This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019
Advertisement

Garret FitzGerald really, really did not like Sinn Féin in 1985

The then Taoiseach even reached out to his nemesis Charles Haughey in an attempt to stymie Gerry Adams’ party.

Gerry Adams Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 1986 Gerry Adams at Sinn Féin's 1986 Ard Fheis in the Mansion House, Dublin Source: Rollingnews.ie

SO UNHAPPY AT the prospect of Sinn Féin as a political force were Fine Gael in 1985 that they even lobbied Charles Haughey to their side, according to papers released under the 30-year-rule by the National Archives.

The abstentionist policies of Sinn Féin (ie their elected officials did not attend either the Dáil or the House of Commons in the UK) had not dulled their popularity 30 years ago – in the 1985 Northern Irish local elections Sinn Féin did remarkably well for a party that refused to practice parliamentary politics, something Gerry Adams did little to hide his delight about.

20151202_112520 Source: National Archives 2015/89/61

Click here to view a larger image

20151202_111724 Source: National Archives 2015/89/61

Click here to view a larger image

Fine Gael / Labour spent most of 1985 building up to the landmark Anglo Irish Agreement (AIA) in November of that year.

Sinn Féin’s sniping from the sides meanwhile about what a disaster engaging with the British government might prove to be was not well received by the Irish government. In this the party was joined by the Unionists who were very mistrustful of the process. But in Sinn Féin’s case they were on the Irish government’s doorstep.

Since 1984 the government had actively followed a policy of non-acknowledgement when it came to Sinn Féin due to their backing of the IRA in Northern Ireland. As the year progressed and the AIA began to take shape they were even asked by their British counterparts as to how exactly their embargo on contact with Sinn Féin worked in practice:

20151202_112825 Source: National Archives 2015/89/61

Click here to view a larger image

20151202_113707 Source: National Archives 2015/89/61

Click here to view a larger image

20151202_112908 Source: National Archives 2015/89/61

Click here to view a larger image

Then Sinn Féin announced that it wanted to use Dublin’s Mansion House, seat of the Lord Mayor of the city, for its November 1985 Ard Fheis.

Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald was not best pleased. “The spectacle of Sinn Féin’s annual conferences, at which unequivocal support is consistently given to the IRA’s campaign of violence, is abhorrent to the government,” he told a company director in a letter from the time. Sinn Féin had used the Dublin building in 1984 (and would do so again in 1986), but in 1985 the Fine Gael leader made it his personal mission to see that they were banned from the building.

20151202_113120 Source: National Archives 2015/89/61

Click here to view a larger image

Unfortunately the use of the building came under the remit of Dublin City Corporation (the forerunner of Dublin City Council) and the government had no mandate to intervene.  But sitting Dublin City councillors did. As such FitzGerald sought an all-party consensus on the issue as a means of exerting pressure towards the building being made unavailable for the Sinn Féin conference. Hence the below letter to Charlie Haughey.

20151202_113424 Garrett FitzGerald's letter to Charles Haughey Source: National Archives 2015/89/61

Click here to view a larger image

“Dear Charlie… I understand that the members of the City Council would have the the power to direct Corporation management not to make the Mansion House available to Sinn Féin… Obviously the value of such a motion would be considerably greater if it could be a cross party initiative,” he wrote.

Would you consider bringing this matter to the attention of the Fianna Fáil councillors?

As matters transpired, the tactic didn’t work and the Sinn Féin conference went ahead at the Mansion House anyway.

And the main topic of the meeting? Abstentionism, a vote on which to abolish same being narrowly defeated by 161 to 181 votes with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness abstaining.

This we know because the government had a confidential memo of the goings-on at the Ard Fheis prepared:

20151202_111845 Source: National Archives 2015/89/61

Click here to view a larger image

Cloak and dagger stuff in 1985 and no mistake.

As for abstentionism itself? Sinn Féin voted to abandon the policy at the following year’s conference leading to a split in the party.

Source: John McDonagh/YouTube

Read: Pornography being shown in pubs had the government in a fluster 30 years ago

Read: Irish people really didn’t like paying for their tv licence 30 years ago

See National Archives file 2015/89/61

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

Read next:

COMMENTS (115)