Margaret Thatcher's partnership with Dublin was a breakthroughby David McKittrick / April 16, 2013 / Leave a comment
Although few view Margaret Thatcher as one of the architects of the peace process which has brought much progress and relative peace to Northern Ireland, she played a hugely important part in its development.
She herself, and the world in general, viewed her approach as being dominated by security considerations rather than political calculation. That approach was, in the words of her aide Charles Powell, one of “security first, second and third.”
But that did not prevent her approving of clandestine contacts with the IRA, even after republicans assassinated two of her closest associates, MPs Airey Neave and Ian Gow, and tried to kill her by bombing the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984.
Nor did it prevent her signing a historic deal with the Irish government a year later. She saw that accord, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, principally as an instrument for strengthening security.
But it also established a new context in which the Northern Ireland problem ceased to be regarded as an internal matter for Britain, and instead became an issue to be addressed by a new London-Dublin partnership.
This framework brought together two governments which had previously often seemed in competition. The relationship from then on had many difficult moments but overall there was agreement on a common goal, that of putting peace first and together making a stand against the IRA.
Her 1985 accord had a profound effect on the thought processes of the IRA, which until that point had asserted its violence was a classic anti-imperialist and anti-colonial campaign.
This stance became much more difficult to maintain when Thatcher, despite her famous emphasis on national sovereignty, agreed to give another government a formal role in Northern Ireland matters. She did so with many reservations, and afterwards wondered if she had done the right thing; but she did it.
Her emphasis on security was understandable, given that republicans killed 500 British soldiers during the conflict in their long-running but futile efforts to force Britain out of Northern Ireland.
The organisation operated not only in Belfast but also staged many attacks, and killed many people, in England. After her refusal to make concessions to protesting republicans during the 1981 hunger strike she became Irish republicanism’s hate figure.