MEMBERS and officers stood for a minute’s silence ahead of Monday night’s (April 15) meeting of the council’s Planning and Consultation Committee as a mark of respect to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who passed away on April 8.
The borough’s longest-serving councillor, Fraser Agnew, said that while all elected representatives in the chamber, particularly those from a unionist background, would’ve had their differences with the former Conservative Party leader, members should observe a few moments silence for the woman considered by many to be the UK’s greatest peacetime leader.
The UUP man said that Baroness Thatcher, as someone who won three general elections and was a powerful leader in world politics, deserved to be shown respect.
With no objections to councillor Agnew’s proposal, members of the DUP, UUP, Alliance Party and the SDLP stood in silence with their heads bowed to mark the passing of the country’s first female Prime Minister.
Councillor Agnew, who met Mrs Thatcher at Hillsborough Castle during her first visit to Northern Ireland after she became Prime Minister in 1979, said she had taken time to speak to him and other guests at the engagement.
“I found her to be a lovely person and a nice person to speak to,” he told the Times.
“Her husband (Denis) was there as well and he was a real character. You got the impression he was under the thumb, but not completely under the thumb - it was more like he was just happy to follow her around and let her get on with it.”
Councillor Agnew was first elected to Newtownabbey Council as an Ulster Unionist Party representative in 1980 and served in the Northern Ireland Assembly as part of the United Unionist Coalition from 1998 - 2003.
He stressed that he didn’t agree with Mrs Thatcher signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement alongside Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald in 1985, but said that she was admired by many for being a no-nonsense politician and a strong leader.
“She deserves a lot of respect for what she achieved. She won three general elections and showed strong leadership throughout her career.
“Obviously I don’t agree with how she signed up to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but I have admiration for her because she was a strong person and a good leader. She was a woman in a man’s world and she had more principles, strength and courage than any of the men around her,” he added.
During Monday night’s meeting, committee members also agreed that a letter of condolence be sent by the council to Baroness Thatcher’s family.
Sinn Fein representatives Gerry O’Reilly and Marie Mackessy entered the council chamber following the conclusion of the minute’s silence.
Meanwhile, members attending Monday’s committee meeting also passed on their sympathies to Sharon Boyle, partner of councillor Robert Hill, on the death of her father, and to former councillor Vi Scott, on the sad loss of her daughter. It was agreed that letters of condolence should be sent to both women.