1979 – a lethal year for Irish Republicans
Being half-Irish could be difficult in the 1970s as Irish Republicans launched bloody and audacious attacks on the UK mainland. One night, the waterworks at the top of my road were bombed by the IRA and as a 12 year old kid lying in bed, I knew immediately what had happened. At school the next day, the word “Paddy” would suddenly be produced even though I was a British born Londoner with zero in common with the IRA or INLA.
1979 saw two murders that shook the country. On the 30th March, the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army – not to be confused with the IRA) blew up Conservative MP Airey Neave. You can watch the BBC TV news report by clicking HERE. Neave was shadow Northern Ireland secretary and a close confidante of Conservative Party leader and soon to be PM, Margaret Thatcher. His car was blown up by a bomb attached underneath with magnets as it left the House of Commons car park. Needless to say that the security around the Palace of Westminster had presented no obstacle to the terrorists.
More shockingly was the slaying on the 27th August, 1979 of Lord Mountbatten: cousin of the queen, the last viceroy of India and a very well known member of the royal family by the IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army). He was blown up on a boat with his son and a deck hand while on holiday in Ireland. Hours later, 18 British soldiers were killed at Warrenpoint in a devastating attack by Irish Republicans.
You can watch the BBC TV account of that by clicking HERE. Mountbatten’s murderer shared my surname, unfortunately, and was caught. He was released from prison in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, put in place after the ceasefire.
These events undoubtedly exercised a huge political and emotional influence on Thatcher. When IRA prisoners went on hunger strike demanding to be treated as prisoners of war, Thatcher folded her arms and let them starve – to death. That was in spite of one of them, Bobby Sands, being elected to parliament from his cell.