Thatcher's Grudging Respect For IRA Hunger Strikers
Margaret Thatcher’s authorized biography – by Charles Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, in which publication the book is being serialised - was published days after her death, according to a long-standing plan.
One of the most surprising revelations to come out of it is the personal respect that Mrs Thatcher had for her most implacable group of enemies – the IRA hunger strikers.
Bobby Sands and nine other IRA prisoners died on hunger strike, over demands that they be treated as political prisoners rather than common criminals and be allowed a raft of special privileges at the Maze prison in Northern Ireland where they were being held.
Sands, jailed for possessing a handgun, died in May 1981 after 66 days on hunger strike, the first of ten prisoners to die over the course of the following four months.
Thatcher refused to concede to any of their demands and publicly maintained a typically uncompromising stance.
“The people who had been killed by the Provisional IRA had had no choice. The hunger strikers had a choice,” she told a republican politician.
But in personal papers unearthed by her biographer she wrote: “You have to hand it to some of these IRA boys” and described them as “poor devils” because “if they didn’t go on strike they’d be shot [by their own side]…What a waste! What a terrible waste of human life!”
After the deaths of the hunger strikers, Thatcher apparently accepted that she would forever after be a potential target of assassination attempts by the IRA.
According to the Labour minister Peter Mandelson, Thatcher told him that the Irish were ‘all liars’.
"I only ever met her once. It was the day I was appointed Northern Ireland secretary and our paths crossed,” he said recently.
“She came up to me and she said, ’I’ve got one thing to say to you, my boy … you can’t trust the Irish, they are all liars, and that’s what you have to remember, so just don’t forget it’. With that she waltzed off and that was my only personal exposure to her.”