Newly released State papers from 1980 shed fresh light on the developing relationship between Taoiseach Charles Haughey and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as well as the first H-Block hunger strike of that year.
The papers, released this morning in Dublin, London and Belfast under the 30-year-rule, show continuing mutual suspicion between Dublin and London as well as an intervention by the Vatican in the hunger strike situation.
The British ambassador’s secret assessment of Mr Haughey in April 1980 was that he was ‘a clever, wily man, no friend of ours, but not, perhaps, actively hostile’.
The story of 1980 is largely the story of Mr Haughey's attempts to persuade Mrs Thatcher to reach a joint agreement on how to handle Northern Ireland.
The documents show that Mr Haughey made more progress than might have been expected; persuading at least some in the British establishment that he had something to offer.
But in the end the decisions were made by Mrs Thatcher. She wrote that if the Taoiseach wanted a considerable step forward to a much closer relationship, he would be ‘disappointed - very disappointed’.
Hunger strike warning
The Irish Government made several attempts to warn the British of the dangers of the H-Block hunger strike, which began in October, as did the Catholic Bishops.
However, London was buoyed by a secret message sent by the Pope to the Irish bishops, urging them to do everything possible to get the prisoners to ‘adopt a more humane attitude ... in keeping with Christian moral principles’.
The strike was called off in December, but the prisoners felt they had been double-crossed by secret British promises of concessions - setting the scene for the far more serious hunger strike the following year.