DUP salutes Margaret Thatcher as defender of UK while SF denounces ‘great hurt to Irish people’

Hume credits ‘divisive’ PM with first moves towards peace process and Belfast Agreement

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at Hillsborough Castle this year

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at Hillsborough Castle this year

 

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson set the tone of unionist responses to Margaret Thatcher’s death by claiming she was “one of the greatest political figures of post-war Britain [who] changed the face of our United Kingdom forever”.

The DUP leader credited her with being “at the frontline of winning the cold war as well as ensuring the freedom of the Falklands Islands”.

Referring to her recognition of the Republic’s legitimate interest in the North, over which Mr Robinson resigned his Westminster seat in protest, he added: “Whilst we disagreed over the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Mrs Thatcher was committed to the union and later described the Anglo-Irish Agreement as one of her greatest regrets.”

Mr Robinson added that she was “one of a kind: tough, possessed of a supreme intellect and driven by conviction . . . I know that her accomplishments will not soon be forgotten by a grateful nation.”

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams accused her of causing “great hurt to the Irish and British people”.


‘Political prisoners’
“Her role in international affairs was equally belligerent whether in support of the Chilean dictator Pinochet, her opposition to sanctions against apartheid South Africa; and her support for the Khmer Rouge.

Her failed efforts to criminalise the republican struggle and the political prisoners is part of her legacy. It should be noted that in complete contradiction of her public posturing, she authorised a back channel of communications with the Sinn Féin leadership but failed to act on the logic of this.

He added: “Unfortunately she was faced with weak Irish governments who failed to oppose her securocrat agenda or to enlist international support in defence of citizens in the north.

Former SDLP leader John Hume sympathised with the bereaved but noted that “her hardline, belligerent and uncompromising approach during the hunger strikes won her few friends among nationalists”.

Echoing Mr Adams’ sentiments, he said: “There is no doubt that her actions caused great hurt and harm . . . we clashed politically on many occasions over our differing views on how to achieve a peaceful solution to the situation in the North.”

But he added: “However, with the help of American influence, she had the strength to withstand unionist intransigence and sign up to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This was a significant move and a key foundation stone in the beginning of our peace process which culminated in the signing of the Good Friday agreement 15 years ago.”

However, Séamus Mallon, SDLP deputy leader under Mr Hume, claimed Mrs Thatcher saw the Republic as a British “colony”. He said her handling of the hunger strikes was “hamfisted in a way that ultimately suited the way of the Republican movement”.

Former DUP leader the Rev Ian Paisley lamented her death. “In every phase of life she was great – great as a woman, great as a wife, great as a mother, great as a political candidate, great as a Member of Parliament, especially as the first woman prime minister, great as a winner of the war and great as a member of the House of Lords.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said she was “a colossus of conviction politics”.

“Whilst we in the Ulster Unionist Party would not have agreed with her on everything . . . Northern Ireland has reason to be eternally grateful for her stance against terrorism, not least during the hunger-strikes when Northern Ireland was on the edge of something catastrophic.”

Allliance leader and Stormont justice minister David Ford said she was a "dominant force in politics". But TUV leader Jim Allister said many would remember Lady Thatcher's "shameful decision" to support the Anglo-Irish Agreement.