The Thatcher debate in the Commons

The speeches from our MPs Nigel Dodds and Alastair Macdonnell  during the Thatcher  tributes  were bound to reflect the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Neither speech was terrible. Both avoided a rant. Alastair McDonnell had the tougher job. His doctor’s experience in the face of death probably helped.  But both of them followed the familiar course of judging the performance of others – in this case Mrs Thatcher –against the standards of their own impeccable contrasting rectitude. The element of self satisfaction from our MPs on both sides is inappropriate from representatives of parties who took 30 years to achieve the success of agreement.  I’ve listened to scores of speeches from NI MPs in the Commons down the years. The strain of self righteousness has always been embarrassing and did nothing to help our cause with the great majority of MPs who were so often put off by it.  Down the years a little more self- criticism would have gone a long way to build deeper understanding and genuine sympathy among the bulk of MPs during our long crisis.

Moral superiority isn’t always conceded to those who suffer. Alasdair McDonnell’s criticism of her handling of the hunger strike failed to acknowledge the hunger strike as a political weapon, not as a example of helpless victimhood. I doubt if she was over- influenced by the murder of Airey Neave.  Her attitude was probably governed by her consistent belief that people should be responsible for their own actions. It’s a tenable view, though there are other views, like the greater good, that might have been more appropriate.

Nigel Dodds lamented the Anglo Irish Agreement but approved her later recantation, quoting her former aide Charles Powell  who  likened   her later regret to “Mary Queen of Scots “ having the loss of Calais engraved on her heart. (It was Mary of England, not Scots, Nigel, Bloody Mary who burned Protestants in the fires of Smithfield).

Both the hunger strike and the 1985 Agreement had unintended consequences. The hunger strike gave Sinn Fein the political opening it took almost thirteen or twenty one years depending on what you count, to bear fruit.  The Anglo Irish Agreement produced slow realisation among Unionists of both parties that immobilisme was not enough, not least in the mind of Peter Robinson.

For long term intransigence, Margaret Thatcher had nothing on our politicians. Mick has said his piece to put her in context. She had a knack of spotting statesmen like Gorbachev or de Klerk who could break the mould. Was it her fault entirely that in her time she failed to find the ones in Northern Ireland who would make the difference?

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