Margaret Thatcher: IRA bomb that boosted popularity

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ONE of the defining moments of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership was the IRA’s bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party’s conference in 1984.

She was vilified in republican circles over her involvement in Northern Ireland, in particular her handling of the IRA hunger strikes inside the Maze prison in the early 1980s.

In the early hours of 12 October, an IRA time bomb exploded in the hotel demolishing a large part of the mid-section of the building, killing five people and injuring 31.

IRA member Patrick Magee had booked into the hotel under an assumed name a month before and planted the device, which was said to consist of 20lb of gelignite, under the bath in his room, number 629.

Mrs Thatcher and her husband Denis narrowly escaped being killed. She had been sitting in her suite, working on her conference speech for the next day, when the blast ripped through the building. While it badly damaged her bathroom, the rest of her suite and bedroom were undamaged. Unharmed, they had time to dress and then were taken Brighton police station for safety.

The IRA claimed responsibility the next day, and in a statement vowed it would try again.

Refusing to allow the bombing to disrupt the schedule, the then prime minister opened the conference, although she used her speech to attack it as “an attempt to cripple Her Majesty’s democratically elected government”.

Despite her defiant stance, Mrs Thatcher was well aware of how close she came to death, stating later: “This is a day I was not meant to see.”

In some respects the attack backfired on the IRA, as her response sent Mrs Thatcher’s popularity ratings back to a level almost on a par with what they had been during the Falklands War.

Within a year, police traced and captured Magee in Glasgow, and in September he was given eight life sentences. The judge recommended that he serve 35 years, but in 1999, Magee was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, having served just 14 years.