terrorist organisation said that Neave’s assassination ‘had a tonic effect in Northern Ireland where there had been celebrations in Belfast, [and] a recruiting boom for the INLA …’. According to an INLA source, Neave was ‘specially selected for assassination’ because he was ‘well known for his rabid militarist calls for more repression against the Irish people …’.

Plans to assassinate Neave were carried out with military precision. In the weeks leading up to his murder, a dossier was compiled on him establishing ‘his habits and routine’. According to declassified British Home Office (HO) records, on receiving confirmation of the fall of the Labour government the INLA headquarters and chief of general staff gave the go-ahead to assassinate Neave.

Apparently, the murder was led by a lone INLA volunteer. Using a magnet, the perpetrator attached the bomb underneath Neave’s car when it was parked in the House of Commons car park. According to HO intelligence, however, the bomb was planted under Neave’s car while it was parked outside his home. Wherever the bomb was attached, police investigations confirmed that two switching devices were used, the first a watch and the second a mercury switch, attached to one kilo of TNT.

To this day conspiracy theories continue to be linked with Neave’s murder. In 1986, for example, Enoch Powell, Ulster Unionist MP for South Down, 1974-1987, alleged American involvement in the death of Neave. Powell allegedly believed that Neave’s death was part of an American/CIA master-plan to help secure a united Ireland, in return for Ireland joining NATO.

Neave’s death continues to drum up controversy. In 2014, Utopia, a Channel 4 programme, used news footage of Neave’s murder in its fictional thriller. In this programme, Neave was also apparently depicted as a heavy drinker, involved in several shady political deals. In the media storm that followed Channel 4 was heavily criticised for allegedly defaming Neave’s memory.

While Neave’s murder was a deep personal blow to Thatcher, she was determined to win the British general election in his memory. Significantly and despite misguided arguments to the contrary, following Neave’s murder, the Conservative Party did have an agreed strategy on Northern Ireland.

In Neave’s absence, Thatcher turned to the Conservative Research Department (CRD), chiefly Christopher Patten, Adam Ridley and Alistair Cooke, and her shadow cabinet colleagues, William Whitelaw and Francis Pym, for advice on Northern Ireland policy.

In a handwritten letter, dated 10 April 1979, Thatcher reassured British prime minister James Callaghan that despite the ‘tragic events that have happened’, the Conservative Party had not changed it’s ‘stance on Northern Ireland matters in any way’. She reaffirmed that the Conservative Party remained committed to Neave’s ‘Irish section in the manifesto’, which he had written some 3 to 4 hours before he was assassinated’. ‘Naturally’, she wrote, ‘we would not wish to change it’.

The following day, 11 April, the Conservative Party published its official general election manifesto. The two paragraphs that dealt with the subject remained loyal to Neave’s previous stance on security and political matters in relation to Northern Ireland. Regarding security, the Conservative Party made a commitment to defeat ‘terrorism’ and to restore ‘law and order’ in Northern Ireland.

On Northern Ireland’s political future, in line with Neave’s proposal for reform of local government in Northern Ireland, the manifesto noted that, ‘In the absence of devolved government, we will seek to establish one or more elected Regional Councils with a wide range of powers over local services’.

The Conservative Party pulled off a resounding general election victory under Thatcher’s leadership. The party won 339 seats, with the Labour Party claiming 269. When the Thatchers arrived at No. 10 Downing Street, to cheers of congratulations (accompanied by some boos) a journalist asked how she felt. Apart from quoting St. Francis of Assisi and a reference to her father Alfred Roberts, she left her final words, before entering No. 10 Downing Street, to her former shadow cabinet colleague and friend. Quoting Neave, ‘whom we hoped to bring here with us’, Thatcher said, “There is now work to be done’”.

The contents of this article are sourced from Stephen’s forthcoming monograph, Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Party and the Northern Ireland conflict, 1975-1990.


Britain and the World 2018

The Thatcher Network is pleased to share the call for papers for Britain and the World’s 2018 conference. The conference, held at the University of Exeter, takes place 21-23 June.

The deadline for submission of abstracts is Friday 15th December 2017; conference registration opens Monday 5th February 2018.


After our tenth anniversary conference in Austin in April 2017, Britain and the World returns to the UK for 2018: Thursday 21 to Saturday 23 June. It will be at Exeter University: the venue is Reed Hall and accommodation is at the neighbouring Holland Hall, and, as always, the conference is concerned with interactions within the ‘British world’ from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the present and will highlight the importance of transnational perspectives.

The Keynote Speaker will be Professor Richard Overy (Exeter), and the Plenary Speaker is Professor Audrey Horning (Queen’s University Belfast). There’ll be lunchtime roundtables on cinema and history, and on public history. Publishers present will include our journal publisher Edinburgh University Press, and our book series publisher Palgrave Macmillan, and the commissioning editor will be present throughout to discuss your publishing plans.

We accept both individual twenty-minute papers and complete panel submissions. Panels are expected to consist of three papers and should be submitted by one person who is willing to serve as the point of contact. Complete panels should also include a chair. In addition to abstracts for each individual paper, panel submissions should also include a 100-150 word introduction describing the panel’s main theme. The conference does not discriminate between panels and individual paper submissions, nor between graduate students and established academics.

As ever the conference icebreaker will be held on the Thursday evening, the Dinner Party on the Friday, and the outings downtown on the Saturday. These events will provide numerous opportunities for networking and more in the capital of Devon.

Exeter is two hours by direct train from London, and there is a direct National Express bus line from Heathrow Airport. Exeter also has its own international airport, and is one hour by train from Bristol.

On campus is the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, home to one of the largest collections in Britain of material relating to film. The University’s special collections are noted for archives relating to twentieth-century South West Writing (and include the papers of Daphne du Maurier), literature and visual culture, Victorian culture and imperial endeavour, Arab and Islamic studies, and religious and parish book collections. In city centre there are Exeter Cathedral and archives, the Devon and Exeter Institute (which houses a large collection of local archival materials), Exeter Castle, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM).

There are two rates, for those waged and unwaged. The rates cover everything: registration (including a rolling membership which includes subscription to Britain and the World journal), three nights’ single en-suite room and breakfast, refreshments throughout the day, lunch on all three days, and dinner on Thursday and Friday.

$615/£465      Waged
$515/£385      Unwaged

We have 100 rooms booked for the evenings of Wed, Thur, Fri, and 50 for Saturday, so please let us know if you’d like a fourth night’s bed and breakfast.

We’d like to stress that Britain and the World is a non-profit organisation; all proceeds are spent on the conference. The conference venue and accommodation have been chosen for their convenience and because each is situated in one of the UK’s most beautiful campuses. We think this will be a unique conference experience.

All submissions for inclusion in the conference should be received by Friday, 15 December 2017, with decisions on inclusion announced on Monday, 8 January 2018. Submissions should be made by email to Please submit all information in the body of your email (no attachments or PDFs, thank you!) and in the following order: name, affiliation, email, paper title, abstract, keywords.

Updates regarding the conference will periodically be posted on the Society website. It is hoped that participants will be able to call upon their departments for hotel and transportation expenses as the conference is not able to offer financial support.

On Twitter our @britishscholar hashtag is #BATW2018. Registration for the Conference will open on Monday 5 February 2018. If you have any questions about the conference, please contact the Conference Organizing Committee directly at


EU Referendum Research

Neema Begum, a PhD student at the University of Bristol, is currently recruiting research participants for her investigation into voter behaviour in the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Please see the message from Neema, below, and respond to her directly if you can support her project.

Voting Behaviour in the 2016 EU Referendum
This research is exploring motivations for voting Remain or Leave in the 2016 EU Referendum. The project pays particular attention to how ethnic and class identity influenced voting choices in the Referendum. The project is interested in what the key issues of the Referendum were for voters and how this influenced the way they voted in the Referendum.

The Principal Investigator of this research is Neema Begum, a PhD Researcher based at the University of Bristol. This research is based on focus group discussions with local communities and quantitative analysis of nationally representative datasets on voting and social attitudes.
The focus group would require 4-5 people who voted the same way in the Referendum and would take place at a mutually convenient time and location. To say thank you for taking part, each participant will be given £10 worth of high street vouchers which can be spent in a wide range of stores.
If you are interested in participating, or can help Neema recruit participants, please contact her on 07561 336176 or at

The Forgotten History of the UDM by Steven Daniels

Thatcher and Privatisation:
The Forgotten History of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers

By Steven Daniels (University of Liverpool)


With the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, much has been made of in recent press of a return to the politics of the 1970s, in which trade unions dominated the political agenda. Similarly, at the last General Election, the Labour Manifesto promised to re-nationalise major industries, such as the railways[1]; whilst actually nationalised services, such as the NHS, seemingly face neverending accusations of privatisation.[2] Corbyn’s Labour Party even openly discussed re-opening coal mines, before deciding against it.[3] When discussing trade unions, nationalisation, the perils of privatisation, or the coal industry, the name that inevitably comes up is the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

During the 1970s, the NUM was unquestionably the single most powerful trade union in the country, a force that could bring down governments, as Edward Heath discovered in 1974. Their power went unchecked until the rise of Thatcher and Thatcherism, and their crushing defeat in the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike. Today they are barely a shell of their former selves, and their membership has tumbled from 920,000 to less than 100.[4]

A rival to the NUM
When exploring the history of the strike and after, a name that is often forgotten is the Union of the Democratic Mineworkers (UDM). Set up as a rival to Arthur Scargill’s NUM in the dying days of the strike, it was mostly comprised of miners from Nottinghamshire and South Derbyshire who felt that the NUM no longer represented them or their interests. Nottinghamshire miners voted against strike action, yet were still picketed mercilessly for 12 months, with violence and intimidation common.[5] The UDM was designed to restore order and democracy back into the hands of the workers, to be a union which would not be dominated by an extremist leadership.[6]

Following the strike, they represented a substantial chunk of Britain’s mining workforce (23,000 out of 88,000 by September 1987[7]), and had at least some representation in virtually every pit in the country. For many NUM supporters and Scargill loyalists, the UDM will always be a scab union, a byword for betrayal, another nail in the coffin for the coal industry and the NUM.[8] Indeed, the final deep coal mine in Britain, Kellingley, closed in December 2015 after nearly three decades of pit closures; each one declared too uneconomical to keep open, a drain on public finances that various government believe the taxpayer should and would not tolerate. [9],[10]

Yet, what often dogged them from their creation until their slow death (not too dissimilar to the one experienced by the NUM) was that they were in Thatcher’s back pocket, eager to do the bidding of the government. This was always denied by the UDM and their leadership, in particular President Roy Lynk, who was eager to maintain an image of his union being progressive and pace-setting, eager to engage with the government-owned National Coal Board (NCB, later renamed British Coal) to seek solutions, rather than resort to strike action as a first resort.

Most of all, Lynk was eager to maintain the UDM’s image as an independent trade union.

How eager was Lynk to maintain this image? So eager that, in the three meetings Lynk, the UDM, and Thatcher had between 1986 and 1989, Lynk would always request they be kept secret, lest it tarnish his reputation with his members.[11]

Close ties with Thatcher
Some 30 years later, the secret is out. Newly released files from the National Archives in London reveal that many of accusations levelled against the UDM may have been true, and that Lynk and the UDM had closer ties to the Thatcher government that previously thought. With each meeting, the UDM leadership was reassured by Thatcher that they were free to approach her at any time; and that guidance, support, and training was to be provided to them. Notes between ministers make regular reference to how the UDM was being given preferential treatment where possible.[12]

But, in particular, these new files have made three startling revelations regarding the relationship between the government, the coal industry, and the UDM.

The first regards uneconomical pits. Notes prepared by civil servants for Thatcher’s January 1988 meeting with the UDM reveal one of the many ways the government, via the NCB, gave the UDM an advantage. Handwritten notes revealed preferential treatment for the UDM, and that certain pits would have closed earlier had they been in NUM areas. That it was an UDM-controlled pit helped buy it extra time – Cadley Hill colliery, which closed two months after the meeting, is singled out as a pit which was given a stay of execution on this basis. Similarly, “some marginal pits are being given great encouragement to reach profitability”. Another civil servant was concerned about this, fearing it may give the image that the NCB had “bent over backwards” to support the UDM.[13]

The second regards rival unions. The established narrative within wider literature is that the UDM existed solely to challenge the NUM, which represented rank and file miners. However, the UDM sought to extend its influence into other areas, by attempting to lure away clerical workers and canteen workers. When it came to the NACODS union, which represented deputies who carried out underground safety work, Thatcher and the UDM both sought to remove them as a potential barrier to progress, and tried to strike a deal. In their January 1988 meeting, the UDM offered to train its members as deputies, thereby neutralising NACODS as a strike threat. The UDM asked Thatcher to relax legislation surrounding the training of deputies and, crucially, to ask that any new pits to be opened (such as the Asfordby pit which was in development at the time) were done so under a “single union” policy, presumably with no NUM members to be offered jobs, no doubt as a precursor to boost UDM membership. [14]

The third is perhaps the most explosive. Recall how the UDM was keen to promote itself as a members union, not one dominated by leadership like the NUM. Prior to 1994, the coal industry was nationalised[15], much like the NHS is today. Like most NHS staff, most coal miners favoured this arrangement, and vehemently opposed privatisation. It was probably the only matter the UDM and NUM membership agreed on. Yet, in their July 1989 meeting with Thatcher, Lynk revealed what he and senior UDM leadership truly desired. The minutes of the meeting note:

“Mr Lynk…wished to clarify the UDM’s position on coal privatisation. The Union’s public position had to be one of opposition. But privately the union leadership supported privatisation and saw it as an opportunity.[16]

That the leader of a major trade union representing a substantial portion of the workforce favoured privatising his own industry would be a major scandal today, and would have crippled the UDM as an organisation had it been revealed in 1989.

Given the major divisions that still exist in former colliery towns and areas, these revelations will likely result in one of two extremes. For some, they will provide justification for beliefs held for decades regarding the true nature of the UDM. For others, they will feel robbed and betrayed yet again, first by their industry, and now by their union. As more information from this crucial period in trade union history is revealed, more controversy, and more closure is bound to follow.

The content of this blog is based on research undertaken at the National Archives by Steven Daniels, a political historian based at the University of Liverpool. He tweets as @stevandan and is a co-organiser of the 2018 Thatcher Network conference. References to this post should cite Steven Daniels as the source of information.





[5] Letter from Roy Lynk to J. Hewitson, COAL 31/464, National Archives, London, 25 November 1985

[6] Letter from an “ardent supporter of the UDM” Barbara Spencer to Margaret Thatcher, EG 26/247, National Archives, London, 30 August 1986

[7] “Brief for Prime Minister’s Meeting with UDM 25 January”, EG 26/248, National Archives, London, 21 January 1988




[11] Letter from Peter Walker to Margaret Thatcher, PREM 19/2801, National Archives, London, 1 October 1986

[12] Report by David Norgrove on meeting with Margaret Thatcher and the UDM, PREM 19/2801, National Archives, London, 3 October 1986

[13] “Brief for Prime Minister’s Meeting with UDM 25 January”, EG 26/248, National Archives, London, 21 January 1988

[14] Report by Paul Grey on meeting with Margaret Thatcher and the UDM, PREM 19/2801, National Archives, London, 3 October 1986


[16] Report by Paul Grey on meeting with Margaret Thatcher and the UDM, PREM 19/2801, National Archives, London, 26 July 1989

Conference at the British Academy (June 2017)

The Anglosphere and its Others: The ‘English-speaking Peoples’ in a Changing World

We are pleased to share details of a two-day conference on ideas of the Anglosphere being held at the British Academy, London. The conference takes place on Thursday 15th and Friday 16th June and is being organised by Dr Ben Wellings (Monash), Dr Andrew Mycock (Huddersfield) and Professor Michael Kenny (QMUL).

Papers will cover topics such as Winston Churchill, the end of empire, neoliberalism, Brexit and the emergent ‘Global Britain’,

For more information, including details of speakers, visit the British Academy website.


Thatcher and the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) by Dr Stephen Kelly

‘It was the Americans that made me do it’:
The deciding factor behind Thatcher’s signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, 1985

By Dr Stephen Kelly (Liverpool Hope University)


This November marks the thirty-first anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement on behalf of the British and Irish governments. Signed by taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on 15 November 1985, the Agreement was a defining moment in the history of 20th century Anglo-Irish relations.

A consultative role
At the heart of the accord, as enshrined under Article 1, was a commitment by the sovereign governments in Dublin and London to reject political violence, to acknowledge the principle of consent, ‘that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland’, and that Irish unity could only be achieved by peaceful means.

Article 2 dealt with institutional relations between Dublin and London. Significantly, for the first time London recognised that the Irish government had a ‘consultative’ role to play in the affairs of Northern Ireland, as a defender of the interests of the nationalist minority. This acknowledgement on behalf of the British government of Dublin’s legitimate role in the affairs of Northern Ireland was to be expressed through the workings of a so-called Anglo-Irish
‘intergovernmental conference’.

The intergovernmental conference would be jointly chaired by the Northern Ireland secretary of state and the Irish minister for foreign affairs and serviced by a small secretariat of British and Irish civil servants, based at Mayfield on the outskirts of Belfast. It would meet regularly at ministerial and official level and would consider matters, including legal, political, security and the promotion of cross-border co-operation.

Thatcher’s regret
While FitzGerald basked in the glory of the Agreement (the Agreement was arguably his greatest political achievement) Thatcher was in a less jubilant mood. In fact, she regretted signing the Agreement almost immediately. In her memoirs she conceded that the Agreement was ‘not perfect’ and that she was ultimately ‘disappointed’ by how it operated.

The question therefore arises, why did Thatcher agree to sign the Agreement in the first place, given her subsequent animosity towards its implementation? Two points must be considered.
Firstly, Thatcher hoped that support for the Agreement would provide the security solution to the Northern Ireland conflict, by isolating the terrorists and formalising security co-operation between Dublin and London. The previous year, on 12 October 1984, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) had only narrowly failed to assassinate Thatcher, following the terrorist organisation’s planting of a massive bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

While the failed attempt on her life convinced Thatcher that she would never be ‘bombed to the negotiating table’, as she privately phrased it, she nonetheless conceded that she did require the support of the Irish government, particularly in relation to security matters, if the PIRA was to be defeated.

American pressure
Secondly, apart from security considerations and ending the ‘long war’ against the PIRA a more immediate consideration dictated Thatcher’s attitude vis-à-vis the Irish government’s role in Northern Ireland affairs: her relationship with American president Ronald Reagan.

In the aftermath of Thatcher’s infamous ‘Out … out … out …’ dictum, whereby she ruled out London’s support for all three proposals put forward by the New Ireland Forum in 1984 to help end the conflict in Northern Ireland (the three proposals were: a confederal/federal model; joint authority; and a unitary state), Irish-American politicians in Washington intensively lobbied the Reagan administration to persuade the British prime minister to permit the Irish government a legitimate role in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Thatcher caved to American pressure. Rather than risk destroying her ‘special relationship’ with American president Ronald Reagan, Thatcher agreed, against her better judgement, to support the Agreement. Indeed, several years after the signing of the Agreement she was remembered for exclaiming: ‘It was the Americans that made me do it!’.

The Clarke-Donlon-The Friends of Ireland axis
The lobbying campaign on behalf of the Irish-American community was spearheaded under the auspices of ‘The Friends of Ireland’. Launched in March 1977 this body was led by several prominent Irish-American politicians, including Senators Ted Kennedy and Daniel Moynihan, Governor Hugh Carey of New York and speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill – the so-called ‘Four Horsemen’.

O’Neill, in particular, was integral to the entire Irish-American lobbying process. As Speaker of the House of Representatives he held considerable clout in Washington and regularly used his political muscle in the arena of Irish-American politics. Throughout the negotiating stages of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, working closely with the Irish government in Dublin and John Hume’s SDLP in Northern Ireland, O’Neill lobbied Reagan on the Irish question, pressurising the American president to raise the subject of Northern Ireland with Thatcher.

William (Bill) Clarke, Reagan’s national security advisor at this time, was also central to the process. A lifelong friend and confidant of Reagan, he had a personal affinity to Ireland, having conducted a tour of the country in 1981. In advance of an Anglo-American summit between Reagan and Thatcher, scheduled for late December 1984, Clarke asked Reagan to discuss Anglo-Irish relations with the British prime minister and to express ‘his desire for political progress’.

The Clarke-Donlon-The Friends of Ireland axis soon bore fruit. At the Anglo-American summit on 22 December Reagan ‘stressed’ to Thatcher the need for ‘progress and the need for all parties concerned to take steps which will contribute to a peaceful resolution’ to the Northern Ireland conflict. Although it went against her own personal inclinations Thatcher agreed to the American president’s request.

In advance of the British prime minister’s planned return visit to Washington in February 1985 she instructed her officials, under the control of Sir Robert Armstrong, Thatcher’s cabinet secretary, to continue negotiations with the Irish government. It was these negotiations, held under the auspices of the so-called ‘Armstrong-Nally Framework talks’, (Dermot Nally was secretary to the Irish cabinet) that eventually led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November 1985.

Thatcher’s legacy on Northern Ireland
Despite Thatcher’s many detractors, in Ireland and Britain, she deserves far greater credit for her role in nurturing what was to become the early stages of the Northern Ireland peace process (apart from her mishandling of the 1980 and 1981 Republican hunger strikes). Her willingness to put pen to paper and support the Anglo-Irish Agreement, albeit reluctantly, helped to set a process in motion whereby the British and Irish governments, working in conjunction with the major political parties of Northern Ireland came together to find a lasting settlement to the ‘Troubles’.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 would not have come about without Thatcher taking the brave gamble to support the Anglo-Irish Agreement a decade previously. She is famously remembered for ushering the phrase ‘The lady is not for turning’, well in relation to Northern Ireland, and more specifically the Irish government’s involvement, she did make a u-turn. While Thatcher always blamed the Americans for this volte-face, it was a decision which played an integral role in helping to take the gun out of Irish politics.

The content of this blog is from Stephen Kelly’s new monograph, ‘A failed political entity’: Charles Haughey and the Northern Ireland Question, 1945-1992 (Dublin: Merrion Press, 2016).