BELFAST (Reuters) - Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher caused “great suffering” in Ireland and her policies there ultimately failed, Irish republican leader Gerry Adams said on Monday.
Thatcher has long been a figure of hate for nationalists in Northern Ireland for her uncompromising policies during her 11 years in office between 1979 and 1990, which saw the death of 10 prisoners in a hunger strike.
Supporters say her hard line was inevitable after Irish Republican militants killed close Thatcher ally Airey Neave in a 1979 car bomb attack and the IRA came close to killing her in a bomb at the Conservative party conference in Brighton in 1984.
Adams, who acted as the public face of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) for much of its three-decade guerrilla war against British rule in Northern Ireland, said Thatcher’s Irish policy failed miserably and delayed the achievement of peace in 1998.
“Her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering,” Adams said in a statement.
“She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations...and refused to recognise the rights of citizens to vote for parties of their choice.”
Thatcher is best remembered in Northern Ireland for her hard line during a hunger strike in 1981 in which 10 prisoners died.
The Republican prisoners won widespread sympathy among the province’s Roman Catholic minority by fasting to support demands to be treated as political prisoners, and refused to wear prison clothing or do prison work.
But Thatcher insisted the jailed men were common criminals, not prisoners of war, saying “Crime is crime is crime”.
Thatcher also introduced a broadcasting ban that forced British broadcasters to dub Gerry Adams voice.
In 1985 Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish agreement, which for the first time gave the Republic of Ireland an advisory role over the governance of the province, angering pro-British unionists in the province.
The agreement paved the way for peace talks that led to the IRA’s first ceasefire in 1994 and the 1998 Good Friday peace accord. But critics say Thatcher’s hard line against the IRA delayed progress.
“She didn’t ever seem to be able to realise that when a government starts to act like a paramilitary organisation then the paramilitary organisation essentially wins,” Seamus Mallon, a moderate Irish nationalist who served as Northern Ireland’s deputy leader from 1998 to 2001, told Irish state broadcaster RTE.
Adams, speaking later to reporters in Belfast, said: “We respect the dead. We are a very forgiving people. I am giving you a political overview. Her Irish policy was total and absolute failure.”
He indicated, however, that Thatcher played a role in opening up secret channels of communications with the IRA, but that it was not properly utilised until after she stepped down as prime minister.
“She opened up the back channels to republicanism but failed to act on the logic of that action,” he said.
Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Angus MacSwan