On January 14, 1965, a meeting between the Taoiseach of Ireland (Sean Lemass) and the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (Terence O’Neill) took place for the first time since the partition of Ireland in 1922. The meeting History at Stormont Castle marked the thaw in relations between the two states.
O’Neill extended an innovation to Lemass to visit Belfast in early January. The meeting was scheduled for the following week, and Lemass traveled to Belfast in secret. Although the meeting was viewed as rather positive in the Republic, it received mixed reviews in the North, and O’Neill, an Ulster trade unionist, faced strong opposition from his own party for the visit.
Lemass told O’Neill that he has long wanted such a meeting to “explore the possibility of practical cooperation for the benefit of all of Ireland.”
The two leaders discussed cooperation between the two states on issues such as tourism, road networks, agriculture, customs, health services, and nuclear energy.
A few weeks later, in February, O’Neill paid a reciprocal visit to Dublin.
Meetings between the leaders heralded a new (albeit short-lived) era of optimism for both states.
The revelation of new light on the exchange of meetings between the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Captain Terence O’Neill, and the Taoiseach, Mr. Sean Lemass, is cast in Cabinet confidences recently released by the Belfast Public Record Office. The two Prime Ministers met twice, first in Belfast on January 14, 1965, then in Dublin, during Captain O’Neill’s return visit on Friday 9th, 1965.
A press release from the Government of Northern Ireland on January 14, 1965, announced the first meeting: “A historic meeting took place in Belfast today when for the first time since the partition of Ireland there is more. 40-year-old Irish Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland and Mr. Sean Lemass accepted Captain Terence O’Neill’s invitation to lunch with him and Ms. O’Neill in Stormont, the seat of government in Northern Ireland.
After their conversations, the two men issued a concise joint statement: “Today we discussed issues where some common interest might turn out to be, and we agreed to further explore specific measures that might be possible. through consultation or practical cooperation. ”
The recently published Stormont dossier titled “Proposals for Cooperation Arising from the Meeting with Mr. Lemass” contains a note from Ms. Nora Whitaker, wife of Dr. Ken Whitaker, Secretary of the Irish Department of Finance, and one of Mr. Lemass’s principal advisers. She thanks Premier Stormont for “the gift you sent me from Ken … I was delighted to be included in your consideration.
The heart of the archives is a secret note of the private discussions between the two prime ministers after their informal lunch at Stormont Castle. Passing the document to an official at Whitehall, CJ Bateman, secretary to Stormont cabinet, said: “This is not an agreed note and, in fact, was compiled from memory, as we did not cede any notes. during the conversation. You will undoubtedly print the confidential nature of this document at the Home Office. The memo reports: “The discussion … took place in a very friendly atmosphere. It was fully accepted by both prime ministers that political and constitutional issues were not at issue. The theme was the possibility of cooperation in purely practical fields, in particular in the economic field. Besides the two leaders, those present were Mr. Bateman, Mr. KP
The main topics covered included tourism, industrial development of cross-border trade, agriculture and fisheries, educational cooperation, and the problems of border areas. On tourism, participants discussed “the possibility of increasing the flow of tourist traffic to Northern Ireland and the Republic by facilitating travel across the border in all respects through a joint promotional effort (possibly based on British island). projects such as the Shannon / Erne Waterway ”.
The memorandum continues: “The possibility of promoting the further expansion of cross-border trade was discussed. Mr. Lemass acknowledges that foreign trade is a “reserved matter” (ie under the jurisdiction of Westminster) and that most of the barriers are on his side. Lemass admitted that manufacturers in the South weren’t too keen on the tariff cuts, but gave the impression that further tariff cuts in Northern Ireland would be entirely possible once the import surcharge North lifted.
Regarding the promotion of industrial development, Lemass said there seemed to be instances where the North and the South were “arguing” against each other. Discussions also varied on possible cooperation in agricultural research to avoid duplication of efforts. With regard to education, “the Republic would welcome the award of scholarships in Northern Ireland to be carried out at universities in the Republic and vice versa.”
The historical note concludes: “No definitive conclusions have, of course, been drawn on any of these issues. The discussion was purely in the nature of a preliminary horizon tour. It was agreed that the two sides would exchange documents outlining the issues on which they would like consultation and/or cooperation.
After the meeting, Mr. Bateman secured “matters” for possible discussion between the two governments. An official from the Northern Department of Agriculture, JC Baird, informed him: “Perhaps it is because we have had a considerable liaison with the Dublin Department of Agriculture in the past that I have hard to suggest a lot of new stuff.
Not all of Stormont’s ministers seemed excited about Captain O’Neill’s initiative, however. The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the minister, Mr. William Morgan, “is inclined to think that, as far as his department is concerned, there is really no issue on which he wishes himself- even initiate a discussion. it’s the opposite. Our social services are generally so advanced compared to the Republic that our main concern over the years has been to protect them from the incursions of the inhabitants of the Eire. “
However, a note in Agent Ulster’s London file must have surprised Captain O’Neill. The London official reported to Neill’s private secretary the views of former Stormont Prime Minister Lord Brooke-borough. This seems remarkable given its well-deserved reputation for hostility to both the minority and the south. Brookeborough reportedly said: “If the circumstances in which it was my duty to operate were those in which the Prime Minister is currently working. I shouldn’t have hesitated to do what Cap O’Neill did. the constitution or Protestantism are threatened in any way. “