British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher today appealed to Americans not "to buy the deaths of Irishmen" by sending money to the outlawed Irish Republican Army.
"Be under no illusions about the Provisional IRA," the Conservative Party leader said in a speech before both houses of Congress. "They terrorize their own communities. They are the enemies of democracy, and of freedom too."
Thatcher's wide-ranging address to the assembled U.S. lawmakers was interrupted by applause and cheers 24 times, notably when she condemned the IRA and praised President Reagan's economic and foreign policies, including his "Star Wars" research program and military buildup.
Outside, a peaceful but vocal crowd of Irish-Americans and IRA supporters demonstrated--well off the Capitol grounds for security reasons. Waving flags and chanting pro-IRA slogans, the group protested the British presence in Northern Ireland. One sign bore a photograph of Thatcher--known as "The Iron Lady"--and the legend, "Wanted for Murder and Torture of Irish Prisoners."
The ornate chamber of the House was filled to capacity as Thatcher spoke, using a TelePrompTer to deliver her 31-minute address. The reception was highlighted by standing ovations, one prompted by a warm introduction by House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, whose Irish heritage is clear on his ruddy face.
Thatcher noted that the United States and Britain have stood together in two world wars and other conflicts, including peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon, to oppose terrorism and fight for freedom and justice.
"Both our countries have suffered at the hands of terrorists," she said. "We have lost some of our best young lives. And I have lost some close and dear friends," a reference to a fatal IRA terrorist bombing last Oct. 12 at a Conservative Party meeting in Brighton that nearly claimed her life.
"The problems of the Middle East will not be solved by the coldblooded murder of American servicemen in Lebanon or by the murder of American civilians on a hijacked aircraft," she said. "Nor will the problems of Northern Ireland be solved by the assassin's guns or bomb."
Thatcher, in the first address by a British prime minister to a joint meeting of Congress since one by Winston Churchill on Jan. 17, 1952, pressed for a ban on American aid to the IRA through Noraid, a committee for Northern Ireland based in the United States.
She applauded efforts by the Administration and members of Congress "to bring home this message to American citizens who may be misled into making contributions to seemingly innocuous groups."
"The fact is that money is used to buy the deaths of Irishmen, north and south of the border--and 70% of those killed by the IRA are Irishmen," she said, noting some Americans also have died or been wounded in the Irish strife.
Thatcher pledged her firm support of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative--the so-called "Star Wars" program to find a strategic missile defense system that the President believes could make nuclear weapons obsolete.