Analysis: Thatcher’s Legacy in Ireland


(1) Irish Republican News, (2) Léargas

Monday, 8 April, 2013

Tuesday, 9 April, 2013

Monday, 8 April, 2013

Ireland reacts to Thatcher's death

By Irish Republican News

There has been a mixed reaction in Ireland at news of the death of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

At official level, the response in Dublin to news of her death was tight-lipped.

In an ambivalent statement, President Michael D Higgins said Mrs Thatcher's would be "remembered as one of the most conviction-driven British prime ministers" who "drew on a scholarship that demanded markets without regulation".

"The policies of Mrs Thatcher's government in regard to Northern Ireland gave rise to considerable debate at the time.

"However, her key role in signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement will be recalled as a valuable early contribution to the search for peace and political stability."

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny described Mrs Thatcher as a formidable leader.

"Mrs Thatcher was a formidable political leader who had a significant impact on British, European and world politics. During her 11 years as prime minister, she defined an era in British public life," he said.

"While her period of office came at a challenging time for British-Irish relations, when the violent conflict in Northern Ireland was at its peak, Mrs Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement which laid the foundation for improved North-South cooperation and ultimately the Good Friday Agreement."

But on the streets, there were bitter memories, particularly in Belfast.

Memories of her prolonged and murderous military and security campaign, the deaths of Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers, and murders directly linked to Downing Street, such as that of Pat Finucane, remain painful for many.

Others, however, expressed satisfaction, even delight, that an old enemy had gone. There were street celebrations in Scotland, England and Wales, where her notorious 'poll tax' and privatisation of coal mines profoundly divided British society in a manner which still has serious repercussions today.

Known as the "Iron Lady", Thatcher dominated Irish politics for two decades. While mostly associated with her vicious determination to secure a military victory in the Six Counties and her tragic efforts to criminalise Irish political prisoners, she gained enemies both across the globe and at home in Britain with an aggressive, right-wing 'Thatcherite' approach with which she became synonymous.

British prime minister David Cameron lavished praise on the 'Iron Lady', and said she would be given a full ceremonial funeral with military honours.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said Thatcher had done "great hurt" to the Irish and British people during her time as British Prime Minister.

"Working class communities were devastated in Britain because of her policies," he said.

"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. 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.

"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."

Copyright © Irish Republican News 2013

Tuesday, 9 April, 2013

Analysis: Thatcher’s Legacy in Ireland

By Gerry Adams for Léargas

Margaret Thatcher was a hugely divisive figure in British politics. Her right wing politics saw Thatcher align herself with some of the most repressive and undemocratic regimes in the late 20th century – including apartheid South Africa and Chile’s Pinochet. Her description of the ANC and Mandela as terrorists was evidence of her ultra conservative view of the world.

She championed the deregulation of the financial institutions, cuts in public services and was vehemently anti-trade union. She set out to crush the trade union movement. The confrontation with the miners and the brutality of the British police was played out on television screens night after night for months. The current crisis in the banking institutions and the economic recession owe much to these policies. And she went to war in the Malvinas.

But for the people of Ireland, and especially the north, the Thatcher years were among some of the worst of the conflict. For longer than any other British Prime Minister her policy decisions entrenched sectarian divisions, handed draconian military powers over to the securocrats, and subverted basic human rights.

Thatcher refused to recognise the right of citizens to vote for representatives of their choice. She famously changed the law after Bobby Sands was elected in Fermanagh South Tyrone. And when I and several other Sinn Féin leaders were elected to the Assembly in 1982 we were barred from entry to Britain.

Margaret Thatcher’s government defended structured political and religious discrimination and political vetting in the north, legislated for political censorship and institutionalised to a greater extent than ever before collusion between British state forces and unionist death squads.

It under her leadership that in 1982 that the Force Research Unit (FRU) was established as a unit within the British Army Intelligence Corps. This British Army agency recruited agents who were then used to kill citizens. Among them was loyalist Brian Nelson. He was a former British soldier and member of the Ulster Defence Association who was recruited by FRU in 1983. He became the UDA’s Senior Intelligence Officer and his associates in FRU helped him to update his intelligence files, including photo-montages of potential victims. In the summer of 1985 Nelson travelled to South Africa where he helped negotiate a deal for that ultimately saw the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance acquire 200 AK47 automatic rifles, 90 Browning pistols, 500 fragmentation grenades, ammunition and 12 RPG rocket launchers. The shipment arrived in the north in late 1987 or early 1988.

The Thatcher government was across all the details of this shipment. Its impact on the streets of the north is evident in the statistics of death. In the three years prior to receiving this weapons shipment the loyalist death squads killed 34 people. In the three years after the shipment they killed 224 and wounded countless scores more.

The extent of the role of FRU in the killing of citizens is formidable. But it was the killing of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane in February 1989 that reveals the depth of the structured state collusion policy being pursued by the Thatcher government.

Pat was one of several lawyers targeted by unionist death squads at the behest of the RUC and British intelligence agencies. At every level of his killing British agents and agencies had a hand. The leader of the UDA group which carried out the killing was a Special Branch agent - Tommy Lyttle. The man who subsequently confessed to being the UDA gunman who killed Pat Finucane was Ken Barrett, also a Special Branch agent. The UDA man who supplied the gun was William Stobie, a Special Branch agent – later killed in 2001 by the UDA when he threatened to lift the lid on the Finucane case. And, of course, the man who provided the intelligence for the killing was Brian Nelson, a British army agent.

This is part of the Thatcher legacy in Ireland.

She will be especially remembered by many for her shameful role during the epic hunger strikes of 1980 and 81.

The Thatcher government believed that the criminalisation of the republican prisoners would break the republican struggle. It was not interested in a resolution.

This much is evident in government papers released two years ago. For example a report of a meeting at Chequers on May 27th, after the deaths of Bobby Sands, Francie Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O Hara, describes Thatcher commenting that ‘the Government must be ‘rock solid’ against any concessions to the hunger strikers or PIRA.’

The following day on a visit to Belfast Thatcher declared that the hunger strike ‘may well be their [the IRA’s] last card.’

The events of that awful summer of '81 polarised Irish society, north and south. It was a watershed moment in Irish politics. The Thatcher government policy during the 1980’s was little more than a war policy. All of the strategies issuing from that policy were aimed at defeating or isolating republicanism. This included the shallow and ineffectual 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement which was about creating a political alliance involving the Dublin establishment, the SDLP, and the British to defeat Irish republicanism. Margaret Thatcher was a prime mover in all of this.

Shoot-to-kill actions by British forces also significantly increased. This was most evident in the shooting dead of three unarmed IRA activists in Gibraltar in March 1988. It is my view that Thatcher authorised the killings at Gibraltar.

Later when the BBC and the IBA scheduled two programmes about Gibraltar Thatcher tried to stop them. She was “outraged” when the programmes went ahead. Later that year she introduced the Broadcasting Ban on Sinn Féin.

Two years later Thatcher authorised the then British Secretary of State Peter Brooke to reopen the back-channel with republicans. We were wary of this. However, for almost a decade Sinn Féin had been patently trying to build a peace process and unfolding events on the world stage, including the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, and the release of Mandela, were evidence that governments, and apparently intractable situations, could change. So we agreed to reactivate the back channel.

But for Thatcher it all ended in November 1990 when she was forced to resign by her party who perceived her to be no longer an electoral asset. She was evicted from Downing Street with all the ruthlessness, treachery and warped humanity of what passes for high politics.

Thatcher’s 12 years of dictating British policy in Ireland was a legacy of bitterness and entrenched division. Her Irish policy failed miserably.