Thatcher’s death divides Ireland again
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams reacted to the announcement of Baroness Thatcher’s death with a scathing assessment of her political legacy in Ireland and elsewhere.
Margaret Thatcher has long been vilified in republican circles over her involvement in Northern Ireland, in particular her handling of the IRA hunger strikes inside the Maze prison in the early 1980s. She was a top target of the IRA, which nearly succeeded in killing her in the deadly Brighton bomb blast of 1984.
“Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister,” claimed Mr Adams.
“Working class communities were devastated in Britain because of her policies.
“Her role in international affairs was equally belligerent whether in support of the Chilean dictator Pinochet, her opposition to sanctions against Apartheid South Africa; and her support for the Khmer Rouge.
“Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering.”
He accused her of embracing censorship, collusion and the use of lethal force in covert operations.
Mr Adams and fellow senior Sinn Fein representatives were subject to the then Mrs Thatcher’s ban of their voices being broadcast during the Troubles.
“Her failed efforts to criminalise the republican struggle and the political prisoners is part of her legacy,” he added.
“It should be noted that in complete contradiction of her public posturing, she authorised a back channel of communications with the Sinn Fein leadership but failed to act on the logic of this.
“Unfortunately she was faced with weak Irish governments who failed to oppose her securocrat agenda or to enlist international support in defence of citizens in the north.
“Margaret Thatcher will be especially remembered for her shameful role during the epic hunger strikes of 1980 and 81.
“Her Irish policy failed miserably.”
The DUP may have strongly opposed Mrs Thatcher’s decision to give the Republic of Ireland a greater role in Northern Ireland affairs with the signing of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, but its current leader Peter Robinson still hailed her as a defender of the Union.
“It is with great sadness that I have learned of the passing of Baroness Thatcher, our former prime minister,” said Stormont’s First Minister.
“Margaret Thatcher was a transformative and powerful prime minister. She was undoubtedly one of the greatest political figures of post-war Britain and she changed the face of our United Kingdom forever.
“As our first female prime minister, she made history and as The Iron Lady she was at the front-line of winning The Cold War as well as ensuring the freedom of the Falklands Islands.
“Whilst we disagreed over the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Mrs. Thatcher was committed to the Union and later described the Anglo-Irish Agreement as one of her greatest regrets. Although relations were frosty at that time, I had a private social lunch with her in more recent years in much more convivial and positive circumstances.
“The passing of Baroness Thatcher draws to an end a remarkable life devoted to the service of the United Kingdom. She was one of a kind: tough, possessed of a supreme intellect and driven by conviction. The entire country is indebted to her for all that she achieved. I know that her accomplishments will not soon be forgotten by a grateful nation.
“As well as a major public figure however Baroness Thatcher was also a devoted mother and our thoughts are with her family as they mourn her loss.”
Former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) John Hume described Baroness Thatcher as an “extremely divisive figure”.
“Events in Ireland dominated and defined Margaret Thatcher’s time as prime minister,” he said.
“Her hard-line, belligerent and uncompromising approach during the hunger strikes won her few friends among nationalists.
“There is no doubt that her actions caused great hurt and harm. As a result she remained an extremely divisive figure and we clashed politically on many occasions over our differing views on how to achieve a peaceful solution to the situation in the north.
“However, with the help of American influence, she had the strength to withstand unionist intransigence and sign up to the Anglo Irish Agreement.
“This was a significant move and a key foundation stone in the beginning of our peace process which culminated in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement 15 years ago tomorrow.
“I extend my sympathies to her family.”
Lord Bannside, formerly Ian Paisley Snr, said the ex-prime minister was a “great”.
“Our country has become much the poorer for the passing of Baroness Thatcher,” he said.
“In every phase of life she was great - great as a woman, great as a wife, great as a mother, great as a political candidate, great as a member of Parliament, especially as the first woman prime minister, great as a winner of the war, and great as a member of the House of Lords.
“I had many meetings with her when I put Ulster’s case before her and condemned some of her actions in relation to this province.
“Nevertheless, through good report and ill report, she listened to the views of the unionist people, and respected them.
“Today we salute her as a truly great leader and offer our sympathy to her son and daughter.”
During her time in office, the Ulster Unionist Party was the largest in Northern Ireland.
Its current leader Mike Nesbitt described her as a “colossus of conviction politics”.
“Whilst we in the Ulster Unionist Party would not have agreed with her on everything, particularly the Anglo Irish Agreement, Northern Ireland has reason to be eternally grateful for her stance against terrorism, not least during the hunger strikes when Northern Ireland was on the edge of something catastrophic,” he said.
“Whatever you thought of her as a politician she was a remarkable public servant who stood by her beliefs and courageously fought against the odds on the national, European and world stage.”
Scheduled business at the Northern Ireland Assembly was set aside for a period this afternoon to allow MLAs an opportunity to react to Baroness Thatcher’s death.