Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald sees the carefully crafted Anglo-Irish agreement he signed with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Nov. 15 as a triumph of reason over extremism on both sides of the North-South border in Ireland. It is clearly designed, he said in an interview with ABC News, to bring self-confidence and understanding in the Unionist (Protestant) majority and the Nationalist (Roman Catholic) minority in the North. United States economic aid could help to build a better life for both communities.
Highlights of the interview follow:
Dr. FitzGerald, you and others have mentioned the possibility of American economic help for the trust fund which is to aid Northern Ireland's development, supporting the Anglo-Irish agreement. Did you consult the US government about this?
There have been informal consultations between our government and the administration and Capitol Hill in recent weeks. We were aware of a strong desire on the part of the administration and Congress to give every possible support to an agreement that might bring a prospect of peace and stability to Ireland. We have been very impressed . . . and grateful for the support and willingness on all sides to help us. I am very grateful indeed to the US leadership and to President Reagan and [House Speaker ] Tip O'Neill who appeared together to endorse this agreement within an hour after his signature.
Opposition to the agreement is already gathering in the Unionist community. Does [the agreement] have a better chance than the somewhat similar Sunningdale agreement which failed in 1973-74?
Sunningdale established a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. It depended on support from both sides of the community. The Ulster [Unionist] workers' strike eroded Unionist support. This new agreement is between two sovereign governments. It can't be . . . overthrown by any one group. And anyone who knows the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, knows that once she has made up her mind to a course of action and determined that it is right, she is not easily deflected from carry ing it out.
What about Parliamentary action in the North, in Westminister, and here in the Irish Republic? Will there be delay in implementation?
Our Parliament will debate the agreement in a few days; the British Parliament soon after. It should pass both parliaments within 10 days of signing. It will then be brought into effect by an exchange of notes between the two goverments, a formal method of ratification. It will then be registered with the United Nations.
It is a British government responsibility, of course, to deal with extremists in the North. Do you have any worries about opposition here?
There may be parliamentary opposition; that's a matter for our opposition [Fianna Fail] party. But I think a parlimentary majority [of the ruling coalition Fine Gael and Labour parties] for the agreement is assured. As for the IRA [the outlawed Irish Republican Army], they are a terrorist organization . . . seeking to destroy anything constructive. The agreement's purpose is to withdraw from them in Northern Ireland whatever vestige of tolerance or support there may be for them amongst the minorit y community. They will not like this agreement, but I do not think anything they can do can overturn it, or undermine it either.
If you are so assured of support, would it be better to bypass Parliament and go for a referendum question?
No, I don't think so. We have a parliamentary process. It should operate. . . . The right course of action is a dignified parliamentary debate in which arguments are put forward rationally and Parliament takes its decision.
John Cooley, an ABC news correspondent in London, is a former Monitor staff correspondent. Mike Burns is News Director of Radio Eireann in Dublin.