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Four Years Later, Thatcher & IRA Exchange Defiant Words

October 10, 1988 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ Four years after the Irish Republican Army blew up her seaside convention hotel, Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Party reassembled Monday in the same place with the political fundamentals unchanged.

Arriving in Brighton on the eve of the four-day convention, Mrs. Thatcher gazed at the repaired facade of the Grand Hotel and said her strongest memory from the Oct. 12, 1984, bombing was that the day after, the convention started on time and ″people flooded in. They weren’t going to be defeated.″

The IRA, in a statement to the Irish media, said it ″takes great delight from the hysteria and the expense surrounding the security of Mrs. Thatcher and the Tories at their Brighton conference.″

The British leader and the IRA remain pledged to wiping each other out. She is Britain’s longest continuously serving prime minister this century, while the IRA’s bomb-and-bullet campaign to drive Britain out of Northern Ireland has become one of the longest on-and-off wars of the century.

Mrs. Thatcher said she chose to return to the graceful old Victorian hotel because ″after the incident last time we could not possibly have stayed anywhere else.″

So far this year, 81 people have been killed in Northern Ireland, compared with 93 in 1987. And a new IRA campaign against British servicemen has cost five lives in England and continental Europe this year.

What has changed irrevocably is the atmosphere of British political party conventions since the bomb ripped through the eight-story Grand Hotel in the south England resort. Five people were killed and 30 injured.

Mrs. Thatcher emerged unscathed, having left the bathroom of her suite two minutes before falling masonry demolished it. ″Today we were unlucky,″ said an IRA statement. ″But remember, we have only to be lucky once - you will always have to be lucky.″

″Terrorism will never win,″ riposted Mrs. Thatcher.

Until the bombing, Tory party conventions were relaxed affairs. Reporters, delegates, lobbyists and bystanders rubbed shoulders with Cabinet ministers in lobbies and bars. Guards at the entrances merely glanced at identity badges.

As the Tories returned for the first time since 1984, however, more than 2,000 police have been mobilized to provide security.

Sidewalks, mail boxes and sewers around the hotel and adjacent conference center are sealed off, overflights by civil aircraft are banned, and a Royal Navy destroyer patrols offshore.

In a $2.6 million operation codenamed Radcot, bomb experts and dogs have scoured the Grand Hotel, where Mrs. Thatcher and many of her 22-member Cabinet are staying again for the four-day conference.

Police have checked more than 50,000 Brighton hotel guests, staff and residents.

″We assess the level of risk, quite clearly, as very high,″ said Sussex county police Chief Constable Roger Birch.

But Richard Ingrams, a columnist in the liberal Observer newspaper, wrote: ″This expensive farce is a great tribute to the IRA.″ He said the security measures were ″so extreme and so alien to our way of life (that) it is worth wondering whether in fact terrorism has not already won.″

The IRA statement recalled that Mrs. Thatcher was saying seven years ago that the IRA was finished, and added: ″The British public can now judge for themselves how safe their prime minister feels when she has to surround herself with the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, the Special Air Services, the Special Boat Service, the British army and a police force.″

The bomb killed lawmaker Sir Anthony Berry; Lancashire Tory area director Eric Taylor; Jean Shattock, wife of another regional official; Roberta Wakeham, wife of the parliamentary chief whip; and Muriel MacLean, wife of the president of the Scottish Conservative Association.

It also indirectly cost Mrs. Thatcher one of her closest Cabinet allies, Norman Tebbit, who had to quit active politics and go into business in order to pay for the care of his wife, Margaret, who was paralyzed for life by the explosion.

Tebbit was Trade and Industry Secretary at the time of the bombing and then party chairman before resigning this year.

Patrick Magee, the IRA man who is serving a life sentence for the five murders, planted the 20- to 30-pound time-bomb behind the wall panels of a bedroom four floors above Mrs. Thatcher’s suite.

Magee checked into the Grand Hotel under a false name a month before the convention and was traced after police painstakingly combed the hotel’s register and questioned hundreds of previous guests.

Mrs. Thatcher, who turns 63 on Thursday, was elected in 1979 and won an unprecedented third consecutive term last year.

Unlike the opposition Labor Party, which ended its convention last week deeply divided over how to reverse its repeated defeats, the Tories look more united than ever before.

Also unlike Labor, the Tories do not make policy at their conventions, and this year’s gathering is expected simply to endorse a continuation of Mrs. Thatcher’s free-market economics, hawkish foreign policy and tough stance on law and order.

The Conservatives command 45 percent support in opinion polls, five points ahead of Labor, and Mrs. Thatcher remains the choice of 61 percent of Britons as the most effective leader on offer.