I will shed no tears for Margaret Thatcher, who died aged 87, nor do I suspect will most Irish people.
She will be worst remembered for allowing Bobby Sands and nine others to die when there was a perfectly reasonable compromise on offer to settle the hunger strikers demands.
Her disgraceful decision to let ten IRA hunger strikers die in the H Blocks, in 1981, will always sully her name with the Irish worldwide, as will her hectoring attitude towards Irish people in general.
It is hard to remember now just how desperate those days around the death of the hunger strikers were as anxious families held out even a slim thread of hope that Thatcher would see sense and find a way to negotiate.
Each death was a dagger in the heart to a community that was already on the ropes. Thatcher seemed to delight in her iron fist but ironically, in the end, it emboldened rather than weakened Sinn Fein.
The election of Bobby Sands to the British parliament was the Irish response to her hard-hearted insistence that she would do no deal with terrorists, and his victory sparked a realization among Sinn Fein members that a path to political power existed.
Up to that point, the military option had been the overwhelming zeitgeist within the Republican movement but that all changed.
The Sinn Fein political movement was energized by the reaction to the hunger strikes eventually became equal partners in Northern Ireland’s government as well as rising in influence in the Irish Republic.
It is Margaret Thatcher’s worst nightmare come to pass and ironically, she helped create it. But even outside of her dealings with Sinn Fein she was also insulting to Irish politicians in general.
Her infamous “Out, Out, Out” response in 1985 to a thoughtful and well crafted Irish government document on ways forward in Northern Ireland, drawn from the findings of the New Ireland Forum, was typical of her arrogance.
Northern Ireland she declared was as “British as Finchley,” a clear nonsensical proposition given that almost half the population there had no representation or allegiance to the state.
She was a British imperialist as she proved in the Falklands/Malvinas war. One of the greatest journalistic pieces of writing I can remember is a British journalist watching her and Ronald Reagan stroll on the beaches in Normandy commemorating the World War II D-Day invasion.
“There they strolled, the conquerors of Grenada and the Falklands respectively,” he wrote.
The British public too got tired of her and wanted her gone much to her chagrin though it took an internal party putsch to eventually remove her.
So she is gone but not forgotten for being the latest in the long line of British leaders who mishandled Northern Ireland. Her successor, John Major and his successor Tony Blair showed how it could be done.
Her legacy on Ireland is one of her biggest failures.
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