The taoiseach affirms the Sunningdale Agreement (1974)

In March 1974 Liam Cosgrave, the Republic of Ireland taoiseach (prime minister) addressed the Dail in Dublin on the status of Northern Ireland. Cosgrave affirmed the terms of the Sunningdale Agreement the previous year and called for democratic solutions to the problems in Northern Ireland:

At the Sunningdale Conference the following declarations were made:

“The Irish government fully accepted and solemnly declared that there could be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland desired a change in that status.

The British government solemnly declared that it was, and would remain, their policy to support the wishes of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. The present status of Northern Ireland is that it is part of the United Kingdom. If in the future the majority of the people of Northern Ireland should indicate a wish to become part of a united Ireland, the British Government would support that wish…

All the parties at the Sunningdale Conference were fully aware of the divergent political attitudes represented at the conference. They were concerned not to accentuate those divergences but to find ways to bring about accord in this island. With this end in view, each government in making its declaration was concerned to assist in the process of reconciliation which the conference was endeavouring to promote.

Instead of indulging in essentially arid and potentially divisive arguments as to the rights and wrongs of historic events now long past, the Irish government considered that they should concern themselves with the present and look to the future, and see how best they could serve the common cause of securing peace and justice in Northern Ireland. The government was well aware that differences exist in the constitutional law of the Republic of Ireland and of the United Kingdom, as to the status of Northern Ireland, but they considered that it would not be helpful to debate those constitutional differences.

They considered that peace and progress could best be secured by allaying fears which, however unjustified the Government felt them to be, were nonetheless very real. Their object therefore in making their solemn declaration to the conference was to reassure those in the majority community of Northern Ireland who were apprehensive of the new institutions which were being created, namely the power-sharing executive and the Council of Ireland…

I now therefore solemnly reaffirm that the factual position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom cannot be changed, except by a decision of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. This declaration, I believe, is in accordance with and follows from the resolve of all the democratic parties in the Republic: that the unity of Ireland is to be achieved only by peaceful means, and by consent…

All of us who live today in the island of Ireland have inherited an immensely difficult and complex problem which has brought suffering and death to innocent men and women in each generation. It is a problem which no previous generation in our history – whatever else it may have achieved – was able to resolve. The way is open to us who live in Ireland at this particular time to begin to resolve it. The House can be assured that this work, pursued in recent years, will be carried forward by my government with energy and resolution.”