“Working with the Irish has never been easy”

Distrust, misunderstanding, victimization and fear of marginalization – some of the defining characteristics of the Irish in the late 1990s, according to the British Ambassador to Dublin at the time.

“Working with the Irish has never been easy,” Veronica Sutherland wrote in a note in May 1997, as documents released Tuesday by the UK National Archives in London show.

“Even now mistrust and misunderstanding are still the defining characteristics of the Irish side, while for the Irish the British approach often smacks of arrogance and callousness,” the memo said.

The reasons for the difference range from the Irish feeling of ‘victim’ where many see the story as a ‘recording of things done to them’ which has fueled a sense of grievance against the British.

This has led to the belief that London never takes issues seriously enough, Sutherland wrote: “As John Hume said, the reason the Irish never forget is that the British never remember. . “

His memo, to various senior British officials, was sent the day after the landslide Labor Party victory that led Tony Blair to become Prime Minister.

Other differences between the two sides were that the Irish government was primarily concerned with nationalist sympathies while the British had to “reconcile a much wider range of conflicting interests”, from unionists to nationalists and to demands for security and rights. civilians. Added to this, said Sutherland, advisers such as Martin Mansergh and Sean O’hUiginn of the Foreign Office had significant power in their “perceived role as guardians of the nationalist tradition.”

It is these differences which “largely explain the mutual incomprehension which regularly settles between the two governments”.

Personal relationships

She said in order to improve relations between the two sides, the British should take these concerns into account and also establish personal relations with Irish ministers.

“Stereotypes are often misleading, but it remains true that the Irish way of doing business relies more than the British on personal relationships. The closer British ministers can forge personal relationships with their Irish counterparts, the easier it will be to reach personal agreements that can lead to a major breakthrough. “

Informal contacts have played a crucial role in building relationships, she said. “It cannot be overstated how much a well-timed phone call can improve the atmosphere in which business is done. Equally important, such an approach can prevent public explosions of the Irish which are an embarrassment to both sides, and therefore an obstacle to progress. “

Historical birthdays

Sutherland has warned that historic anniversaries such as Bloody Sunday and Famine have aroused strong emotions and should be treated with sensitivity even though they may appear to be of “secondary importance” in the UK.

The files are part of a publication of documents from the National Archives in London from the period in 1997, when Labor entered government after the landslide victory over the Tories.

Sutherland said working closely with the Irish was essential to achieving peace in Northern Ireland. She said there had been a more constructive relationship built since the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985, but “room for improvement nonetheless remains”.

“The UK and the Republic of Ireland have a lot in common: history, language, close family ties and, for both countries, their only land border. Yet these factors have too often served to divide rather than unite, ”she wrote.

About Walter Bartholomew

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