This paper charts the political and ideological evolution of Irish government policy towards Northern Ireland from the partition of the country in 1921 to the present day. It assesses the achievements and failures of successive Dublin administrations, evaluating the obstacles they faced and the strategies used to overcome them. Challenging the idea that Dublin has pursued a consistent set of objectives and policies towards Northern Ireland, this study reveals a dynamic picture of changing priorities. The picture that emerges is one of complex and sometimes contradictory processes underpinning the Irish government’s approach to the imbroglio.
The paper argues that during the early decades of independence, the Government’s Northern Ireland policies were predicated on fundamental assumptions that led Dublin to deprioritise or exclude policy options. It also demonstrates how successive Governments ruled out institutional links to Northern Ireland that it was within their power to establish. Moreover, it explains why although occasionally seeking to internationalise the Northern Ireland question, Dublin generally demurred from confronting their British counterparts on the global stage.
Drawing on extensive archival research and interviews, the paper explores the gap between the rhetorical objective of Irish unity and actual priorities such as stability within Northern Ireland and the security of the Irish state. Identifying key evolutionary trends, the paper illustrates how the Irish Government has been transformed from spurned supplicant to vital partner in determining Northern Ireland’s future, a relationship jeopardised by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.