Local politicians remember Thatcher as the Iron Lady you loved or hated

LOCAL politicians remain starkly divided on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, who will be remembered most in Tyrone for the way in which she dealt with republicans such as Bobby Sands, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP in 1981.

The former British prime minister dominated local headlines in the early 1980s at the height of republican hunger-strike protests.

Bobby Sands made a number of demands on behalf of republican prisoners but Mrs Thatcher refused to meet them, saying: “Crime is crime, not political.”

And on May 5, 1981, Mr Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike.

At the time of his death, Mrs Thatcher said: “He chose to take his own life; it was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims.”

Sinn Fein MP for Mid-Ulster Francie Molloy accused her of treating republican prisoners callously.

“We have long memories of her inaction to the hunger-strikers and the callous way in which she dealt with the hunger-strikes”, he said.

“She inflicted a lot of hurt on families across Tyrone, not just those of the hunger-strikers, but all republican prisoners, and this will be remembered for a long time after her death.

“Whilst we respect the occasions of all deaths, unfortunately Margaret Thatcher was never able to respect the sincerity of the hunger-strikers in her comments about them.”

Other Dungannon polticians knew Baroness Thatcher on a more personal level.

“The only person, apart from my mother, who called me Kenneth”, is how former UUP MP Ken Maginnis fondly recalled her.

Lord Maginnis, a thirty year veteran of the Houses of Parliament, remembered the Tory leader as a towering political figure with an amazingly retentive memory, forthright convictions and great personal charm.

“I never fell out with her, but I did disagree with her on several occasions. She always told me: ‘You’ll find you’re wrong’”, he said.

“Myself and fellow UUP politician John Taylor would have worked very closely with Margaret. When I first went to the Houses of Parliament in 1983, she was at the height of her powers and popularity.

“She made a point of getting to know me, and I had the opportunity of meeting her to discuss defence contracts for Northern Ireland firms and also policing and security issues.

“I would put a note in her pigeon-hole asking to speak to her and within 72 hours she would signal she was ready to meet me.

“She would look across the chambers and give me an almost imperceptible nod to say follow me afterwards.

“On other occasions she would come into the dinner canteen and join us at a table. She was very much hands on, and always met with me directly without having civil servants or bag-carriers in tow.”

The Dungannon peer said he had been impressed by her formidable powers of memory.

“She always did her research and was well-versed with whatever we were discussing. She would sit with a notepad and look you directly in the eye. She had a direct, no-nonsense manner that is sadly missing in parliament today.”

A major source of disagreement between Thatcher and Unionists was the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and Ken remembered her pointed reaction to his objections.

“She said to me, “I was really disappointed with you Kenneth.” When I asked why, she relied, “You told me that you liked Gareth Fitzgerald. You told me you thought he was a decent fellow.” I told her that was true but I doubted if he could deliver what she wanted.

“In all our meetings I never fell out with her. You could always disagree with her as long as you presented a reasonable argument.”

Lord Maginnis went ont to brand as ‘pagan’ the so-called death parties which have taken place after her death was announced.

“Even people like Martin Maginnis have said they are disrespectful”, he said.

“I don’t understand the motivation behind the people who are orchestrating this hate campaign.

“Many of them weren’t even born at the time she was Prime Minister.”