Hillery & Callaghan meet, February 1971

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 1 (Spring 2002), News, Volume 10

According to Irish Minister for External Affairs, Dr Patrick Hillery, the prevailing situation in the North derived ‘from [British] army raiding which aggravates the dissatisfactions which the minority have suffered for so long. (Hulton Getty Picture Collection, London)

According to Irish Minister for External Affairs, Dr Patrick Hillery, the prevailing situation in the North derived ‘from [British] army raiding which aggravates the dissatisfactions which the minority have suffered for so long. (Hulton Getty Picture Collection, London)

During a visit to Dublin on 5 February 1971 James Callaghan MP, former Labour British Home Secretary, met with Dr Patrick Hillery, Minister for External Affairs. Mr Callaghan began by attempting to ascertain Dr Hillery’s ‘view on the cause of the present troubles’. Dr Hillery stated ‘that the basic cause was the 1920 “solution”’. He believed that London ‘could not provide a solution’. The prevailing situation in the North derived ‘from army raiding which aggravates the dissatisfactions which the minority have suffered for so long’. He continued by stating that the ‘British Army was brought into the situation in August 1969 when the then forces of law and order were attacking the minority. Now the Army itself is engaged with the minority’.
Mr Callaghan asked how Dr Hillery would proceed if he were in  Major Chichester-Clark’s position. Dr Hillery answered ‘that the question presumed that the Nothern State was a viable one. In fact it was not. It had been created and maintained by force and was still being maintained by force.’
Mr Callaghan then raised the issue of the use of force to achieve a solution. Dr Hillery replied that the Irish government and people ‘had no desire whatever to recreate the situation in the North in reverse’. The official policy was ‘unification by peaceful means’ and this was also ‘his personal opinion’. Dr Hillery asserted that this approach had a clear logic as well as a long history. Dr Hillery pointed out that Éamon de Valera had maintained that the Irish could solve their problem if the British, in principle, agreed to leave Ireland. This, he stated, was still the Irish government’s view.
Mr Callaghan then proceeded to discuss another topic. He expressed the belief that the Social Democratic and Labour Party was not capable of attracting ‘Protestant support and was never likely to succeed’. He believed ‘that an alternative party with a reasonable chance of achieving Government would have to begin by attracting Protestant support without antagonising Catholic opinion’. Believing that Mr Callaghan was referring to the Northern Ireland Labour Party, Dr Hillery stated ‘that the NILP accepted the basic Unionist position on unity. If it put up fifty-two candidates for Stormont it would lose fifty deposits. Mr Callaghan said that it was possible ‘to broaden the base of the NILP ‘by involving Northern industrialists and trade unionists. During ‘a second stage he would wish to bring in people like Gerry Fitt. He was not asking anyone to support the existing NILP. His view was that the SDLP could not win Protestant working-class support.’
Returning to the security situation in the North, Dr Hillery pointed to what he perceived as the dangers inherent in ‘the use of the British army in a B Special role’. He believed that the army was already beginning to be viewed in this light by the minority and he stated ‘that he was not in any way attacking British soldiers as such’ but that he wanted to highlight the fact ‘that tactics are extremely important and appear to have gone wrong’.
On the issue of unionism generally Mr Callaghan expressed his strong belief ‘that there was a far greater change in unionism’ than was usually imagined. He stated that ‘Major Chichester-Clark is a simple Guards Officer who will do his duty in the best way he can. If he can maintain control of the Unionist Party apparatus he will do much more.’ However, Dr Hillery ‘said that he had much less faith in people like Craig and Faulkner’.
Mr Callaghan asked if the Irish government ‘had any ideas about extending co-operation with the North’. Dr Hillery said that they had already suggested co-operation on such issues as all-Ireland tourist development, trans-border regional development areas, and ‘an economic council of Ireland perhaps based on mutual problems connected with the EEC, etc.’. However, the government had not so far received a ‘favourable reaction either from the North or in London’. Mr Callaghan requested that that he be ‘briefed occasionally on such subjects’.
(2002/8/76)

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