Force Thatcher to Act on Hunger Strikes, Garret Begged Reagan

Daily Mail (London), December 30, 2011 | Go to article overview

Force Thatcher to Act on Hunger Strikes, Garret Begged Reagan


Byline: Sean Kane

FORMER taoiseach Garret FitzGerald pleaded with Ronald Reagan to pile pressure on Margaret Thatcher for an urgent compromise over the Maze hunger strikes.

Mr FitzGerald - who had taken office only days beforehand - warned that Ireland's democracy was seriously under threat, while relations with Britain were plunging to dangerous depths.

And in an attempt to win over support from the American president, he assured Mr Reagan that he could play a decisive role in ending the IRA action.

The letter, dated July 1981 and declassified under the 30-year-rule, was drafted after six Long Kesh prisoners had already died and the government was on tenterhooks over the imminent death of Kieran Doherty, who had been elected TD for Cavan-Monaghan.

Admitting he hesitated about imposing on the US president, who had survived an assassination attempt only a few months previously, Mr FitzGerald said it was his duty to seek the co-operation of 'the leader of the greatest democracy on earth'.

'I would ask you to use your enormous influence with the British prime minister within the next 24 hours in the interest of averting a death which would inevitably increase support for the terrorists and further undermine the stability of our democracy in a dangerous way and can only harm the interests of the British, Irish and American governments,' he wrote.

'I believe that an expression of your concern to Mrs Thatcher of the deterioration in the state of opinion among Americans of Irish extraction and among many other Americans and of the urgent necessity to avert the consequences which would result from Mr Doherty's death could be of decisive importance.' Mr FitzGerald said Ireland was facing a desperate crisis in the fight against support for terrorism, which he said was at an all-time high, particularly from America.

Mr FitzGerald said the British government was 'understandably concerned' not to make concessions to IRA inmates which would give them a privileged status or cede control of the prisons. But he warned that public confidence in the ability of the British to deal with the crisis 'declined drastically' after failed attempts by the Catholic Church-established Irish Commission for Justice and Peace to forge an agreement between both sides.

The taoiseach said the death of Mr Doherty would have a more destabilising effect than any other hunger striker 'for obvious political reasons'.

Around the same time, Mr FitzGerald warned the prime minister that Ireland could be forced to cut off security ties with the British at the height of the Maze hunger strikes. He told Margaret Thatcher that his government's view of her handling of the crisis was starting to converge with that of the IRA.

'This is naturally the last position in which we would wish to find ourselves,' he said in a secret letter.

However Mrs Thatcher threatened a 'sharp and bitter' response if there was any suggestion of less than full co-operation in the fight against the IRA. …

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