Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference ending visit to Saudi Arabia (IRA hunger strikes)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Riyadh
Source: (1) Extract from PREM19/757 f154 (2) BBC Radio News Report 1300 21 April 1981 (3) BBC Radio News Report 1800 21 April 1981
Editorial comments:

Between 1230 and 1330. Full text not yet traced, but an extract on the Tornado found in PREM19/757 strongly suggests the press conference was recorded and transcribed.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 620
Themes: Foreign policy (Middle East), Defence (general), Terrorism, Northern Ireland, Law & order

(1) Extract from PREM19/757 f154:


Riyadh - 21 April

Q. (Nick Moore, Reuters)

You have said what a fine aircraft Tornado is - did you indeed discuss that aircraft?


The point with the Tornado is this - one is already considering the next generation of aircraft for about the 1990s . The days are gone when we can design an aircraft just for the use of the British Air Force . And indeed we already have some collaborative arrangements as in the Tornado with the Germans and Italians . We now have to consider designing an aircraft for wider use . What we are considering is the next generation after the Tornado , designing it not only for European use but also for use in other areas. For that purpose, we need to use two or three pieces of technology in Tornado. We need to get the co-operation on design at the outset . That is the point as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned about the next generation following the Tornado using some of the technology of the Tornado . It is a new departure for Britain to design with wider uses in mind .

(2) BBC Radio News Report 1300 21 April 1981:

The Prime Minister has indicated that she will not meet the three MPs from the Irish Republic who yesterday made a bedside visit to the IRA hunger striker, Mr. Bobby Sands. It was at a news conference at the end of her visit to Saudi Arabia that Mrs. Thatcher commented on the MPs visit to the Maze Prison near Belfast&em;and their request for urgent talks with her. She said, “It is not my habit or custom to meet the Members of Parliament of a foreign country about a citizen of the United Kingdom resident in the United Kingdom”. If they wished to make representations, the Irish MPs should do so through their own government, in what she called “the customary way”. And the matter would then be passed to the British government. Mr. Sands, the newly-elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, is now in the fifty-second day of his hunger strike. But, when newsmen asked Mrs. Thatcher whether there was any chance that prisoners in Northern Ireland might be granted political status, she stuck firmly to the government's long-standing policy: [end p1]

There can be no question of political status for someone who is serving a sentence for crime. Crime is crime is crime: it is not political, it is crime, and there can be no question of granting political status. I just hope that anyone who is on hunger strike for his own sake will think fit to come off hunger strike, but that is a matter for him. With regard to the visit by the members of Parliament of the Republic of Ireland, we thought it right to let them see the people on hunger strike in the Maze Prison. They did so, but I understand Mr. Sands is still on hunger strike, and I regret that he has not decided to come off it. There can be no possible concessions on political status. To do that, in fact, would put many people into jeopardy. If ever one says that a crime which you and I regard as a crime, describe as a crime, and which is a crime, then there's an attempt to say it's not a crime, it's political, then everyone, I'm afraid, would go in fear. … [end p2]

Mrs. Thatcher went on to say that she regretted that Mr. Sands was still on hunger strike. But the decision to end a fast was a matter for the prisoner concerned. She re-stated the government's policy on political status. There was no question of this for someone serving a sentence for crime. If there were ever an attempt to say that crime was not crime, many people would be put into jeopardy, and everyone would go in fear. And Mrs. Thatcher insisted that political status was what the Maze hunger strikers were really after: [end p3]

They are trying, in fact, to achieve the trappings of political status without calling it political status. The prison regime in Northern Ireland for those who abide by the rules is amongst the most liberal in the United Kingdom. We set it out in full last time for the hunger strike. It is a very humane regime. We're always ready to consider anything which would help to make a prison regime which is still a prison regime even more humane. We are not prepared to concede special status to certain groups of people. Anything which is arranged would have to apply to the whole of the United Kingdom and be justified only on the grounds that it was humane, more humane for prisoners having regard to their prison sentence.

(3) BBC Radio News Report 1800 21 April 1981: [end p4]

Mrs Thatcher, who's now in Abu Dhabi on a tour of the Gulf region, has defended the American plan for a Western rapid deployment force in the area. At her news conference before leaving Saudi Arabia, she said that such a force could not be set up from scratch in a crisis. It was therefore good contingency planning to have it ready. It would not be stationed in the Gulf and would be used only at the request of countries in the region.