Maggie Thatcher certainly did not evoke indifference.
Everyone has strong views on the Iron Lady – opinions forged during over a decade of major changes in Britain and at a time here when this island came perilously close to conflict on a scale that would have altered the political and probably demographic make-up for many years to come.
That popular pursuit of many who like to witness politics and current affairs from the safety of the fence never ever applied to the grocer’s daughter from Grantham. But for many Irish people today the major surprise is the depth of division and lingering anger she created and sustained in Britain.
The Sheffield participant on the Mooney programme on RTE Radio yesterday who recounted how the lunchtime pub in his home city burst into applause on hearing of her passing would come as a shock to many who heard it.
Partly because as a nation we still “don’t speak ill of the dead.” But also because most of us would be unaware of the level of hatred many in the North of England reserved for Mrs Thatcher.
Here, she had few admirers apart from some who liked her direct, straight talking and decisiveness in dealing with the unions and her promotion of privatisation.
She was essentially a culture shock – and our political and governing classes did not know how to deal with her.
Former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey famously gave her a teapot as a gift at their first meeting in 1980. I can think of no other present to give to a tough, career driven woman politician that would be guaranteed to start a relationship on a downward spiral. It smacked of the Baron of Kinsealy meets “Mrs Doyle.”
Essentially, her attitude to Ireland was soured irretrievably by the murder by the INLA of her close advisor and mentor, Airey Neave, at the Houses of Westminster just months before she became Prime Minister.
She didn’t believe the South had any role in the North and she appeared to almost stumble into the Anglo-Irish agreement with Dr Garret FitzGerald in 1985. She was certainly not expecting the hostile reaction of Northern Unionists.
That she even got that far is a surprise considering Mr Haughey’s stance on her war to recapture the Falklands. She expected, nay demanded, absolute support from the Government here. Haughey held back, essentially condemned the sinking of the Argentinian ship, the Belgrano, and also gave lukewarm support for Britain at the UN Security Council where Ireland held a seat.
It took years to repair the damage done to Anglo-Irish relations from the fallout from the Falklands. Many believed that Haughey was right to take the stance he did in not providing blind loyalty to Britain over the Falklands. But it had implications down the line in trying to forge a lasting peace process.
Ultimately, she will be best remembered here for her stubborn stance on the plight of the H Block hunger strikers. In mitigration she was only in power a couple of years when the issue came to the fore. She handled it disastrously by providing the IRA and Sinn Fein with a platform to ultimately seize control of the Nationalist/ Republican power base in the North.
But for many in the South it was the actions of a woman who was following the legacy of most British leaders over the centuries who simply could not and would not understand and embrace the nuances and complexities of the Irish.
I suspect she thought us ungovernable. For our part we were just glad she didn’t govern us.