NI remembers controversial Thatcher (UTV)

Northern Ireland’s politicians have remembered Margaret Thatcher as a controversial figure, who divided local opinion.

They have spoken out about Baroness Thatcher‘s impact on current affairs in the region, following her death on Monday morning.

During her time in office, the former PM oversaw the Anglo-Irish Agreement which gave the Republic of Ireland a bigger role in events in Northern Ireland, and laid down the foundations for a devolved government.

It angered Unionist politicians, and prompted Ian Paisley’s famous “Never, never, never!” speech.

But Lord Bannside said Baroness Thatcher was a great Prime Minister, wife and mother.

“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.”

His DUP colleague, and current First Minister, Peter Robinson said relations had thawed since the 1985 agreement.

Mr Robinson said: “She was undoubtedly one of the greatest political figures of post-war Britain and she changed the face of our United Kingdom forever.

“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.

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.

Peter Robinson
“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 Ulster Unionist Party also opposed the agreement, and during their campaign all Unionist MPs resigned from the House of Commons.

Following her death, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt described Baroness Thatcher as a “colossus of conviction politics”.

He added: “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.

“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.”

Baroness Thatcher is also remembered in NI for her stance on republican prisoners, and her refusal to award them political status.

The clash resulted in the 1981 hunger strike, during which 10 men – including South Tyrone MP Bobby Sands – died.

Two years later, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams won the west Belfast constituency in the 1983 election.

Mr Adams said Baroness Thatcher “did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British Prime Minister”, adding that her “espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering”.

Margaret Thatcher will be especially remembered for her shameful role during the epic hunger strikes of 1980 and 81.

Gerry Adams
He said: “She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations, including the targeting of solicitors like Pat Finucane, alongside more open military operations and refused to recognise the rights of citizens to vote for parties of their choice.

“Her failed efforts to criminalise the republican struggle and the political prisoners is part of her legacy.

He added: “Her Irish policy failed miserably.”

Former SDLP leader John Hume said Baroness Thatcher’s “hard line, belligerent, and uncompromising approach during the hunger strikes won her few friends among nationalists”.

He added: “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.”

Mr Hume said her strength against Unionist inflexibility and determination to forge ahead with the Angle-Irish Agreement 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”.

At the Assembly on Monday, politicians looked back at Baroness Thatcher’s legacy.

Alliance leader David Ford said she played significant part in fall of the Iron Curtain and paid tribute to her policies which paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement.

David Ford said: “I disagreed with many of her policies, but she should be commended for her attempts to broker a peace deal in Northern Ireland with the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

“While its success may have been limited, it marked an improvement in co-operation between the British and Irish governments which was part of the process that led to the Belfast Agreement in 1998.”

However, Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney echoed the sentiments of Gerry Adams.

TUV leader Jim Allister spoke out against the republican comments, which he said was more of a reflection on Sinn Féin than on Baroness Thatcher.

He added: “This nation is poorer for her passing. As a nation, she led where others would have trembled.”

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