The Irish have mixed memories of “The Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher
Britain's first female Prime Minister passes away at the age of 87
As Republican prisoners starved themselves to death in prison in the early ‘80s in search of political status Thatcher was uncompromising. “Crime is crime is crime. It is not political,” she said.
Following the Brighton bomb, which killed four Conservative Party delegates and injured many others, Thatcher moved to persuade the government in Dublin to improve security cooperation and extradition arrangements. That led to her signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.
It was against her political instincts, and alienated Unionists, but it led to improved relationships that eventually gave birth to the peace process.
This was despite her infamous “out, out, out” public response to three main findings of the New Ireland Forum report. The then Taoiseach (prime minister) Garret FitzGerald considered Thatcher’s outburst gratuitously insulting but he eventually persuaded her to sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement, despite also having to repel many of her security recommendations like “look out towers” on the southern side of the border, and talk of “hot pursuit” for the security services in each direction across the border.
FitzGerald and others such as SDLP leader John Hume and foreign affairs officials Seán Donlon and Michael Lillis prevailed on American politicians Senator Ted Kennedy and House Speaker Tip O’Neill to persuade Thatcher’s great friend President Ronald Reagan to get her reluctantly over the line on the agreement, as he did.
The agreement was easily the most significant development in Anglo-Irish relations since the Treaty of 1922 and many observers believe that Thatcher deserves a great deal of credit for that, despite her reluctant involvement. Her commitment to the deal was a diplomatic triumph for FitzGerald and the high point of his period as taoiseach.
Relations between Thatcher and another taoiseach, Charles Haughey, developed surprisingly well after he presented her with a silver Georgian teapot at their first meeting in 1980 in Downing Street.
But they soured considerably over the next 18 months when Haughey was deeply angered by what he saw as Thatcher’s complete intransigence in dealing with the hunger strikers in Northern Ireland.
Haughey’s anti-British stance during the Falklands War, when Ireland supported moves at the UN to end sanctions against Argentina, provoked fury on Thatcher’s part, and any chance of a deal on the North while Haughey remained in office was lost.
Some commentators have observed that Thatcher’s intransigence on the hunger strikes, and a series of subsequent political twists and turns, placed Gerry Adams in Leinster House in Dublin and Martin McGuinness in Stormont in Belfast as a result of growing Sinn Fein popularity and a deterioration of SDLP strength.
This week, Irish politicians paid tribute to Thatcher for her contributions to politics on the global stage but, apart from Adams, chose their words carefully when talking about her and Ireland.
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