Thursday, August 7, 2008

Charlie Haughey and the Falklands

In March 1982 the Argentinian Army invaded the Falkland Islands. What many Irish people have probably forgotten by now is that Ireland at the time happened to be serving on the United Nations Security Council for only our second time. Here was a chance for Taoiseach Charlie Haughey to stick it to Brits. And by stick it, I mean just throw a spanner in the British works for old times sake.

Charlie Haughey gives Maggie Thatcher the fingers

It is of course important to remember that the crisis in the South Atlantic arrived only a few short months after the last of the IRA hunger strikes had come to an end. Haughey had come under pressure during the strikes from his own base for not doing more to at least highlight the Thatcher governments unwillingness to compromise. Haughey had always been masterful in the way he played to the republican feelings of the country in order to rally support around himself and his party. The escalating conflict in the Falklands provided a perfect opportunity to do this at a time when anti British feeling was running rampant throughout the country.

At the UN
Initially Haughey was cautious and he didn't want Ireland to break too radically away from our European partners. He instructed the Irish mission at the UN to vote in favor of UN resolution 502 which called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. This occurred just after the Argentinian invasion but before the British task force arrived at the Falklands. He also went along reluctantly with the EEC embargo of Argentina. This changed however with the sinking of the Argentinian cruiser the General Belgrano.

The General Belgrano going down after being torpedoed by a British Submarine, 323 Argentinian sailors did not survive

On May 2nd 1982 Captain Chris Wreford-Brown of the Nuclear Submarine HMS Conqueror contacted The Prime Minister at Downing Street and informed her that the General Belgrano, although operating outside the British exclusion zone was behaving in a menacing way (how British). She gave the order to attack. After the incident and the many Argentinian deaths world opinion began to turn against the British. Haughey pounced.

The Irish Government announced it would be calling on the UN Security Council to bring about an immediate end to hostilities and would also be seeking the withdrawal of the EEC economic sanctions against Argentina on the grounds that they were no longer appropriate. Neither attempt came to much. But the British intensely resented the Irish effort at the UN that had it been successful would have allowed the Argentinians to remain in the possession of the Falklands while a diplomatic resolution was being sought.

Haughey and Thatcher at at EEC meeting in Brussels in 1989

I see this as vintage Haughey. It was an opportunity to engage in a bit of Brit bashing because he knew many at home would love him for it. He should have been worried about the national interest and not his popularity. Anglo Irish relations suffered a serious setback as a result and in the following years Thatcher refused to meet with Haughey at a bilateral level and only came face to face with him at EEC meetings. I'm gonna call it as a selfish mistake by Haughey. His principal motivation was his domestic popularity, not the good of the nation. Poor relations between Britain and Ireland was one of the reasons it took 25 years to find a resolution to the Northern Ireland conflict. Charlie Haughey contributed to that.


bathmate said...

I liked it.

Anonymous said...

Hi :)

I was wondering if it would be possible for you to cite your sources for this article?

I'm trying to research Haughey's neutrality policy for A-level History, and can't seem to find any appropriate sources anywhere...

This is really useful, but citing a blog is probably not going to look too great... :-/

If you can remember any sources, and could email me at saffiya_scarlett(at), I would be extremely grateful.

Many thanks,


Anonymous said...

Not a balanced article. I believe Haughey was absolutely right and the Irish people did too. It wasn't Haugheys job to advance Britain's position. And absolving Thatcher for the lack of progress in N Ireland during her entire 11 years as PM because of Haugheys stance re The Falklands, is laughable quite frankly. She was entirely the archetect of her own political failures as far as NI is concerned.

Roger said...

I too would find your sources useful.