Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: New film brings back old memories

Meryl Streep has been hailed for her uncannily accurate portrayal of Mrs Thatcher in the film, The Iron Lady, which opens in cinemas today.

In that case many of those who will view the movie will feel something of a chill running along their spine. For the former Prime Minister was one of the most controversial politicians in UK history whose very name still brings a venomous reaction from many, although loved in equal measure by many others. While the film attempts to bring a different perspective on her life now that she is suffering from ill-health, her memory still divides.

While she earned her Iron Lady tag for her unbending opposition to the unions, especially her crushing of the miners, and her resolve during the Falklands War, there is ample evidence that she took a much more pragmatic approach to the problems of Northern Ireland. Like practically every other Prime Minister during the Troubles until Tony Blair she never appeared to have any strategic plan for solving the political turmoil here, being largely content to contain the violence as best as possible, although she and her Cabinet were almost killed by the Brighton bomb.

She was not unbending as recently released papers dealing with the hunger strike crisis show. The common perception was that she was prepared to let the prisoners starve themselves to death, but she did make attempts to end the death fast much earlier than previously believed. She also, to the fury of unionists, signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement which gave the Republic a say in Northern Ireland and could be regarded as the forerunner of the peace process eventually delivering devolution.

Mrs Thatcher will not be remembered for her performance in dealing with Northern Ireland, but rather how her economic and social policies impacted on the other regions of the UK. While selling off council houses gave many people an affordable step onto the property ladder her anti-trade union stance also earned her the undying hatred of millions, even at this remove.

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