Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pope had hunger strike concerns

The Pope wrote to Margaret Thatcher about his "deep" concerns for republican inmates on hunger strike in the Maze Prison, previously secret papers have showed.

Pope John Paul II urged the former prime minister to "consider personally" solutions to the crisis in which seven IRA inmates deliberately starved themselves at the notorious Northern Ireland jail in the hope of winning prisoner-of-war status.

The personal message from John Paul II reads: "I am receiving disturbing news about the tension in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland, where a number of prisoners have begun a hunger strike."

He continued: "I am aware that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr Atkins, has already been asked to examine the problem and to seek possible solutions.

"In the spirit of the call for peace and reconciliation which I made at Drogheda during my pastoral visit to Ireland last year, I would express my deep concern about the tragic consequences which the agitation could have for the prisoners themselves and also the possible grave repercussions upon the whole situation in Northern Ireland.

"I would ask you to consider personally possible solutions in order to avoid irreversible consequences that could perhaps prove irreparable."

The letter was made public as part of a release of previously secret Government papers from 1980 held by the National Archives in Kew, London.

The origins of the protest lay in the 1976 decision by the British Government to treat newly convicted IRA prisoners as ordinary criminals rather than political prisoners.

The removal of "special category" status was extended to all paramilitary prisoners in March 1980.

Seven republican prisoners went on hunger strike in October 1980 in response.

They were joined in the following month by 23 more.