Defiant Thatcher flies in to Ulster
I will win leadership fight easily, says PM
Prime Minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher flew into the province in defiant mood today declaring that she would “win and win well” the Conservative Party leadership battle.
Mrs Thatcher took time off from her election campaign against Mr Michael Heseltine for a whistle-stop programme of events in Enniskillen and around Belfast.
At her first stop, Leaf Electronics outside the Co Fermanagh town, the Premier refused to make any further comment about the battle.
Asked if she were in Northern Ireland to say goodbye to some old friends she replied; “Of course not.
“This visit has been planned for quite a time,” she said. “I wanted to come and I want to talk only about Northern Ireland.”
She refused to comment on today's MORI poll, which put Mr Heseltine ahead of her as a better bet to lead the Tories to a fourth term.
But she added: “I believe we shall win and win well.”
Her remarks came as Labour MP Bob Cryer accused her of electioneering in Northern Ireland.
During today's visit, Mrs Thatcher came face to face with Mr Richard Needham for the first time since the Economic Development Minister was revealed to have called her “a cow” .
The comment, which was taped by paramilitaries, was made during a carphone conversation between Mr Needham and his wife, during which he added he hoped the Prime Minister would resign.
But the two were all smiles when they met at Leaf Electronics in Lockaboye Industrial Estate.
Mrs Thatcher shook hands with Mr Needham and said: “It's an awfully bad day, isn't it?”
The Prime Minister was welcomed to the province by Mr Peter Brooke, who met her at RAF Aldergrove this morning.
Security was tight, and details of the programme were kept top secret until the last minute.
The itinerary included meetings with members of the security forces and their wives; students, representatives of business and commerce, and members of the public.
Security was at a peak as Mrs Thatcher's Wessex helicopter took off from Aldergrove into the driving rain and wind, flying low over Lough Neagh, the rolling hills of Tyrone and the Fermanagh lakes.
At times, particularly over the villages of Augher and Fivemiletown, the helicopter was barely 100 feet above the treetops, a flying technique designed to thwart machine gun or missile attack.
Mrs Thatcher's helicopter flew so low that her private secretary Charles Powell joked: “It was the first time we have flown underground.”
Her Press secretary Bernard Ingham added: “We even heard the cattle ducking.”
The flight path was close to Clogher, only a few miles from the border with the Irish Republic, where Army helicopters have been fired on several time.
Mrs Thatcher arrived at the Leaf Electronics components factory and cut a tape to officially open the year old complex, which employs around 50 staff, most of them young people.
After a guided tour of the shop floor, she congratulated the company for winning the final of the Head Start competition for young businesses.
“When we came into power we were often asked where the new jobs would come from,” she said. “This is an example of how to create jobs by turning old ways into new ways.”
The official party went on to Ardhowen Theatre a few miles away, where Mrs Thatcher chatted with winners and organisers of the Spirt of Enniskillen Bursaries.
The scheme was started by Mr Gordon Wilson in memory of his daughter, Marie, who was killed in the Poppy Day bombing three years ago. [end p1]
Mr Wilson said afterwards Mrs Thatcher told him she had read his book about Enniskillen and his daughter's death.
“I am very happy that she has read it because it's the story of Enniskillen,” he said.
The Prime Minister also met members of the local council, including clerk Mr Gerry Burns, who was at the Cenotaph at the time of the bombing.
She told council members that she would forever remember the memorial service for the Remembrance Day victims.
Good would eventually triumph over evil, she said, even though a solution did not appear to be in sight. People must never give in to evil, she added.
Shoppers in the town shook hands and shouted encouragement to the Prime Minister when she went on a surprise walkabout in the town centre.
After lunch at the Grosvenor Army depot, the Prime Minister again left by helicopter for a series of visits in the Belfast area.
Mrs Thatcher has made many visits to Northern Ireland, sometimes in the wake of terrorist atrocities.
On her last visit she joined thousands of mourners at the special Remembrance Day service at Enniskillen in November 1987—two weeks after 11 people were killed at the original Poppy Day ceremony by an IRA bomb.
She was in the province twice last year. She led a memorial service at Belfast's St. Anne's cathedral for the 47 people killed in the M1 air crash at Kegworth, 29 of whom lived and worked in Northern Ireland.
During her last trip, to a Co Tyrone Army barracks in September last year, she said the Ulster Defence Regiment's 6,300 members were “a very, very, very brave group of men” , days after two UDR men appeared in court charged with murdering a Catholic.
Belfast's Lord Mayor, Councillor Fred Cobain, said that Mrs Thatcher would never be fully welcome in the city until she restored some form of local democracy to Northern Ireland.
Mr Cobain, an Ulster Unionist, said his message to the Prime Minister was that the time had come to return some real powers to district councils across the province.
“If Northern Ireland is really as British as Finchley, as she says, that she should make sure we are treated in the same way as her constituents,” he said.
Alderman Hugh Smyth (Progressive Unionist) said he bitterly regretted that yet another VIP visitor to Ulster had snubbed the City Hall.
“This is the capital building of the capital city of Northern Ireland, and I think it's disgraceful that it is never on the agenda for the Prime Minister or for members of the Royal Family,” he said.