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.
President Michael D. Higgins said that as Britain’s first female prime minister, Thatcher’s place in history was secure. He said the policies of her government in regard to Northern Ireland gave rise to considerable debate.
However, her key role in signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement would be recalled as a valuable early contribution to the search for peace and political stability.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny described Thatcher as a “formidable political leader who had a significant impact on British, European and world politics.”
He added, “While her period of office came at a challenging time for British-Irish relations, when the violent conflict in Northern Ireland was at its peak, Mrs. Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement which laid the foundation for improved north-south cooperation and ultimately the Good Friday Agreement.”