As a Catholic of mixed Northern and Southern Irish, Scottish, English, Welsh and other descent, I have a fairly unique perspective on Ireland.
However one thinks about Thatcher as a Prime Minister, you can’t escape the fact that she was leader of a political party that won three general elections by a landslide (and just scraped through the next one without her as leader).
She comes from a principled Methodist background which taught her that one of the most important aspects of a person’s life was to take responsibility for one’s own actions and one’s own welfare to the fullest extent possible. But she also grew up in an environment where those that had fallen on bad times would be treated with respect and charity by her father (who ran the family grocery business). She stuck to those beliefs.
The trouble with people whose view of her is antagonistic is that they fail to recognise that she took control of a country that was in the grip of a national malaise of industrial strife, deeply uncompetitive industry and that was sinking like a stone. The industries that Thatcher ‘decimated’ were not decimated deliberately by her. They were already on life support and that support was sapping the rest of the country. It wasn’t pleasant what happened to the mining industry, for sure, but there was no alternative.
The other problem is that frequently people make statements about the 1980s governments that are patently untrue and that can be shown as lies by simple investigation. People claim that the National Health Service was starved of money and was being cut, left right and centre, when in fact every single figure proves that the amount of money spent by the government on the NHS went up every single year, over and above inflation. But political opponents, in trying to persuade people to vote for them, will keep on perpetuating the same lie over and over again until it becomes an accepted - but erroneous - version of events.
Since when has it ever been just to tell lies about people that that one disagrees with?
Now as for the history of Westminster’s interventions in Ireland, the political process towards ending the Troubles began in earnest with the Anglo Irish Agreement (which, at the time, enraged Unionists)… and that Agreement was signed between Margaret Thatcher and the Irish Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, in 1985… right in the middle of Margaret Thatcher’s tenure and after a considerable period of time working to lead up to it. The culmination of that process led, eventually, to the Good Friday Agreement, and ultimately to the IRA laying down their weapons. Notwithstanding a few outstanding die-hards who occasionally reject the political process, the Peace Process can be said to have started under Thatcher, gained momentum under her successor, John Major, and -to his credit - came to its conclusion under Tony Blair who was ably assisted by the late Mo Mowlem.
I think Thatcher’s record, in hindsight, over Ireland must be viewed in relation to the process she set in play. It was never going to be something that she or anyone else was going to fix overnight, but she must be afforded credit for beginning something that ended with the withdrawal of the military presence on the ground since, whatever your point of view, situations that require one side or another to resort to military strength to resolve or contain a political conflict should never get so far.
Like all politicians, she made many mistakes, but I think compared to some more recent ones who go fomenting wars, Margaret Thatcher has far less to be ashamed of.