Much has been made of the great events of Margaret Thatcher’s career (the Journal.ie probably has what might pass as the definitive list of the top five in terms of Anglo Irish relations (which is how we quaintly used to refer to it back then). But the truth is the real relationship was deeper, more cultural and more subtle. And it manifested differently north and south.
– No matter what he thought of his country’s relations with Thatcher’s Britain, Charlie McCreevy was self evidently a fan of Thatcherite thinking long before he publicly acknowledged it as EU Commissioner responsible for Internal Market & Services back in 2005:
In a wide ranging address this afternoon, Mr McCreevy noted that the numbers sceptical about or hostile to the EU have grown in the last year, citing a Eurobarometer poll published today which shows that only 44% surveyed had a positive view of Europe.
The commissioner said one of the lessons of the poll was that people resent what he called unwarranted intrusions by Brussels into their national sovereignty.
He quoted the example of Austria where five years ago the EU tried to freeze diplomatic relations with the country because of the rise of Jorg Haider. Now he said Austria has a bigger majority hostile to Europe than any other country in the community.
Mr McCreevy claimed that the EU had allowed its economy to suffer. He said that needed to be remedied, and he held out the example of Margaret Thatcher who had turned around a sick economy. He said many member states in Europe today needed leaders like her. The Commissioner said he hoped they got them before long.
– Sentiments echoed by Shane Coleman in today’s Indo:
The irony that Margaret Thatcher was leading a country that was booming, while Ireland – due to a succession of indecisive and inept governments – was in the throes of recession was lost on us. Because the unpalatable truth back then was that Ireland needed a Thatcher of its own. It arguably does again today.
– And, if you can be bothered with the ads, clip to 36.30 on the Vincent Browne show, for an interesting insight as to how some of the Irish in Britain found her:
“On the building sites they had great time for her. They had great time for the simple reason that she had lowered tax for the working classes, or their element of the working class, the well paid working class.”
In the UK, Thatcher’s small state philosophy was a response to a humungous state bequeathed it by Atlee’s 1945 radical reforms, but philosphicially it was always likely to appeal to a state like the Republic’s which had never grown big nor ever had the resource to become a large player.
Small open economy it was, without any real penchant for ideology. BAnd when it came to it – at the end of the 80s – both government and opposition swallowed a large and very nasty monetarist pill towards the end of the 80s to which many ascribe its later prosperity under the Celtic Tiger…
Mrs T’s agressive policies in Northern Ireland may have made her unpopular political figure, but her influence was strong and even pervasive where it mattered in policy formation at the heart of successive Irish governments. It was the love that dare not speak its name.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty