'Dublin is just a sunningdale away'? The SDLP and the failure of Northern Ireland's sunningdale experiment

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    This article examines the part played by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in both the making and the breakdown of the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement. In particular, the article looks at the party's relations with the Irish government in this period. Specifically, it considers the charge that the SDLP - by obliging the Irish government to support its approach-pushed unionist negotiators too far at Sunningdale, producing a settlement which was predetermined towards Irish reunification, and so which justified loyalist claims that 'Dublin is just a Sunningdale away'. The article draws on recently released archival material to show how the SDLP was, to a significant degree, able to dictate Dublin's policy on Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, suggesting that this led to a uniform and highly ambitious agenda on the part of nationalist participants at the Sunningdale conference. However, it also argues that this agenda was not realized, and that the deal made at Sunningdale was not as favourable towards the SDLP as has sometimes been suggested. Nonetheless, the article maintains that the dynamic rhetoric and perceived momentum of Irish nationalism - orchestrated largely by the SDLP - served to distort that which was actually agreed, and in this helped to undermine unionist support for Sunningdale.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)74-96
    Number of pages23
    JournalTwentieth Century British History
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 09 Mar 2009

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History


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