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Irish Free State/Republic, relations with

Irish Free State/Republic, relations with. Given the background of bitterness and the controversial circumstances behind the Anglo-Irish treaty of December 1921, relations were bound to be tense. The treaty left many issues unresolved: the precise definition of the South's constitutional connection with Britain; its autonomy in foreign affairs; potential changes in the border with Northern Ireland. The British government during the civil war doubted the integrity of Irish support for the treaty and frequently showed old colonial arrogance towards the Free State government. A majority in the South accepted the treaty without enthusiasm, but a minority supported the republican side in the civil war and did not agree to compromise at the end of the conflict. Partition and the constitutional status dominated Irish politics in the 1920s and 1930s: the agreement between the British and Irish governments not to change the border in 1925 hardened anti-British resentment. The two main parties in the South, Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, are best distinguished by their relative position over Britain. de Valera consolidated his electoral popularity by abolishing the oath to the crown and by refusing to pay land annuities; the British response resulted in a trade war, only settled in 1938 with an agreement favourable for Ireland, in which Britain agreed to vacate the so-called Treaty Ports. Relations soon deteriorated over Irish neutrality during the Second World War and refusal to bow to pressure to hand back the ports.

The coalition government's declaration of a republic in 1948 was made without consultation with Britain and caused the constitutional position of Northern Ireland to be reinforced by the Ireland Act a year later. Not until the 1970s, which saw Ireland and Britain in the European Economic Community and revision of the traditional nationalist ideology in the South did communications improve. In the early years of the Northern Ireland crisis, relations were put back on a footing reminiscent of the early 1920s: the Irish government talked of establishing field hospitals on the border and elements in it helped to finance the Provisional IRA in its early stages; the British embassy in Dublin was burnt down after Derry's Bloody Sunday, February 1972. As the northern conflict wore on, southern attitudes became increasingly pragmatic, particularly when Garret FitzGerald was Taoiseach (June 1981–March 1982, December 1982–March 1987). Increasing criticism within the South of the old irredentist outlook and appreciation of the need to change a conservative social framework were both part of a rapprochement with Britain. The British government came to recognize that Dublin must play an important part in any settlement of the northern question. Such developments culminated in the Anglo-Irish agreement 1985, which had disappointing results in the North, but dramatically improved Anglo-Irish communications, and was belatedly accepted by Charles Haughey, Fianna Fail Taoiseach (1987–92). With the worsening northern security situation, increasing concern in Ireland and Britain about the level of expenditure, and agreement between leaders of Sinn Fein and the IRA, British and Irish prime ministers John Major and Albert Reynolds redefined their countries' aims in December 1993 in the Downing Street declaration. Never as cold as they superficially appeared, Anglo-Irish relations since the 1960s have become progressively warmer, but many fundamental differences have yet to be settled over Northern Ireland before the past can be buried.

Michael Hopkinson

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