Margaret Thatcher dead: The Iron Lady unswayed by IRA
Incorrigibly set against terrorism, Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to be swayed by the IRA had been hardened by the assassination of her close friend and political adviser Airey Neave.
The bombing of Mr Neave’s car had occurred in March 1979, just months before she came into power.
And his death added weight to her resolve to crush terrorism and give the IRA no leeway whatsoever.
Further on in her career Mrs Thatcher, when quizzed about ‘political’ reasons for IRA activity during a press conference in Saudi Arabia, said “a crime is a crime is a crime.”
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And she went on to denounce those who gave terrorists what she arrestingly called ‘the oxygen of publicity.’
Mrs Thatcher’s first contretemps with the IRA came in the early part of the 1980s, when she was forced to deal with the problem of the hunger strikers.
She had made her implacable stance clear in 1981 when she announced that no concessions whatever would be made.
Bobby Sands led other IRA convicts in a portfolio of demands for status as political prisoners.
Their desperate hunger strike was to tear the province apart and reverberate into England – and the U.S.
In 1984 Mrs Thatcher became embroiled in a controversy involving four eminent US politicians, including Senator Edward Kennedy, who had criticized Britain’s stance on the hunger strike.
Their protest was regarded as significant because they had previously adopted a moderate tone on the Ulster issue.
By this time, six hunger strikers had died and two others, Kieran Doherty and Kevin Lynch, had reached the 69th and 68th day respectively of their hunger strikes.
In a letter to the American politicians, Mrs Thatcher wrote told them that responsibility for the deaths “rests firmly on the shoulders of those who are ordering these young men to commit suicide in the cause of subverting institutions in Ireland, north and south.”
Her unshakeable determination was not even broken when on October 12, 1984, the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Mrs Thatcher and members of her Cabinet were staying for the duration of the Tory party conference.
It was the closest any modern Prime Minister had come to being assassinated, with Mrs Thatcher’s hotel bathroom being destroyed while she was working on her conference speech in the next room.
Five people were killed in the blast – including MP Sir Anthony Berry and John Wakeham’s wife Muriel.
The IRA issued a chilling statement claiming “Mrs Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country and torture our prisoners and shoot our people in their own streets and get away with it.
“Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war.”
But the Premier was unflinching:
“This is an outrage in which we have all shared,” she said.
“The fact that we are gathered here now – shocked, but composed and determined – is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.”
And on the first Saturday after the attack she consolidated this position, by saying “We suffered a tragedy not one of us thought could happen in our country.
“And we picked ourselves up and sorted ourselves out, as all good British people do, and thought, ‘let us stand together, for we are British.’
“They were trying to destroy the fundamental freedom that is the birthright of every British citizen : freedom, justice and democracy.”
The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 gave the Dublin government a say in the running of Northern Ireland, in exchange for accepting that the province would remain a part of the U.K. until a majority of people living there voted otherwise.
Political experts interpreted the Agreement as an attempt to improve security co-operation between Britain and Ireland and to give some recognition to the political outlook of Catholics in Northern Ireland.
This was an initiative which earned the endorsement in the U.S., both from the Reagan administration and within Congress.