FitzGerald: no turning back on pact with Britain. That, despite protests of N. Ireland Protestants
Dublin — No surrender. No compromise. No freeze on the Anglo-Irish agreement. That, in essence, is the Republic of Ireland's answer to the recent turmoil in Northern Ireland, where Monday's one-day Protestant strike against the agreement degenerated into violence and intimidation.
More specifically, that is Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald's way of insisting that, as one of the co-authors of the accord, there would be no turning back on his part.
The accord, signed between Britain and the Irish Republic last November, gives Dr. FitzGerald's Republic an advisory role in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
``Unionists,'' Protestants in Northern Ireland who want the province to remain a part of Britain, bitterly oppose the agreement.
``Talk of suspending the agreement has no meaning,'' FitzGerald said. ``It's a binding international agreement. It's not open to suspension. Both governments wouldn't want it to be otherwise.''
Speaking over the clink of Waterford crystal at a luncheon for American correspondents, FitzGerald also said he saw no reason why a proposed United States aid package should be held up because of the recent unrest.
``This proves the point. We do need to back up the agreement quickly with concrete results,'' he said.
The money would go principally to the most deprived areas in Northern Ireland as well as to Irish border towns.
President Reagan, who has just proposed a $250 million package to be disbursed to both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic over the next five years, will meet with FitzGerald in Washington March 17. In addition, Reagan proposed Wednesday that Congress authorize a $20 million contribution to an international economic development fund for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
FitzGerald, a frequent visitor to the US, said the advantage of traveling after the signing of the agreement was that ``at least there's something positive to say.''
FitzGerald's uncompromising attitude may come as something of a disappointment to elected Unionist leaders -- such as James Molyneaux, head of the Official Unionist Party -- who represent more moderate Protestant opinion in Northern Ireland.
Reports indicate that Mr. Molyneaux has said that FitzGerald perhaps understood the situation better in Northern Ireland than Britain's prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. This has been interpreted as a possible signal for the Irish prime minister to make some kind of political accommodation that would allow Molyneaux to regain the upper hand from hard-line Unionists.
After a meeting last week with Mrs. Thatcher, Molyneaux, together with another Unionist leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, suffered the embarrassment of having a decision to continue talks with Thatcher overturned by more hard-line Protestant elements.
But the Taoiseach, as the Irish prime minister is called, made it clear at the lunch that any slowing of the implementation of the accord ``would undermine the very purposes of the agreement'' and that ``we could end up with a worse situation than before the signing of the agreement.''
Criticizing former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson for meeting with leaders of the outlawed Irish Republican Army in 1972, the Taoiseach stressed that violence is only encouraged when politicians appear willing to do business with the men of violence.