Talking ill of the dead
We have a great mourning tradition in Ireland, paying respect to the dead in a manner that is comfortably half sorrowful, half craic-infused celebration.
We also have a great tradition in Ireland of talking out of the two sides of our mouth, remembering the dead with such sepia-toned admiration that it’s easy to imagine many of our dearly beloved deceased asking “why couldn’t that git say something nice about me while I was alive”?!
But what happens when the person who has passed is a controversial figure, despised by some, loved by others?
The death of Margaret Thatcher last week was greeted by a mixture of adoring tribute and vengeful messages of “good riddance”, in the UK and around the world.
Speaking on Tuesday’s Morning Ireland, Lord Kilclooney said that the former prime minister was a “world class politician” and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said that she was “a transformative and powerful prime minister…undoubtedly one of the greatest political figures of post-war Britain and she changed the face of our United Kingdom forever”.
The reaction of others has certainly been less than respectful, with Durham miners planning a funeral party and street parties held in republican areas of Belfast and Derry following her death.
Remembering our tradition of not talking ill of the dead, the reaction of those she did battle with on this island throughout her reign has been the subject of some debate at MKC Towers.
The first reaction of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was to tweet “An lá nuair a bhfuair Margaret Thatcher bás. Long live the memory of Bobby & his comrades”. This was shortly followed by “Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people. She will be remembered for her shameful role during the hunger strikes”.
(As an ironic aside, was it not for her misguided response to the hunger strikes, Mr Adams may be a character in a chapter of our history books, rather than a politician quickly edging into the mainstream).
Martin McGuinness’ reaction seems to have been more considered, urging people not to “celebrate” the death of Mrs Thatcher at street parties and tweeting “Resist celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher. She was not a peacemaker but it is a mistake to allow her death to poison our minds”.
Of course Mr Adams’ response was to be expected, and is sure to have been well received by a demographic sympathetic to his cause.
However, if I was Deputy Adams’ PR advisor, I might have advised him to have had a more tempered reaction to Mrs Thatcher’s demise. Because, as a party seeking to broaden its support base in the Republic, a more reflective response may have demonstrated a great stride away from its armalite roots, towards a middle ground more comfortably occupied by most Irish voters.
Mr Adams simply had to say that history will assess the legacy of his one-time nemesis and that now was a time for her son and daughter to be allowed to grieve the loss of their mother.
For an astute self-publicist, Mr Adams has missed an opportunity to convey a maturing of historical understanding which could have ultimately swung some voters his party’s way.