Like her or loathe her, it was always hard to ignore Mrs Thatcher. As it has turned out she was as divisive in death as she was in life.
Middle Eastern style celebrations with horns blaring and flags waving might be a little unseemly in the case of an elderly woman who died from a stroke but they have the great benefit of helping to wind-up the other side. The only thing missing were the masked men firing volleys of shots into the air from the back of open jeeps and slapping photographs of her on the ground with their shoes. Of course there was no danger of some unionists failing to take the bait. They never fail to jump for the fly.
I had an opportunity to observe the then British Prime Minister ‘in action’ during her one and only visit to Derry. That was in September 1988 when she flew into the city by helicopter and then looked around Desmonds’ factory in Drumahoe.
Even though 25 years have passed since her visit, I have a vivid memory of the day. That’s because Mrs Thatcher gave a bravura performance. She was an actor. It was like watching an impressionist imitating Queen Elizabeth. There were the slightly exaggerated gestures, the facial expressions and intonations in her speech all carefully crafted for effect. It’s more obvious in real life than it is on TV. Of course her entourage and the favoured guests lined up to meet her were all suitably deferential. A posy of flowers was carefully positioned on a desk where she signed the visitors’ book. It was an occasion. It was more like a head of state’s visit than one by a senior politician.
Meanwhile, the Brass Neck of the Year Award (if there were such an award) would have to go Ian Paisley Senior. After all he has won it so many times now, it ought to be his outright!
Last week, Lord Bannside said the ex-Prime Minister was “a great”. “In every phase of life she was great – great as a woman, great as a wife, great as a mother, great as a political candidate, great as a member of parliament, especially as the first woman Prime Minister, great as a winner of the war, and great as a member of the House of Lords”
“Our country has become much poorer for the passing of Baroness Thatcher,” he said. Isn’t it good then that Almighty God didn’t provide a hasty answer to a prayer by the then Rev Paisley in his Martyrs’ Memorial church, a few days after the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed at Hillsborough? “Oh God, in wrath take vengeance upon this wicked, treacherous, lying woman,” fervently prayed the good reverend doctor.
Then there was the time when Ulster Resistance was staging rallies all over the place.
At the parade in Larne, according to the Belfast Telegraph, Paisley warned Mrs Thatcher that if she would not listen to 300,000 protestors outside Belfast City Hall maybe she would listen if “the 300,000 had guns in their hands”.
It must be great to have such a selective memory.
At least God didn’t invoke his wrath in a hasty fashion and he allowed Mrs Thatcher to live long enough for “our country” to be “much poorer” for her passing.
Of course, we can all change for the better.
Redemption is for everyone, but shouldn’t Lord Bannside at least explain to his followers that he used to think differently.
Finally, it’s a rich irony that Mrs Thatcher is often remembered here for a comment that was so completely wrong.
“Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley,” she said in 1981. Northern Ireland isn’t British at all, (although it is for now part of the United Kingdom) and it’s not even like anywhere in Britain.