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Anglo-Irish Agreement

15 November 1985

This Anglo-Irish Agreement, often described as the Hillsborough Agreement, was signed by British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish taoiseach Garret FitzGerald. The agreement included many elements that form part of the 1998 Belfast Agreement: a statement that the status of Northern Ireland could be changed only by a majority vote of the people of Northern Ireland; an inter-governmental conference dealing with politics, security, legal matters, and cross-border cooperation; and an acknowledgment that there were two traditions in Northern Ireland. Ulster unionists bitterly opposed the formal recognition of a role for the Irish government in Northern Ireland affairs. The agreement remained in force until it was superseded by the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

SEE ALSO Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 (Hillsborough Agreement); Northern Ireland: Constitutional Settlement from Sunningdale to Good Friday; Northern Ireland: The United States in Northern Ireland since 1970; Politics: Impact of the Northern Ireland Crisis on Southern Politics; Ulster Politics under Direct Rule

The government of Ireland and the government of the United Kingdom:

Wishing further to develop the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbors and as partners in the European community;

Recognising the major interest of both their countries and, above all, of the people of Northern Ireland in diminishing the divisions there and achieving lasting peace and stability;

Recognising the need for continuing efforts to reconcile and to acknowledge the rights of the two major traditions that exist in Ireland, represented on the one hand by those who wish for no change in the present status of Northern Ireland and on the other hand by those who aspire to a sovereign united Ireland achieved by peaceful means and through agreement;

Reaffirming their total rejection of any attempt to promote political objectives by violence or the threat of violence and their determination to work together to ensure that those who adopt or support such methods do not succeed;

Recognising that a condition of genuine reconciliation and dialogue between unionists and nationalists is mutual recognition and acceptance of each other's rights;

Recognising and respecting the identities of the two communities in Northern Ireland, and the right of each to pursue its aspirations by peaceful and constitutional means;

Reaffirming their commitment to a society in Northern Ireland in which all may live in peace, free from discrimination and intolerance, and with the opportunity for both communities to participate fully in the structures and processes of government;

Have accordingly agreed as follows:



Article 1

The two governments

  • (a) affirm that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland;
  • (b) recognise that the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland is for no change in the status of Northern Ireland;
  • (c) declare that, if in the future a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland, they will introduce and support in the respective parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.



Article 2

  • (a) There is hereby established, within the framework of the Anglo-Irish intergovernmental council set up after the meeting between the two heads of government on 6 November 1981, an intergovernmental conference (hereinafter referred to as "the Conference"), concerned with Northern Ireland and with relations between the two parts of the island of Ireland, to deal, as set out in this agreement, on a regular basis with
    • (i) political matters;
    • (ii) security and related matters;
    • (iii) legal matters, including the administration of justice;
    • (iv) the promotion of cross-border cooperation.
  • (b) The United Kingdom government accept that the Irish government will put forward views and proposals on matters relating to Northern Ireland within the field of activity of the Conference in so far as those matters are not the responsibility of a devolved administration in Northern Ireland. In the interest of promoting peace and stability, determined efforts shall be made through the Conference to resolve any differences. The Conference will be mainly concerned with Northern Ireland; but some of the matters under consideration will involve co-operative action in both parts of the island of Ireland, and possibly also in Great Britain. Some of the proposals considered in respect of Northern Ireland may also be found to have application by the Irish government. There is no derogation from the sovereignty of either the Irish government or the United Kingdom government, and each retains responsibility for the decisions and administrations of government within its own jurisdiction.

Article 3

The Conference shall meet at ministerial or official level, as required. The business of the Conference will thus receive attention at the highest level. Regular and frequent ministerial meetings shall be held; and in particular special meetings shall be convened at the request of either side. Officials may meet in subordinate groups. Membership of the Conference and of sub-groups shall be small and flexible. When the Conference meets at ministerial level an Irish minister designated as the permanent Irish ministerial representative and the secretary of state for Northern Ireland shall be joint chairmen. Within the framework of the Conference other Irish and British ministers may hold or attend meetings as appropriate: when legal matters are under consideration the attorneys general may attend. Ministers may be accompanied by their officials and their professional advisers: for example, when questions of security policy or security co-operation are being discussed, they may be accompanied by the commissioner of the Garda Síochána and the chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary; or when questions of economic or social policy or cooperation are being discussed, they may be accompanied by officials of the relevant departments. A secretariat shall be established by the two governments to service the Conference on a continuing basis in the discharge of its functions as set out in this agreement.

Article 4

  • (a) In relation to matters coming within its field of activity, the Conference shall be a framework within which the Irish government and the United Kingdom government work together
    • (i) for the accommodation of the rights and identities of the two traditions which exist in Northern Ireland; and
    • (ii) for peace, stability and prosperity throughout the island of Ireland by promoting reconciliation, respect for human rights, cooperation against terrorism and the development of economic, social and cultural co-operation.
  • (b) It is the declared policy of the United Kingdom government that responsibility in respect of certain matters within the powers of the secretary of state for Northern Ireland should be devolved within Northern Ireland on a basis which would secure widespread acceptance throughout the community. The Irish government support that policy.
  • (c) Both governments recognise that devolution can be achieved only with the co-operation of constitutional representatives within Northern Ireland of both traditions there. The Conference shall be a framework within which the Irish government may put forward views and proposals on the modalities of bringing about devolution in Northern Ireland, in so far as they relate to the interests of the minority community.



Article 5

  • (a) The Conference shall concern itself with measures to recognise and accommodate the rights and identities of the two traditions in Northern Ireland, to protect human rights and to prevent discrimination. Matters to be considered in this area include measures to foster the cultural heritage of both traditions, changes in electoral arrangements, the use of flags and emblems, the avoidance of economic and social discrimination and the advantages and disadvantages of a bill of rights in some form in Northern Ireland.
  • (b) The discussion of these matters shall be mainly concerned with Northern Ireland, but the possible application of any measures pursuant to this article by the Irish government in their jurisdiction shall not be excluded.
  • (c) If it should prove impossible to achieve and sustain devolution on a basis which secures widespread acceptance in Northern Ireland, the Conference shall be a framework within which the Irish government may, where the interests of the minority community are significantly or especially affected, put forward views on proposals for major legislation and on major policy issues, which are within the purview of the Northern Ireland departments and which remain the responsibility of the secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

Article 6

The Conference shall be a framework within which the Irish government may put forward views and proposals on the role and composition of bodies appointed by the secretary of state for Northern Ireland or by departments subject to his direction and control including the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights; the Fair Employment Agency; the Equal Opportunities Commission; the Police Authority for Northern Ireland; the Police Complaint Board.



Article 7

  • (a) The Conference shall consider
    • (i) security policy;
    • (ii) relations between the security forces and the community;
    • (iii) prisons policy.
  • (b) The Conference shall consider the security situation at its regular meetings and thus provide an opportunity to address policy issues, serious incidents and forthcoming events.
  • (c) The two governments agree that there is a need for a programme of special measures in Northern Ireland to improve relations between the security forces and the community, with the object in particular of making the security forces more readily accepted by the nationalist community. Such a programme shall be developed, for the Conference's consideration, and may include the establishment of local consultative machinery, training in community relations, crime prevention schemes involving the community, improvements in arrangements for handling complaints, and action to increase the proportion of members of the minority in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Elements of the programme may be considered by the Irish government suitable for application within their jurisdiction.
  • (d) The Conference may consider policy issues relating to prisons. Individual cases may be raised as appropriate, so that information can be provided or inquiries instituted.



Article 8

  • (a) The Conference shall deal with issues of concern to both countries relating to the enforcement of the criminal law. In particular it shall consider whether there are areas of the criminal law applying in the North and in the South respectively which might with benefit be harmonised. The two governments agree on the importance of public confidence in the administration of justice. The Conference shall seek, with the help of advice from experts as appropriate; measures which would give substantial expression to this aim, considering inter alia the possibility of mixed courts in both jurisdictions for the trial of certain offences. The Conference shall also be concerned with policy aspects of extradition and extra-territorial jurisdiction as between North and South.



Article 9

  • (a) With a view to enhancing cross-border cooperation on security matters, the Conference shall set in hand a programme of work to be undertaken by the commissioner of the Garda Síochána and the chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and, where appropriate, groups of officials, in such areas as threat assessments, exchange of information, liaison structures, technical co-operation, training of personnel, and operational resources.
  • (b) The Conference shall have no operational responsibilities; responsibility for policy operations shall remain with the heads of the respective police forces, the commissioner of the Garda Síochána maintaining his links with the minister for justice and the chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary his links with the secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

Article 10

  • (a) The two governments shall co-operate to promote the economic and social development of those areas of both parts of Ireland which have suffered most severely from the consequences of the instability of recent years, and shall consider the possibility of securing international support for this work.
  • (b) If it should prove impossible to achieve and sustain devolution on a basis which secures widespread acceptance in Northern Ireland, the Conference shall be a framework for the promotion of co-operation between the two parts of Ireland concerning cross-border aspects of economic, social and cultural matters in relation to which the secretary of state for Northern Ireland continues to exercise authority.
  • (c) If responsibility is devolved in respect of certain matters in the economic, social or cultural areas currently within the responsibility of the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, machinery will need to be established by the responsible authorities in the North and South for practical cooperation in respect of cross-border aspects of these issues.



Article 11

At the end of three years from signature of this agreement, or earlier if requested by either government, the working of the Conference shall be reviewed by the two governments to see whether any changes in the scope and nature of its activities are desirable.



Article 12

If will be for parliamentary decision in Dublin and in Westminster whether to establish an Anglo-Irish parliamentary body of the kind adumbrated in the Anglo-Irish Studies Report of November 1981. The two governments agree that they would give support as appropriate to such a body, if it were to be established.



Article 13

This agreement shall enter into force on the date on which the two governments exchange notifications of their acceptance of this agreement.

In witness whereof the undersigned, being duly authorised thereto by their respective governments, have signed this agreement.

Done in two originals at Hillsborough on the 15th day of November 1985.

For the government of Ireland—Gearóid Mac Gearailt

For the government of the United Kingdom—Margaret Thatcher

Reprinted in Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, edited by Seamus Deane (1991), vol. 3, pp. 803–807.

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1. Relating to England or Britain and Ireland: the Anglo-Irish agreement, Anglo-Irish tensions.

2. Relating to the English in Ireland and the Protestant Ascendancy: ‘PAT. He was an Anglo-Irishman. / MEG. In the blessed name of God, what's that? / PAT. A Protestant with a horse’ ( Brendan Behan, The Hostage, 1958, Act I). The term is disliked by many Irish nationalists when used to refer to Irish literature in English or when it obtrusively recalls the centuries of English/British rule over Ireland.

3. A term, especially in linguistics, for a variety of English spoken over most of Ireland. It derives mainly from the English brought to Ireland by 17c Planters (settlers) from England, modified by contacts with Irish Gaelic, Ulster Scots, and Hiberno-English. It is a continuum of usage influenced by the level of education of its speakers, their regional origin, and the area of original settlement. The usage of more educated speakers approximates to Irish broadcasting norms, whereas less educated speakers have more distinctive accents and non-standard usages.


The middle-class Anglo-Irish accent has been influenced by and continues to be close to RP. However, it is rhotic (with a retroflex r) and the /t, d/ in words like true and drew tend to be dental rather than alveolar, suggesting ‘thrue’ and ‘dhrew’. In working-class speech, the following features are common: (1) Words such as leave and tea sound like ‘lave’ and ‘tay’, cold and old sound like ‘cowl’ and ‘owl’, bull and could can rhyme with ‘cull’ and ‘bud’, and which and whether are distinguished from witch and weather (beginning with /hw/, not /w/). (2) In such words as arm and film, a vowel often opens up the consonant clusters: ‘aram’ and ‘fillim’. (3) In the South, words such as pence are often pronounced ‘pensh’ (an /ʃ/ in word-final position) and story and small are often pronounced ‘shtory’ and ‘shmall’ (an /ʃ/ in consonant clusters). Less often, such words as fizzed and puzzle sound like ‘fizhd’ and ‘puzhl’ (a /ʒ/ in consonant clusters). Also in Southern Anglo-Irish, words such as thin and then sound like ‘tin’ and ‘den’ (/ǒ, ɵ/ replaced by /t, d/). Words such as try, dry, butter, and under sound like thry, dhry, butther, and undher (with interdental rather than alveolar plosives).


Standard Anglo-Irish is close to the standard BrE varieties. Non-standard Anglo-Irish syntax has six features also found outside Ireland: (1) Done and seen in the past tense: She done it because she seen me do it. (2) Special past participles: He has div He has dived; They have went They have gone. (3) Auxiliary have reduced to a: You should a knew You should have known; They would a helped you. (4) Them as a demonstrative plural adjective and pronoun: Them shoes is lovely yet. Them's the ones I wanted. (5) A plural form of you. In the South, it tends to be ye (rhyming with he: Ye'll all get what's comin to ye) or youse (rhyming with whose: Youse childher will get a good beatin' when your father gets in!). In the North, it is yiz (rhyming with his: Yiz'll all get what's comin to yiz, Yiz childher will get…). (6) Singular be with plural subjects: Me and Mick's fed up, Mary and the daughter's out shopping, Yiz is late, Themins (those ones) is no use. Such features are probably tolerated higher up the social ladder than in Britain.


1. Distinctive words never current in the standard language: atomy a small, insignificant person, as in Did you ever see such a wee atomy of a man?; cog to cheat, for example by copying, as in I wouldn't let just anybody cog my exercise; thole to endure, as in There was nothin for it but to thole (shared with ScoE).

2. General words with distinctive senses: backward shy, bold naughty, doubt strongly believe, as in I doubt he's coming (shared with ScoE). Most regionally marked words occur in the speech of older, often rural people; it is unlikely that biddable obedient, feasant affable, pishmire/pismire ant, occur in the natural usage of people under 40. See BELFAST, DUBLIN, IRISH ENGLISH, NEWFOUNDLAND ENGLISH, NORTHERN IRISH ENGLISH.

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Anglo-Irish ascendancy (protestant ascendancy). Problematic labels generally applied to the dominant Church of Ireland landed interest: ‘protestant ascendancy’ appears to have been first coined in 1782. However, the origins of this interest lay with the land confiscations of the 17th cent. The Ulster plantation (1608–9) brought a substantial transfer of property from the Gaelic lords to English investors and settlers; the Cromwellian confiscations (1652–3) brought the expropriation of the great majority of catholic landowners throughout the rest of Ireland. The Restoration land settlement brought a minor catholic recovery, but this was short-lived. The victory of the Williamite cause in the war of 1689–91 paved the way for further confiscations, and—more importantly—for a series of measures designed to bolster the new protestant landed interest. These ‘penal laws’ targeted the residual catholic gentry, and ensured a virtual protestant monopoly over freehold proprietorship until the end of the 18th cent.

The 18th cent. was, therefore, the golden age of the ascendancy. Rural economic growth after c.1740 helped to finance the widespread construction or remodelling of the ‘big houses’ (mansions), and the building of lavish town houses, most spectacularly in Dublin. The height of ascendancy political power came after 1782–3, with the grant of legislative independence to the gentry-dominated Irish Parliament. But increasingly powerful and vocal catholic and dissenter interests effectively challenged this dominance in the 1790s, and the apparent helplessness of the ascendancy during the 1798 rising made it vulnerable to English intervention. The Act of Union (1800) abolished the Dublin Parliament, and represented a severe blow to the political authority and prestige of the Irish landed interest. Further political set-backs came with catholic emancipation (1829) and with the rise of an ambitious and radical peasant nationalism. The land legislation of the British government at the end of the 19th cent. weakened the rights of Irish proprietors, and encouraged a transfer of land to the former tenant farmers. Land purchase legislation, especially the Land Act of 1903, facilitated this transfer, and brought a swift if relatively cushioned end to the economic predominance of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy.

Alvin Jackson

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Anglo-Irish treaty, 1921. A truce on 11 July ended the war between the Irish Republican Army and the British army which had been raging since 1919. Eamon de Valera, president of Dáil Éireann, the constituent assembly of Ireland, met with Lloyd George to discuss a settlement. Deadlock ensued with Lloyd George wanting dominion Home Rule for Ireland and de Valera insisting on an independent Irish Republic. Negotiations began in earnest in October with Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins representing Ireland. After much debate a treaty was signed on 6 December whereby Ireland became a free state, with the six counties of Ulster remaining as part of the UK, but with full dominion status. It followed an ultimatum from the British that the Irish agree to their terms or face the renewal of war. The Dáil eventually accepted the treaty on 7 January 1922 by 64 votes to 57 and it came into effect on 6 December.

Richard A. Smith

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Anglo-Irish Agreement (Hillsborough Agreement) Treaty on the status of Northern Ireland, signed (1985) by Margaret Thatcher and Garret Fitzgerald. Aiming to clarify the status of Northern Ireland, it gave the Republic of Ireland the right of consultation; it asserted that any future changes would have to be ratified by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland; and it set up the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (AIIC) to promote cooperation. The Ulster Unionists denounced the agreement. See also Downing Street Declaration

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Anglo-Irish agreement, 1985, signed at Hillsborough, Co. Down, on 15 November 1985, by Margaret Thatcher and the taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland, Dr Garret FitzGerald. The agreement was intended to promote reconciliation within Northern Ireland, a greater understanding between the unionist and nationalist traditions in Ireland, and co-operation between the British and Irish governments. It established an intergovernmental conference and an attendant secretariat, the latter based at Maryfield, Co. Down. Although the document recognized the constitutional rights of the majority, Ulster Unionists saw it as establishing a form of joint authority, and mounted a ferocious campaign of opposition in 1985–6.

Alvin Jackson

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Anglo-Irish of English descent but born or resident in Ireland, or a member of such a family, and associated particularly with the Protestant Ascendancy.