Apr 28 2013

GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT – THATCHER’S PROGRESSIVE LEGACY?

John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) helps to clear up some of the confusion about Thatcher’s legacy with regard to Ireland. Some have argued that, after ditching the hardline Ulster Unionists in the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, she opened up the way to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA). John, however, highlights that, the degree to which Thatcher  was persuaded of the need to sideline ‘No Surrender’ Unionism, was also the degree to the British ruling class sought to maintain sectarian rule in ‘the Six Counties’, but in a new form. The Anglo-Irish Agreement  brought  the SDLP and Irish government on board, in a decidedly subordinate position, to help the UK state in running  Northern Ireland.  This  paved the way, after Thatcher’s removal by the Tories,  for the 1993 Downing Street Declaration. This brought the Republican Movement  on board. The GFA has led to a new partition within ‘the Six Counties’ with the constitutionally entrenched recognition of British Unionism and Irish Nationalism. We can see the roots of the current decay of the post-GFA Northern Ireland political order  in this continued sectarian legacy. Thatcher helped to ensure that this remained central to UK state policy, once she had decided to abandon her previous unquestioning support for the Ulster Unionist Party. 

Some new graffiti on the famous Free Derry Wall after Thatcher's death.

Some new graffiti on the famous Free Derry Wall after Thatcher’s death.

The 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement coincidentally coincided with the death of Margaret Thatcher. Given the recent flag riots, the confirmation of Orange supremacy in the streets and the new pan-unionist unity behind Robinson, the complaints of “lack of engagement” from Sinn Fein and watery threats by the British to withhold funds if the local administration does not move beyond sectarian patronage, it is not surprising if there is public discontent.

That discontent is buffered by a deep confusion. People are repelled by the actuality of the settlement, yet remain convicted that there is a hidden progressive core that will someday express itself.

A similar confusion hangs around the role of Thatcher. Many nationalists believe there were two Thatchers – a bad Thatcher who oppressed the hunger strikers and a good Thatcher who signed the Anglo Irish deal and laid the grounds for the peace process.

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