Irish simmer at Thatcher's peremptory putdown
Dublin — Two weeks after the summit between Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the public here remains deeply angry, frustrated, and apprehensive.
Efforts by Irish Foreign Minister Peter Barry to convince the public and the news media that the Nov. 18-19 meetings were more fruitful than they first appeared failed completely.
As a few details of the talks have trickled out, in spite of official attempts to conceal them, even newspapers that normally support the Irish government have hardened their criticism.
The cause of the public anger was not the content of the talks themselves, nor the content of the bland communique that followed them, but the tone and attitude of Mrs. Thatcher at a press conference in London on returning from the meeting at Chequers, her country residence.
She peremptorily rejected all three options for a solution of the Northern Ireland question put forward by the New Ireland Forum (representing the four main constitutional nationalist parties in both the Republic and Northern Ireland), which issued its report last May.
To each of the three Forum ''models'' - a unitary Irish state, a federation of north and south, and joint Irish-British authority over Northern Ireland - she applied one word: ''out.''
She also appeared to dismiss the urging of Dr. FitzGerald to end her ''alienation'' of northern nationalists.
When FitzGerald gave a press conference immediately after hers, he was seen to fumble his words and flounder as he sought answers to questions. He generally appeared a beaten man.
The opposition leader, Charles Haughey, mounted a furious attack on FitzGerald in Parliament, describing the talks and their aftermath as a ''national humiliation.''
At a meeting of deputies of his own Fine Gael party, FitzGerald was placed under angry pressure. He conceded that Thatcher's behavior had been ''gratuitously offensive.''
Mr. Barry has since tried to recoup from that situation in two major speeches , in which he set out to show that the British government had accepted much of the Irish analysis of the northern problem as described in the Forum report.
He also expressed optimism that northern nationalists (mostly Roman Catholics) would continue to support in the main the moderate Social Democratic and Labor Party which is opposed by Sinn Fein, the political wing of the illegal Irish Republican Army.
To speak of alienation of northern Catholics (who constitute nearly 40 percent of Northern Ireland's population of 5 million) is nothing new. Northern Ireland is ruled directly by Britain, which has refused to restore an exclusively Protestant administration.
But the security forces and the administration of justice are almost exclusively in the hands of Protestants and Unionists.
Catholics, including moderates, are frequently harrassed and ill-treated by the security forces and have little confidence in the courts.
The Irish government uses the ''alienation'' argument to demand radical reforms of the law and order system, and an executive role for Dublin in supervising the new system. It is believed that this proposal was put forward by the Irish side at Chequers and brusquely rejected.
Prime Minister Thatcher was so overbearing that the Irish delegates seriously considered walking out. They decided not to, and contented themselves with an agreement that talks should continue at official levels, and the two leaders should meet again early in the new year.
An intense diplomatic effort is now under way on both sides to rescue Anglo-Irish relations and prepare the ground for a more fruitful meeting.
Thatcher has gone out of her way to praise FitzGerald's presidency of the prime ministers of the European Community.
An eight-member delegation of British parliamentarians, visiting Dublin last week, was shocked by the depth of anger conveyed to them by politicians and others, and tried to help repair the rift.
However, it is difficult to see how the talks can succeed - or how FitzGerald can survive politically - unless at the next meeting the British make very substantial concessions. Thatcher cannot do this without offending the Unionist parties now in triumphal mood over the rebuff to Dublin.
Here, the greatest fear is that the failure of the talks will encourage Sinn Fein to believe that it can repeat in the Republic of Ireland its electoral successes in Northern Ireland.
With the economy in serious trouble and an unemployment rate exceeding 16 percent, the Sinn Fein can prey on a disaffected young population.