Thatcher admired courage of hunger strikers, says private secretary
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had "a sneaking admiration for courage" of the Republican hunger strikers in the Maze, according to her private secretary.
And a former British Army officer also tells the BBC NI Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History that he regarded the IRA along the border as "brave".
"South Armagh was really difficult," says Patrick Mercer who met Mrs Thatcher in Crossmaglen on her first visit to Northern Ireland two days after the murders of Lord Mountbatten at Mullaghmore and 18 soldiers at Warrenpoint in 1979.
"These terrorists were dangerous, they were well-motivated, they were very hard to penetrate and they were quite brave which differentiated themselves from other bunches of terrorists."
Mrs Thatcher was also confronted by republican sympathisers in Belfast on that visit. But Spotlight says that after Warrenpoint and particularly the death of Lord Mountbatten the PM's immediate priority was the military defeat of the IRA.
However the Republican hunger strike in the Maze and the death of Bobby Sands and nine other inmates transformed republican thinking.
Mrs Thatcher became a hate figure after she refused to grant prisoners political status but her private secretary at the time Lord Powell says: "She had a sneaking admiration for the courage of the people who were prepared to go the whole length. But her predominant feeling was that she had been right and so she would continue with the very tough line she took."