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Thatcher deserved respect for courage in face of adversity

A few hours after Margaret Thatcher's death last Monday, as Irish public figures began to cravenly support Sinn Fein's hypocritical whining about the "hurt" she had allegedly inflicted on Ireland, I dashed off this furious text to a few politicians.

"This anti-Thatcher frenzy makes me sick. She stood up to the IRA murder gang, to blustering bullies like Scargill, and to the Argentinian dictators. She had huge moral and physical courage. And it was Adams & Co and not Thatcher who kept the hunger strikes going!"

I was not surprised when most texted me back versions of "agree totally" or "makes me puke too". Because many, if not most, Irish politicians privately admired Thatcher. Apart from Lucinda Creighton, however, none of them had the courage to publicly pay tribute to a fellow politician who had suffered much from IRA terrorism.

The death of Margaret Thatcher was a worrying litmus test which revealed we still have what I call a "leaky consensus" on the IRA's actions. By that I mean that consensus against armed nationalism is still so shallow that Irish politicians preferred to end up echoing Gerry Adams rather than defend a constitutional politician like Thatcher.

Apart from giving ground to Adams, what sickened me most was the petty parochialism of Irish political reactions. Here was a politician of towering talent who had helped change the world. Yet all they could do was whine from the same hymn sheet as Sinn Fein.

Irish politicians should have started their tributes by admitting that Thatcher had good personal reasons for taking a tough line on terrorism. In 1979 the INLA brutally murdered her admired, and admiring, friend, Airey Neave, one of the most heroic fighters in the grim struggle against German fascism.

After that the politicians – and RTE – should have pointed out that it was not Thatcher but the Provisional IRA leadership which prolonged the hunger strikes. We have three solid sources for saying so.

First, Fr Denis Faul (who, to declare an interest, was the cousin of the editor of this paper) began by strongly supporting the hunger strikers. But he ended up by publicly castigating the IRA leadership. Because, in between, Fr Faul found out that the IRA wanted martyrs for political purposes.

Second, Richard O'Rawe, the PRO of the hunger strikers, in his book Blanketmen, revealed that the IRA had refused to respond to overtures from the Thatcher government. Finally, Denis Bradley, formerly Fr Denis Bradley, recently confirmed that offer in The Irish Times.

Again, how could Irish politicians expect Thatcher to feel friendly towards Ireland after the two-faced Charles Haughey stabbed her in the back over the Falklands? Did they forget that the UN Security Council and the EEC supported Thatcher's robust response to the Argentinian dictators who had invaded the Falkland Islands against the wishes of its inhabitants?

Above all, how could Irish politicians not pay proper tribute to Thatcher's courage after the attempt to blow her to bits at Brighton? Didn't she deserve more generous praise for the way she put her personal grief behind her, gritted her teeth and signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement?

Turning away with some relief from the navel gazing of Irish politicians, let me take a brief look at Thatcher's battle against British state socialism, soon to be copied by other countries. Here it is important to note that her struggle was not simply on ideological grounds.

Thatcher believed that socialism, with its emphasis on rights rather than responsibility, was morally corrupting. And those of us who paid our way through college by working in Britain from 1960-70, even those of us who were socialists, could see that something was seriously wrong.

Back then the far left trade unions had an iron grip on British industry. And their sick brand of skiving socialism was sapping the old self-reliant spirit of the British working class. The best guide to that grey world of troglodyte trade unionism is the Boulting Brothers' 1959 satirical classic I'm All Right Jack.

Peter Sellers, in his first great film role, plays the pompous trade unionist Fred Kite, speaking in the terse strangulated tones favoured by communist shop stewards of the time (I was there). Here he selects improving socialist texts for his posh lodger, Stanley Windrush, played by Ian Carmichael.

Kite: Ere's another good one to start off. Collective Childhood and Factory Manhood.

Stanley: Sounds fun.

Kite: Very descriptive. It's all about 'ow they run factories in a workers' state. 'Owever I won't spoil it for you.

Stanley: Have you ever been to Russia, Mr Kite?

Kite: No not yet. One place I'd like go to though, (pause) all 'em cornfields and ballet in the evening.

Ironically, one of the most reactionary outposts of trade union control was the newspaper industry. As late as 1986 it was still in the iron grip of the print unions. Good journalists had given up the ghost and bad ones spent their time collecting expense receipts in wine bars.

Bill Bryson worked as a sub-editor in Fleet Street in these years. In Notes from a Small Island he gives a hilarious account of looking at this mad world through appalled American eyes. It's a world controlled by a character called Vince, "5ft 6ins of wiry malevolence in a grubby T-shirt".

Vince, a member of the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants (NATSOPA), presides over the wire-room. Every night Bryson would knock nervily on the door and politely ask Vince if he could possibly find the few sheets of paper "among the reams of unwatched paper tumbling out of his many machines?"

"I don't know wevver you noticed," Vince would say "but I'm eating pizza."

"Well, then, how about if you just tell me where it is and I get it myself."

"You can't touch nuffink in here, you know that."

Behind the humour you can sense Bryson's frustration at a Fleet Street where journalists were at the mercy of the most junior member of a print union. But Thatcher's reforming spirit could not be held at bay forever. On January 24, 1986, The Times abruptly sacked 5,250 members of the most truculent unions.

Bryson records how, as the shocked journalists looked up from doing their desks, Charlie Wilson, a Scotsman, who had all of Thatcher's fierce contempt for unions, climbed on a table and made one of my favourite modern speeches.

"We're sending ye tae Wapping, ye soft, English nancies, and if ye wairk very, very hard and if ye doonae git on ma tits, then mebbe I'll not cut off yer knackers and put them in ma' Christmas pudding. D'ye have any problems with tha'?"

They had no problem. After all, from now on the journalists and not the Vinces would run the show. Thanks to Margaret Thatcher.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.

Irish Independent