Haughey told Major unionists lack sophistication during NI talks | Northern Irish politics

Charles Haughey told John Major at a meeting in 1991 that he should not “attribute too much sophistication to the unionists” as efforts continued to bring the Troubles to an end.

The taoiseach’s comments, recorded in an Irish government note of a meeting with the UK prime minister, were made in Downing Street on 21 June.

They came as talks continued between the four main Stormont parties over Northern Ireland’s future.

The negotiations, which became known as the Brooke/Mayhew talks after the incumbent Northern Ireland secretaries of state, eventually ended with little progress toward a peace settlement.

Haughey, who would leave office several months later, told Major he did not believe that the talks would produce anything of substance.

“If we want to achieve something, we, the two governments, must take the whole situation by the scruff of the neck,” he said.

“The situation in Northern Ireland is a constant irritant in relations between the two governments.

“Nearly everywhere I go on the international scene, I am asked: ‘When are you going to solve the problem of Northern Ireland?’

“There are questions of international prestige at stake.

“There are great benefits for both of us in the world from a clearing of the decks. Both countries could then settle down to some sort of normal relations. I hope in all this I am not teaching my grandmother to suck eggs.”

Major replied: “The more I learn of the problem, the more anxious I am to make progress. I would favour a step-by-step approach, a slow approach. We have to carry a unionist and nationalist consensus along.”

Haughey speaks of the need to get officials and experts to look at the possibility of Sinn Féin joining the process.

Major later expresses some concern about the feelings of unionists. “The whole subject is very difficult and very complex in view of the position of the unionists and of Northern Ireland generally,” he told Haughey.

Haughey responded: “You don’t know your own strength in this. I must ask where do the unionists have to go? If you say ‘the British government have decided on a certain course of action’ where do they go?”

“If they push, things go back and the Anglo-Irish agreement is fully in place and will be so for another 20 years.

“Don’t attribute too much sophistication and understanding to the unionists. If the British government says ‘this is the way we must go’, they have no alternative.

Major responds: “Whatever is proposed must be broadly accepted by the unionists and also by parliament.”

At one stage,he tells Haughey more cross-border cooperation is needed. Haughey replies that it is already “superb” and teases: “I think you are beginning to speak like Mrs Thatcher. Maybe you have one of her briefs.”

Haughey and Thatcher had an often difficult and antagonistic relationship during her time as British prime minister.

“We have bitten the bullet of extradition and the system is operating, despite some political trauma in the south. People concentrate on feelings and animosities in Northern Ireland but I have my own party to consider on this subject,” Haughey said.

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