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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Margaret Thatcher And The Hunger Strikers

Escorted by masked IRA men, the coffin containing the body of hunger striker Bobby Sands leaves a church near his home in the Twinbrooks area of Belfast, Northern Ireland on May 7, 1981, en route to the city’s Milltown cemetery. Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike. (Peter Kemp/AP)

Escorted by masked IRA men, the coffin containing the body of hunger striker Bobby Sands leaves a church near his home in the Twinbrooks area of Belfast, Northern Ireland on May 7, 1981, en route to the city’s Milltown cemetery. Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike. (Peter Kemp/AP)

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died yesterday at the age of 87, took a hard line against the young men who were being held prisoner by the British government because of alleged crimes they committed as members of the Irish Republican Army.

Demonstrators outside the British Consulate to the U.N. in New York on May 2, 1981, burn British Prime Minister Thatcher in effigy using a mannequin during a demonstration in support of hunger striker Bobby Sands, who was reported close to death in Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison. (AP/Kneisel)

Demonstrators outside the British Consulate to the U.N. in New York on May 2, 1981, burn British Prime Minister Thatcher in effigy using a mannequin during a demonstration in support of hunger striker Bobby Sands. (AP/Kneisel)

They were fighting against British rule in Northern Ireland and they wanted political status as prisoners, which Thatcher refused to grant.

According to a Boston Globe piece by Kevin Cullen, Thatcher once told a priest from Northern Ireland the young men were determined to kill themselves to prove how tough they were.

Ten hunger strikers eventually died.

Cullen writes, “Thatcher’s ­intransigence drove many young men into the waiting arms of the IRA. She was one of the IRA’s best recruiters. She pushed the end of the war back at least 10 years and consigned a generation to conflict.”

Thatcher’s friend President Ronald Reagan ultimately convinced her she had to work with the Irish.

The agreement she signed with Irish leaders in 1985 did lead to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and a new era of Anglo-Irish relations.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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