Saturday 16 December 2017

State papers - 1980: Haughey warned he'd met his match with 'abrasive' Iron Lady

Fergus Black

SHE was sharp, bossy and abrasive, enjoyed a glass of scotch and soda in moderation and earned the label, "Iron Lady" for her tough, no-nonsense style of leadership.

But the deaths of two high-profile British figures more than 30 years ago left "deep psychological scars" on the Irish outlook of Margaret Thatcher.

An uncanny insight into the West's first female prime minister and the woman who dominated British politics for two decades is revealed in a searching profile drawn up by Ireland's ambassador to London, Eamon Kennedy and revealed in state papers just released in Dublin under the 30-year rule.

In less than a year after taking up office as British prime minister, she would come to tangle with the trade union movement at home and the Russians on the world stage, forge a bond with US President Ronald Reagan and come face to face with Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

Mr Kennedy drew up a hastily prepared profile of Mrs Thatcher in April 1980, just ahead of her first of two summit meetings that year with Mr Haughey.

The Taoiseach may have been known as "The Boss" but his ambassador's pen picture of Mrs Thatcher would have left him in little doubt that with this world leader, he had more than met his match.

"Mrs Thatcher comes across as a sharp, bossy, down-to-earth and at times abrasive prime minister, as she demonstrated at the Dublin summit," according to Mr Kennedy's profile.

"She has a tidy, efficient, mind and while she impresses by her crisp grasp of detail and her down-to-business, approach, she sometimes gives offence to her cabinet by treating them as if she were an aggressive school mistress, handing out marks to the hawks and criticising the wets."

The final paragraph of Mr Kennedy's profile describes her attitude toward Northern Ireland and refers to the murders of shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Airey Neave and the queen's cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1979.

"On Northern Ireland, the murders of Airey Neave and Lord Mountbatten last year have left deep psychological scars on the Irish outlook of the prime minister. This is not to say however, that she would be hostile to bold, pragmatic and imaginative proposals aimed at coming to grips with the problem at last in a radical, even, indeed revolutionary way."


Perhaps, suggested the ambassador, they could recall that after her electoral victory in May 1979, Mrs Thatcher quoted St Francis of Assisi on the steps of Downing Street when she said "where there is discord may we bring harmony".

"They are surely a strange combination, Maggie Thatcher and St Francis. Perhaps the relation is that they are both courageous radicals from a small town conservative background who saw the need to change things fundamentally."

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News