Margaret Thatcher’s legacy

Thu, Apr 11, 2013, 06:00

Sir, – Stephen Collins’s assessment of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement was cited in justification of his claim that Margaret Thatcher “probably did more for this country than many of the British politicians more sympathetic to nationalist sensibilities” (Home News, April 9th). Some might argue that that is faint praise, but the essential point is whether the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which your correspondent describes as “easily the most significant development in Anglo-Irish relations since the Treaty of 1922” paved the way for the peace deal of the late 1990s.

This has become a bit of a mantra in commentary these days and in assessments of Garret FitzGerald in particular (it was “the high point of his period as toiseach”, according to Stephen Collins). Accepted wisdom it may be, but that does not make it true. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was an attempt to do a deal over the heads of and without the participation of the majority community in Northern Ireland, contrary to Dr FitzGerald’s own counsel over many years. It antagonised that community and worsened relations within Northern Ireland and was no recipe for a solution – as was pointed out at the time by (then Senator) Mary Robinson and Jim Kemmy of the Democratic Socialist Party, who shared a platform at a public meeting on the subject in Dublin in April 1986. Eventually, thankfully, that approach was abandoned in favour of an approach that sought to include all parties to the conflict.

The Belfast Agreement actually had more in common with the Sunningdale power-sharing deal of the early 1970s – indeed Seamus Mallon described it as “Sunningdale for slow learners”. But there were a couple of big differences: the later agreement did not include the Council for Ireland and it did include the amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, which previously stated a claim to the territory of Northern Ireland, regardless of the wishes of its inhabitants. As the Sunningdale Agreement ran into trouble in late 1973 and early 1974, some of us (not, sadly, including Mr Mallon) shouted from the rooftops that there was no chance of saving it unless the Republic dropped that claim.

The Thatcher-FitzGerald agreement did not address that issue – leading to farcical, but illustrative, details like the two governments’ copies (with different-coloured covers) of the agreement having different titles. The agreement at the end of the 1990s, thankfully, did.


Rue Victor




Sir, – Margaret Thatcher will receive a funeral with full military honours, the same as the funeral of Princess Diana (News, April 9th). The Rich People’s Princess? – Yours, etc,


Wellington Street,




Sir, – Like Martin O’Brien (April 10th) I too have seen no credible evidence that Mrs Thatcher ever said that Northern Ireland was as “British as Finchley” or that there was any truth in Garret Fitzgerald’s claim to have directly replied to her with the rejoinder that “Yes, but Finchley did not have the British army on its streets and its own secretary of state in the cabinet”.

Garret repeated the claim many times, but never said how Mrs Thatcher responded. This suggests that the Iron Lady was either lost for words or shared his delight at his own witty brilliance.

I have interviewed many government officials and cabinet colleagues of Mrs Thatcher and not one gave me the impression that she was slow in defending her own position or impressed by effrontery. Quite the reverse; her demeanour was withering and cowed many senior mandarins, generals and fellow ministers. – Yours, etc,



Institute for British

Irish Studies,

School of Politics and

International Relations,

University College Dublin,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – Alas, I may now have to retire my old T-shirt with her fading image headlined with the text “Wanted for Murder”. It has also kept me warm as a surrogate winter vest in recent years! – Yours, etc,




Co Leitrim.

Sir, – Margaret Thatcher was simply a mé féiner. – Yours, etc,




Co Kildare.