Thatcher considered taking vote from Irish in UK


FORMER BRITISH prime minister Margaret Thatcher considered taking the vote away from Irish citizens living in the UK, and bringing them “fully within the UK’s immigration laws” just days before the worst IRA atrocities of 1979, records released after 30 years show.

A newly released document at the National Archives in London describes a tense meeting between Mrs Thatcher and Humphrey Atkins, the Northern Ireland secretary, at Downing Street on August 23rd, 1979.

This was four days before the assassination of Lord Mountbatten and the murder of 18 British soldiers at Warrenpoint. The meeting concerned the proposed visit of New York governor Hugh Carey to Ireland.

A furious Mrs Thatcher banned Mr Atkins from meeting him, following reports that he was planning to put pressure on the British government over Northern Ireland. She “would not think of discussing with President Carter, for example, US policy towards their black population”.

Mrs Thatcher continued: “The Americans must be made to realise that for so long as they continued to finance terrorism, they would be responsible for the deaths of US citizens (as had happened in the Hilton Hotel explosion in Belfast) as well as others. They must realise that while this went on, the British government would attack and condemn them.

“The UK should not be perpetually on the defensive: governor Carey had already got away with a great deal so far as UK public opinion was concerned.”

Mr Atkins told Mrs Thatcher he wished to persuade Michael O’Kennedy, the minister for foreign affairs, “to accept the view that the IRA was a terrorist organisation, posing as much threat to the Irish Republic as to the UK”. At this point, part of their discussion has been deleted, and embargoed for 40 years.

Mrs Thatcher replied that “she did not believe this – there was no evidence of hostility between the Irish Republic on the one hand and the IRA on the other” and the only way to bring the Irish government into line on security was to consider restrictions against Irish people in the UK.

Anglo-Irish relations deteriorated further after the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint murders. The British government even discussed the possibility of sanctions against Ireland unless it secured better co-operation on security.

A deal on security was eventually agreed on October 5th. By the time Mrs Thatcher met Rev Ian Paisley on November 12th, to discuss the DUP leader’s concerns about security, she had moderated her position.

She told him she had got more co-operation on security from an Irish government than any previous British prime minister and warned Dr Paisley not to say anything that would jeopardise the Anglo-Irish relationship or Mr Lynch, who “has his own problems”.