Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Margaret Thatcher did give go-ahead for talks with republicans at the height of hunger strikes

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Library filer dated 3/5/1989 of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher outside 10 Downing Street, in London, with her son Mark, daughter-in-law Diane, and two-month-old grandson Michael. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday April 8, 2013. Baroness Thatcher died this morning following a stroke, her spokesman Lord Bell said. See PA story DEATH Thatcher. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
Margaret Thatcher outside 10 Downing Street, in London, with her son Mark, daughter-in-law Diane, and two-month-old grandson Michael

Margaret Thatcher gave the go-ahead for secret talks with republicans during the hunger strikes — despite her public insistence that there would be no negotiations with terrorists, her authorised biography has revealed.

The reputation of the former Prime Minister would have been damaged had her actions behind the scenes been known at the time, author Charles Moore concluded.

Mrs Thatcher, who died earlier this month and received a ceremonial funeral last week, authorised contacts with senior republicans to attempt to end the first hunger strike, the book revealed.

Moore, who was given full access to the former Prime Minister’s personal papers and Government files, said the “Iron Lady had been disingenuous over the Maze crisis in 1980”.

And the result, according to the book published yesterday, was that the IRA learned the Government was open to negotiation.

A high-ranking security officer had activated links to the IRA leadership through Londonderry businessman Brendan Duddy, who told him that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness “wanted the hunger strike stopped”.

A formula designed to allow republicans to save face was drawn up and NIO official Kenneth Stowe arranged an urgent meeting with Mrs Thatcher in the House of Commons which was also attended by then Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins.

“While this was in progress the officer sat in Stowe’s official car, waiting to be rushed to Heathrow (to travel to NI). Mrs Thatcher agreed to the mission.”

Moore writes: “In (her) view this was a very different thing from direct talks between herself and other Ministers and Sinn Fein-IRA.”

Later she told the author: “I wouldn’t deal with these people — they kill left, right and centre. What security did was approach people to try to get a message through.”

But, Moore said: “She was being disingenuous.”

Mrs Thatcher was presiding over the Christmas party at No 10 when news that the strike had ended came through.

When the second hunger strike began in January 1981 Mrs Thatcher came under pressure

from the US, the EEC and Dublin. One of the key demands of the prisoners was to be allowed to wear their own clothing.

A record of a phone call with Atkins from the time showed she was prepared for the death of Bobby Sands and others.

“I think they will be getting worried after all if one died and then a second one died then a third one died and nothing happened,” she said.

By September, after 10 men had died, Mr Thatcher replaced Atkins with Jim Prior, who met Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich and the activist priest Fr Denis Faul.

He agreed that allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes “was a small price to pay” on balance for ending the strike.

Moore concluded Mrs Thatcher allowed Mr Prior to make his own decision.

“Most damaging to her reputation, had it been known, and to her own conscience was that she did, in effect, negotiate with terrorists. She never quite admitted this, even privately, but it was so,” wrote Moore.

Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography by Charles Moore, Volume One — Not for Turning, Allen Lane, £30

 

Factfile

The book also reveals Mrs Thatcher:

  • Wrote letters to the families of the 18 soldiers killed at Warrenpoint in 1979, “each one different, and all in her own hand”.
  • Asked for books about Ireland to take on her holidays in 1980, including A Place Apart by Dervla Murphy and a history book on the Famine.
  • Told private secretary Michael Scholar “I could always scrub floors” when she feared she might be ousted by internal rivals in 1981.
  • Was found weeping by her husband Denis at the foot of her bed as the Falklands War raged in the south Atlantic.

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