Margaret Thatcher is remembered for being a controversial politician whose policies left a mark on many people. Thatcherism brought policies regarded by some to be cruel or unacceptable in some cases. The underlying view is that she made a statement in the political arena.
Since she was a prime minister in a large landscape, her policies affected various countries, so what did Margaret Thatcher do to Ireland?
To other people, Thatcher’s political conduct in Ireland is described as being “hugely divisive”. Irish Republican Leader Gerry Adams commented that Thatcher’s Irish policy “failed miserably and delayed the achievement of peace in 1998.” [Source].
He said, “her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering.”
He added that “She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations…and refused to recognize the rights of citizens to vote for parties of their choice.”
An area of concern about Thatcher’s political activities in Ireland was linked to suppression of the right of citizens to vote for representatives of their choice [Source]. This law was rolled out into action after Bobby Sands was elected in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
The Guardian also noted that “Margaret Thatcher’s government defended structured political and religious discrimination. This included political vetting in the north, legislated for political censorship and institutionalized, to a greater extent than ever before, collusion between British state forces and unionist death squads”.
Sources revealed how Margaret Thatcher contributed to creating government organizations that housed agents responsible for killing citizens. During Thatcher’s reign, in 1982, the Force Research Unit was introduced in the British Army, and it recruited agents that were tasked to eliminate certain citizens. This unit led to the death of loyalist Brian Nelson, a former British soldier, and member of the Ulster Defence Association.
She oversaw a deal struck by Nelson in South Africa which saw the shipment of AK-47 automatic rifles, pistols, grenades, and RPG rocket launchers in the 80s.
This military hardware had a negative impact on the streets of Northern Ireland and caused a surge in the death rates. About 224 people were killed and many wounded three years later after the shipment of weapons, and this happened while Thatcherism was still active.
Thatcher government’s The Collusion Policy caused an uproar after the death of Pat Finucane in February 1989. He was a human rights lawyer.
It was later revealed that “At every level of his killing, British agents and agencies had a hand. The leader of the UDA group that carried out the killing was a Special Branch agent, as was the man who confessed to being the gunman, and the man who supplied the gun. And, of course, Nelson provided the intelligence”. Thus, showing Thatcher’s hand in committing these acts.
One of the key moments that defined her relationship with Ireland is related to her role during hunger strikes in 1981 by Bobby Sands and other fellow prisoners [Source]. The Iron Lady was not moved and 10 prisoners including Sands lost their lives in the strikes, and republicans started hating Thatcher more.
She went on to ban broadcasting and defended her stance by saying she is being tough on republicans and terrorism. In her words, she wanted to “deny terrorists the oxygen of publicity in which they thrive”. For Thatcher, Ireland needed a stern leader as a way of bringing order.
Despite opening the path to peace talks which led to the IRA’s first ceasefire in 1994 and the 1998 Good Friday peace accord through the Anglo-Irish agreement, she is criticized for delaying progress because of her hard line against the IRA.
“She didn’t ever seem to be able to realize that when a government starts to act like a paramilitary organization then the paramilitary organization essentially wins,” as noted by Seamus Mallon, a moderate Irish nationalist who served as Northern Ireland’s deputy leader.
The Irish Times noted that “Thatcher did more for Ireland than other UK leaders” [Source], and explained that “She was loathed by republicans, disliked by nationalist and distrusted by unionists yet she paved the way for peace by committing her country to the Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985”.
According to the Christian Science Monitor “Margaret Thatcher leaves a mixed legacy in Ireland” [Source], and this sums it well for her political conduct which is both applauded and despised by the Irish and other parties.