Margaret Thatcher which Charles Haughey at 10 Downing Street
Image: PA Wire/PA Wire/Press Association Images
THE INVASION OF the Falkland Islands in the spring of 1982 would have a significant impact on Anglo-Irish relations during the course of the summer.
Days after the Argentine forces landed on the tiny islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, asserting their control over its 2,500 or so residents, the British government attempted to gain international support for a series of sanctions on Argentina, then under the control of a military junta.
As a temporary member of the United Nations Security Council and a close neighbour of Britain, Ireland was seen as a crucial country to have on board.
By mid-April the government here had voted in favour of the UN Security Council Resolution 502 which condemned the hostilities and demanded an immediate Argentine withdrawal from the islands.
But with Argentina continuing to act in defiance of the UN resolution, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote to Taoiseach Charles Haughey asking for his “urgent help” in bringing through further sanctions through the European Economic Community (EEC) of which both countries were members.
She said that Argentina’s defiance of a Security Council resolution, adopted on 3 April, was “unacceptable” and said that “all available means” should be used to pressure the Argentines.
“Economic and financial measures would have a particularly powerful impact,” she wrote, adding: “I now seek your personal help to bring about the urgent introduction of economic and financial measures against Argentina by national action coordinated among us”.
In the letter Thatcher outlined three proposals including a complete ban on the supply of arms and military material to Argentina, an embargo on all goods from Argentina, and an end to credit export guarantees with Argentina.
“I know that these measures will affect your own economic interests. But if they are taken rapidly, with the widest possible solidarity among our partners, they should bring the Argentine Government to their senses,” she wrote.
Already Ireland had been warned in a memo from its embassy in London on 7 April of the considerable backlash it could face if it did not support Britain’s efforts to bring about an effective shunning of Argentina for its actions in the Falkands.
British public anger was “inflamed to a degree that has not been witnessed since Suez” the government was told with the message going on to say: “There is great support for a strong reaction by the government, including if necessary the use of military force.”
The government was warned by its embassy in London of a significant consequences of not endorsing the British stance, the message going on to say: “The effects on Anglo-Irish relation would be incalcuable and the progress made in recent years in achieving closer cooperation between London and Dublin would be put at risk”.
It also warned that Irish community would be targeted and that Irish exports could be affected and that “boycotts could not be ruled out”.
‘Display of political good-will’
A day earlier on 6 April, a detailed memo from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the government outlined the requests and concerns of the British government through its embassy in Dublin.
Specifically, the British were looking for sanctions against Argentina which were both bilateral and within framework of the European Economic Community as the EU was then known including the ban on military exports and withholding export credit guarantees.
The memo outlined the impact of the stance Ireland took on its relations with Britain.
“Whatever about the merits of the dispute (and in this we have taken, over the years, a stance which favours the ceding of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands to Argentina) It is a fact that Argentina has acted in defiance of the Security Council,” the memo said.
In its recommendations, the memo noted that acceding to the British request could “if not immediately, at least in the long term” be turned to Ireland’s political and economic advantage.
It concluded that there was “more to be gained… from a display of political good-will combined with cautious co-operation in the economic field, than from appearing to be negative or unduly dilatory”.
Having received Thatcher’s letter and deciding to press ahead with supporting EEC sanctions Haughey sought to convey his wish for a “diplomatic solution” in a letter dated 16 April.
He said: “Let me assure you of my government’s continuing readiness to help insofar as we can in advancing a resolution of the crisis and the achievement of an honourable and enduring settlement.”
Thatcher later wrote to Haughey telling him how “deeply grateful” she was for the part he played in securing sanctions against Argentina:
But the Irish government’s position in relation to the Falklands War would change considerably in a matter of weeks following the controversial sinking of the Argentine navy ship, the Belgrano, at the beginning of May.
Read more about the State papers and Ireland’s response to the Falklands War on TheJournal.ie tomorrow
For further study, see National Archive Reference Nos: 2012/90/866-875; 2012/59/936; 2012/59/16-17;2012/59/66-68; 2012/59/71-72