Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Maze Prison protest set off one of the worst crises in Troubles

Hunger striker Bobby Sands
Hunger striker Bobby Sands
Hunger striker Bobby Sands' coffin, flanked by an IRA colour party, leaving his mother's home in Twinbrook.
Hunger strike marchers blocked by gardai as they approach the British Embassy in Dublin
IRA prisoners' dirty protest while on hunger strike in the Maze Prison, November 1980.
Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike
Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney, who spent 53 days on IRA hunger strike.
Bobby Sands' son Robert Gerald holds his mother's hand at the funeral of his father Bobby in west Belfast flanked by Masked IRA men. Picture by Martin Wright
Hunger striker Bobby Sands coffin, flanked by an IRA colour party, leaving his mother's home in Twinbrook.
Supporters of Fermanagh South Tyrone MP/Hunger Striker Bobby Sands.
Tomboy Loudon, Gerry Roche, Denis Donaldson and Bobby Sands pictured in the Long Kesh prison, Northern Ireland.
Hunger striker Bobby Sands funeral procession making its way down Stewartstown Road on Route to Milltown cemetery
Bobby Sands funeral
Masked gunmen fire a volley of shots beside hunger striker Bobby Sands coffin, at Milltown Cemetery.
Hunger striker Bobby Sands' coffin, flanked by an IRA colour party, leaving his mother's home in Twinbrook.
IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands died in the Maze prison after 65 days of his hunger strike
Images from the Belfast Telegraph Troubles Gallery IRA checkpoint, the early 1970's
The Belfast Telegraph Troubles Gallery
The explosion of a bomb in the crowded central Belfast restaurant, the Abercorn, on 4th March 1972, was one of the most horrific incidents of the Northern Ireland violence. Two women were killed - 130 people injured.
The explosion of a bomb in the crowded central Belfast restaurant, the Abercorn, on 4th March 1972, was one of the most horrific incidents of the Northern Ireland violence. Two women were killed - 130 people injured.
The explosion of a bomb in the crowded central Belfast restaurant, the Abercorn, on 4th March 1972, was one of the most horrific incidents of the Northern Ireland violence. Two women were killed - 130 people injured.
The explosion of a bomb in the crowded central Belfast restaurant, the Abercorn, on 4th March 1972, was one of the most horrific incidents of the Northern Ireland violence. Two women were killed - 130 people injured.
IRA Bomb attack on the La Mon House Hotel. Images from the Belfast Telegraph Troubles Gallery
La Mon House Hotel Provisional IRA Bomb Victim, Sandra Morris
La Mon House Hotel Provisional IRA Bomb Victim, Carol Mills
La Mon House Hotel Provisional IRA Bomb Victim, Christine Lockhart
SDLP press conference with John Hume, Gerry Fitt, Austin Currie and Paddy Devlin. 11/09/75
Behind the barbed wire of long kesh internment camp are SDLP MPs(from left)Paddy Devlin, Austin Currie, John Hume and Ivan Cooper. They were visiting internees. 21/09/71
Billy Wright ,loyalist fanatic who was shot dead in the Maze Prison, was leader of the renegade Loyalist Volunteer Force
Ulster Vanguard Movement: Ulster Vanguard Association Rally at Stormont. 29/03/72
William Craig:Leader of the Vanguard Unionist Progressive party.
Ulster Vanguard Movement: A section of the crowd at the Vanguard Association Rally at Ormeau Park. 18/03/72
Ulster Defence Association/U.D.A: 1972. Delegates at the talks between Vanguard, Ulster Defence Association and the Loyalist Association of Workers.
Ulster Vanguard Movement:September 1972.
A man receiving attention during the shooting incident in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, which became known as Bloody Sunday, January 31, 1972.
Scenes from 'Bloody Sunday' in Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Stewart Gardner, Argylls second lieutenant of Dollar shot dead at Crossmaglen, Co Armagh. September 22nd 1972.
Government of Northern Ireland: The Executive. December 1973.
Pictured is Jimmy Stewart, who lost both legs in the Abercorn Restaurant explosion. The explosion of a bomb in the crowded central Belfast restaurant, the Abercorn, on 4th March 1972, was one of the most horrific incidents of the Northern Ireland violence. Two women were killed - 130 people injured.
A casualty of the riots in Northern Ireland in 1972
Northern Ireland murder victim Irene Andrews who was murdered by John White on the 26th June 1973.
Belfast Fire Brigade Station officer McCleery, being carried from a bomb explosion, Cromac Street, circa 1971.
Peter Robinson of the DUP pictured in the Israeli Border Area with AK47 rifles while on a fact finding mission to the Middle East. Pacemaker Press Intl. Dec. 1984
Armed soldiers behind a wall on Londonderry's Bogside.
John Hume is detained by soldiers during a civil rights protest in Londonderry in August 1971.
John Hume is detained by soldiers during a civil rights protest in Londonderry in August 1971.
Main Street Claudy in August 1972 when three Provisional IRA car bombs exploded without warning, killing 9 local people and injuring many others.
John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono raise their fists as they join a protest in front of British Overseas Airways Corp. offices in New York on Fifth Avenue, Feb 5th 1972. The demonstrators called for the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland.
Funeral of Walter Moore, who was shot while in a shop at the rear of Oldpark RUC base, Oldpark Road Belfast
Gordon Wilson. Irish Senator who's daughter Marie was a victim of the Ennieskillen Remembrance Day explosion in 1987. Pictured with his grandson Timothy.
The funeral of Marie Wilson, killed along with 10 others in no warning explosion during a Remembrance Day Service at Enniskillen Cenotaph. 8/11/1987
William Hughes who was killed in shooting incident due to a mistake by gunmen. The car they were sitting in near Coagh, Co. Tyrone looked like a police car. In the hail of gunfire directed at the car, William Hughes died. His daughter Ann and her fiance Malachy Foye were wounded.
Anglo Irish Agreement Protest Rally outside Belfast City Hall, with Unionists showing a united front. 'Ulster Says No'. 10/12/1985
The scene outside Graham's bookmakers shop, North Queen Street after a shooting where five men were injured. 29/04/1993
The scene outside Graham's bookmakers shop, North Queen Street after a shooting where five men were injured. 29/04/1993
Hugh O'Toole, owner of O'Tooles Bar (The Heights), Loughinisland, in which six men were shot dead watching the 1994 World Cup on television.
Reggie and Walter Chapman: Protestant brothers brutally murdered on a lonely roadside in S. Armagh. Kingsmill Massacre/Shooting. 5/1/1976. Their Bessbrook funeral. 8/1/1976.
Alan Black, a survivor of the Kingsmill, Armagh Massacre/Shooting, when he was shot with his 10 workmates in an ambush on their way home from work by gunmen. 5/1/1976
Unionist protests at visit to Belfast of Charles Haughey, former Taoiseach. Pictured are Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the DUP, intervening as Cedric Wilson is led away from the Europa. 11/4/1990.
Unionist protests at visit to Belfast of Charles Haughey, former Taoiseach. Pictured Rev Ian Paisley. 11/4/1990.
Mr Roddy Connolly of Bray, unveils a plaque at 420 Falls Road, Belfast, where his father, James Connolly, the 1916 leader, lived from 1907-10 while working in the north for the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Connolly was born 100 years previous to the plague being unveiled (pictured here in 1968). The plaque was donated by MP Mr Gerry Fitt (also pictured).
Lord Gerry Fitt, founding member of SDLP and Civil Rights Organiser. Pic shows Gerry Fitt, then a republican MP, is held by police as the Civil Rights demonstrators clash with them in Duke Street, Londonderry. Pic includes nationalist leader Eddie mcAteer (centre) caught up in the struggle. 7/10/1968.
Ronnie Flanagan, former RUC chief constable
Richard Alan Baird (28) killed by a remote controlled bomb hidden in a parked van. The bomb was detonated when a RUC mobile patrol drove past in Bessbrook Co. Armagh. Also killed in the blast were Paul Gray (25) , Robert Lockhast (44) and Noel Webb (30) 17/4/1979
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams pictured canvassing with Martin McGuinness, Alex Maskey and Danny Morrison shortly after he was shot and injured in a UDA gun attack in Belfast city centre.
Scene where Michael Tighe (17) was shot dead by RUC when found with rifles in a shed in Lurgan. 24/11/1982.
An army bomb disposal expert in flameproof suit and padded body armour tackles an incendiary bomb at a clothing shop in the cetre of Belfast in 1984.
Crumlin Road Jail. The scene outside as traffic on the Crumlin road is searched by the RUC following the escape. 17/11/1971
RUC Constable Michael Frederick Leslie Marshall, killed in an IRA ambush in Beleek. Forensics examine Constable Marshall's Sierra 21.10.1989
A man is taken away by troops in the Markets area, Belfast as searches followed vicious shooting battles between gunmen and army. 11/8/1971.
Sir John Herman, former RUC chief constable and his bride Sylvia
Ian Paisley confronts an RUC officer when refused access to Duke Street where the Civil Rights parade went on. 10/10/1988
Banned Derry Civil Rights march broken up by RUC batons in presence of Gerry Fitt MP, three British Labour MPs and television crew. Two nights of rioting ensued. 5/10/1968
Banned Derry Civil Rights march broken up by RUC batons in presence of Gerry Fitt MP, three British Labour MPs and television crew. Two nights of rioting ensued. 5/10/1968.
RUC constable Victor Arbuckle who was shot during street disturbances on the Shankill Road Belfast. He was the first RUC man killed in the troubles. October 1969
Mrs Arbuckle, wife of constable Victor Arbuckle who was shot during the Shankill Road riots receives the Union Jack which covered the coffin during the funeral service at Roselawn Cemetry
IMAGES FROM THE BELFAST TELEGRAPH TROUBLES GALLERY Miami Showband massacre... A Ford Escort which was one of the cars used by loyalist gunmen, is left abandoned near the murder scene. Miami Showband members Tony Geraghty, Fran O'Toole and Brian McCoy were shot dead by a UVF gang at Buskhill, Newry in 1975. The attack happened after their van was stopped at a bogus army checkpoint. While the band members were lined up outside, two UVF men attempted to plant a bomb in the van. It exploded prematurely killing the would-be bombers. The rest of the gang then opened fire on the band members, killing three of them. 31/7/1975
Miami Showband murder scene at Buskhill, Newry 1975
Miami Showband
Darkley (Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Hall). The scene where three elders were shot dead by the INLA. The terrorists broke in during a church service. 20/11/1983
The children who escaped death by inches at Darkley, from left, Graham Ritchie, Helen Wilson, Nigel Wilson, Andrew Reid (standing) and Keith Ritchie, photographed the day after the INLA attack.
Sir John Hermon, the former Chief Constable of the RUC at the funeral of the RUC's 100th victim of the Troubles, Constable Neill Quinn. Newry 22/6/1081
Betty Williams, former leader of the NI Peace People, pictured with Mairead Corrigan.
UDA members being carried in a Land Rover along the Shankill Road. 22/05/72.
A soldier recieves first aid after being injured by debris after a car bomb exploded on the Crumlin Road. 29/05/72
Riots in Belfast.
UDR colleagues fire a volley of shots over the grave of Private Steven Smart, at Movilla Cemetary. Private Smart was killed along with three others after an IRA bomb blew up their Land Rover in Downpatrick. 13/04/90
Ballgawley Bus Bomb. The scene of the explosion. 20/08/88
Warrenpoint (Narrow Water Castle) where 18 soldiers were killed 27/8/1979. A grim reconstruction of the scene at narrow water, Warrenpoint. An Army helicopter flies in past a replica of the hay lorry which hid the first bomb. 31/8/1979.
Lisburn Fun Run, 6 soldiers killed. All that ramains of their van after a IRA bomb explosion. 15/6/1988.
Bomb blast at the Seaforde Street army post on Belfast's Newtownards Road. 17/09/1971
Bomb making lessons in the maze prison.
Rose and Crown Bar. Two men were killed and 27 injured when a bomb went off in the hallway of the bar. 2nd May 1974
North Street Arcade. A bomb exploded prematurely, killing four people and injuring twenty. 13th January 1976.
Ann Street. A huge bomb planted in a car had exploded causing extensive damage. 28th May 1972.
Abercorn Restaurant. The explosion of a bomb in the crowded central Belfast restaurant, the Abercorn , on 4th March 1972, was one of the most horrific incidents of the Northern Ireland violence. Two women were killed - 130 people injured.
Abercorn Restaurant. The explosion of a bomb in the crowded central Belfast restaurant, the Abercorn , on 4th March 1972, was one of the most horrific incidents of the Northern Ireland violence. Two women were killed - 130 people injured.
Abercorn Restaurant bomb. Tom McFarlane
Abercorn Restaurant bomb. Rosaleen McNern (right) who lost both legs, an arm and an eye - her sister Jennifer (left) lost both legs.
Sir Edward Carson inspecting the U.V.F 1913
Glory days: Sir Edward Carson rallying the unionist faithful
RUC policeman, DS John Bennison killed in booby trap car bomb in the grounds of Magee College, Londonderry. The coffin is carried from his home at Tyler Avenue, Limavady. 23.3.1987
The funeral of DI Austin Wilson, an RUC man killed in a booby trap car bomb in the grounds of Magee College, Londonderry. 23.3.1987
THE IRA FUNERAL ON THE FALLS ROAD OF ROSE CURRY, KILLED IN A PREMATURE BOMB EXPLOSION AT MERRION STREET, LOWER FALLS BELFAST
A child lies by a litter bin after an IRA bomb blast in Warrington town centre 1993
Steel helmeted police at a burning barricade across Shankill Road, Belfast, littered with stones and debris after a spree of rioting. 1969
Loyalists waving a Union Jack surround Home Secretary James Callaghan on the Shankill Road, Belfast. 28/8/1969.
The body of Joseph Donegan, discovered in an entry off Battenberg Street in Belfast's Shankill Road area, lies covered by a blanket. 25/10/1982.
Harry Ward was shot dead in The Diamond Jubilee Bar, Shankill Road, Belfast October 1991. Pictured is his sister Sadie, being led away from the scene.
DESMOND BOAL IS HELD ALOFT BY JUBILANT UNIONIST SUPPORTERS AT THE BELFAST CITY HALL AS THE RESULT OF THE SHANKILL BY-ELECTION IS ANNOUNCED. 17/2/1960
Troops and UDA members on joint patrol at Clon Duff Drive in Castlereagh Road area of Belfast, 1972.
The funeral of RUC man William Russell, shot while investgating a burglary at the Avoca Shopping Centre, Andersontown, Belfast
Bobby Sands' son Robert Gerald holds his mother's hand at the funeral of his father Bobby in west Belfast flanked by Masked IRA men. Picture by Martin Wright
Army engineers take away the fallen statue of the famous Protestant minister The Rev 'Roaring Hugh Hanna' after an early morning IRA bomb blast at Carlisle Circus. 3/3/1970
Newly elected DUP MP Peter Robinson and his wife Iris. 4/5/1979
Peter Robinson about to invade the small village of Clontibret, Co Monaghan, in 1986.
Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes in Long Kesh
Martin McGuinness in Derry's Bogside at a press conference. 1971
Members of the UDA provide an escort at the funeral of 30 year old John Lunnen Brown, a UDA volunteer, of Blackmountain Park, Springmartin. 01/07/72.
Mrs Mary Meehan who was shot by the army in Cape Street, 23rd october 1971. Family photo.
Scots Guardsman, Paul Nicholls, from Caithness, killed by an IRA sniper on the Falls Road, Belfast. 1971
Scene of the IRA bomb and shooting attack at Loughall Police Station which resulted in 8 IRA and 1 Civilian being killed.
Supporters of the UDA preparing food to be used by UDA members in the Shankill Road area. 02/07/72
MOURNERS CARRYING HURLING STICKS HEAD THE FUNERAL PROCESSION OF JOHN JOSEPH KAVANAGH, FOUND SHOT DEAD IN THE RIVER BLACKSTAFF. 27.01.1971.
A UDA checkpoint barrier at Moat Road. 08/06/72
UDA on the streets of Londonderry. 30/09/72
Some of the 24 Ulsterbuses which were burnt out after an IRA attack on the depot in Armagh. 28/4/1982.
Mourners panicking at Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, after a gun and bomb attack by Michael Stone which left three people dead and four seriously injured during the funerals of three IRA membes shot dead in Gibraltar. 1988
Joan Travers and her daughter Ann at the funeral of her other daughter, Mary, shot dead by IRA gunmen in Windsor Avenue, Belfast. while walking home from Mass with her father Judge Tom Travers. 1984
Ian Paisley at the scene of the IRA motar attack on Newry Police Station. which killed 9 officers. 28/2/1985.
President of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at the funeral of Patrick Kelly . 1987
Martin Meehan (centre) with Gerry Adams at a funeral in Belfast in 1971 of a Belfast IRA commander.
UDA men line up for inspection at Bloomfield before the march. 30/09/72
Reverend Martin Smyth and Billy Hull with UDA leaders. 1972
The Shankill Road member. 1972
A man is frisked by masked members of the UDA at a barricade on the Lisburn Road end of Sandy Row. 1972
Belfast, Bloody Friday, 21 July, 1972, the IRA set off 26 explosions in Belfast, which killed 11 people and injured 130. 7 people were killed in Oxford Street bus station and 4 at a shopping centre on the Cavehill Road.
Riots in Belfast, 1969
A man talks to soldiers over the barricade, in Divis Street, Belfast. 16/8/1969
Respects are paid to the victims of Bloody Friday, Oxford Street, Belfast
Rioting in Belfast, 1962
A family flee their home during rioting in Belfast 1969
Belfast 1969
British soldiers patrol Belfast in 1969
Belfast City Hall bombed. 23/5/1994.
UDA barricades off Ainsworth Avenue. 04/07/72
September 2005 Army landrovers burn during serious rioting in a loyalist area of west Belfast on Saturday following the re-routing of an Orange Order march. Automatic gunfire and blast bombs were used against the police and army and three armoured military vehicles were destroyed by the rioters. Picture by Crispin Rodwell
Drumcree by Tony Hendron
December 1971 An ambulance man carries the body of baby Colin Nicholl from the wreckage of the Balmoral Furnishing Company on the Shankill Road in Belfast following a 'no warning' Provisional IRA bomb which killed 2 babies and 2 adults as well as injuring scores of other people on a Saturday afternoon - just before Christmas. Picture by Alan Lewis
Tarred, feathered and tied to a lamppost. Picture by Trevor Dickson
Thomas McMullan's 2001 shot of a British Army robot detonating a van bomb.
Fr Daly waving a bloody handkerchief as he and several others carry the fatally wounded Jackie Duddy, 17, past British soldiers on January 30, 1972, known as Bloody Sunday. Picture by Stanley Matchett
Loyalist murderer Michael stone storms Stormont
August 1994 A young boy and soldier on the Springfield Road in west Belfast Picture by Pacemaker
Picture by Gerry Fitzgerald
April 1977 Gerry Fitt MP showing how he defended his home with a pistol after a mob attacked it. Picture by Charles Cockcroft
Former DUP leader Ian Paisley reacts to questioning from the media outside Castle Buildings
2000 A young girl looks on as Loyalist Paramilataries carry the remains of her father and their commander through the streets of Tigers Bay in north Belfast after he was was killed by Republicans. Picture by Cathal McNaughton
April 1984 Man is searched by the British Army on Belfast's Falls Road as people go about their businness, hardly seeming to register that this was happening. Picture by Brendan Murphy
July 2001 An RUC man lies injured during a riot in Ardoyne before an Orange parade returns passed a Nationalist area on the 12th July 2001. Picture by Ann McManus
The Funeral of the Quinn Children Ballymoney. Picture by Alan McMullan
August 1998 A river of blood runs across the road as security forces and emergency services recover bodies from the scene of the Omagh Bomb. The 'Real IRA' carried out the no-warning attack on shoppers in the crowded County Tyrone market town killing 30 people (including unborn 8 month term twins). Picture by Photopress
An impromptu street demonstration in the Ravenhill area of east Belfast celebrates the collapse of the Power Sharing Executive following a loyalist wave of strikes and blockades acroos Northern Ireland. Picture by Justin Kernoghan
December 2002 Six year old twins Sean and Dean Fegan peer through the hole where their letterbox had been following an explosion which rocked their home early this morning in an attack claimed this afternoon by the loyalist Red Hand Defenders who had put a pipe bomb through their letterbox. The blast happened in a Catholic area of Oldpark Road in north Belfast. Picture by Justin Kernoghan
August 1984 John 'Sean' Downes clutches his chest as he is fatally wounded by a plastic bullet. The incident occured after police moved in to try to arrest Noraid fund raiser Martin Galvin who was the subject of a UK exclusion order and who had just been paraded by Sinn Fein on a platform outside Connolly House in Andersonstown. Picture By Alan Lewis
June 1997 Louis Johnston (7), in tears as he follows his dad's coffin from the family church in Lisburn, County Antrim. Constable David Johnston was one of two RUC community officers shot dead by the Provisional IRA in Lurgan, County Armagh just days before the IRA ceasefire was announced. Picture by Alan Lewis
Hundreds of thousands of Unionists crowded Belfast City Centre in a huge "Ulster Says No" rally against power sharing after a call by the Rev Ian Paisley and other Unionist leaders of the time. Picture by Photopress
A bomb explodes in a stationary shop in Royal Avenue, Belfast Picture by Fred Hoare
A man lies injured on the ground after being caught in a bomb explosion in Donegall Street, Belfast. Picture by Fred Hoare
Fred Hoare captures a confrontation between police and republicans in Belfast
A youth is arrested at gunpoint by a Paratrooper in Derry on Bloody Sunday Picture by Fred Hoare
The Last Gunman by Brendan Murphy, July 1997. An IRA man on the Lower Ormeau area fires at a police roadblock on the bridge across the River Lagan. Within weeks, the IRA declared its second ceasefire.
July 2002 Children cover their ears and scream as UFF gunmen fire a volleys of shots on the Lower Shankill Road in Belfast as a giant bonfire lights up the area during the traditional celebrations of the eve of the "Twelfth". Picture by Alan Lewis
Parents escort their children to Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School during a Loyalist protest in 2001. Picture by Justin Kernoghan
A mother cries on her son's shoulder as he relays the tale of his cruel beating by loyalist paramilitaries in Antrim. Picture by John Taggart
Belfast's Milltown Cemetery comes under attack by UDA man Michael Stone, during the funerals of three Provisional IRA members. Picture by Bobby Ingram
Fire crews tackling a blaze in Queen Street, Belfast in 1977. The fire was caused by a bomb. Photograph by Bobby Ingram.
A man's body is recovered after the Enniskillen Bomb. Picture by Raymond Humphreys
August 2005
Lord Fitt, (then Gerry), standing forelornly in the burnt out remains of his home on the Antrim Road in Belfast. He had just flown in from London to see the damage caused by a rampaging republican mob from the nearby New Lodge Road area. He was elevated to the House of Lords shortly after this incident. He likened the mob to the 'Waffen SS' youth movement in Nazi Germany.
Photograph: Justin Kernoghan
A young boy plays against a wall in North Belfast on the eve of the 1994 IRA ceasefire. Picture by Crispin Rodwell

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's secret attempts to end the IRA hunger strikes are revealed in official documents made public for the first time today.

In public, she took an unbending stand, insisting she would not bow to the demands of republican prisoners -- held in the Northern Ireland's Maze Prison -- for so-called "special status".

However, files released by the National Archives in Kew, west London, under the 30-year rule, show how her government sent messages to the IRA leadership through a secret intermediary promising concessions if the hunger strikes were called off.

The hunger strikes of 1981 triggered one of the worst crises of the Troubles, galvanising support for the republicans and turning Mrs Thatcher into a hate figure for much of Northern Ireland's nationalist community.

By the beginning of July, the pressure on the prime minister was intense.

Four hunger strikers had died, and before his death Bobby Sands (27) had been elected as an MP in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election.

Mrs Thatcher authorised a message to be sent setting out the concessions her government would make if the strikes ended.

The go-between who relayed the message to the leadership of the Provisional IRA is identified only by the codename 'Soon'.

He has, however, been named previously as Brendan Duddy, a Derry businessman who for more than 20 years acted as a secret intermediary between the government and the IRA through his contacts with MI6 officer Michael Oatley.

The files include a log of a series of frantic telephone calls between Soon and his MI6 contact in the days leading up to the government's offer. In one call Soon explained the IRA's demands.

"Immediately following the ending of the hunger strike, concessions would be required on clothes, parcels and visits. This, he said, would provide the Provisionals "with a face-saving way out", the log noted.

Soon used his contacts to arrange for the leading republican Danny Morrison to visit the prisoners in the Maze to explain what was happening -- without referring to the secret back channel.

The negotiations -- which also involved Martin McGuinness -- were clearly fraught. At one point the IRA men told Soon the British were being "insincere". Soon retorted that "unless that belief was totally dispelled, he was going on holiday".

The log noted: "The strength of his reply had, he said, won the day."

In the final call, timed at 1am on July 6, Soon spelt out the precise choreography that would be necessary to bring the strike to an end. "When HMG produces such a draft proposal it is essential that a copy be in the Provisionals' hands before it is made public," Soon told MI6.

"If it were published without prior sight and agreement they would have to disapprove it."

He added the situation would be "irreparably damaged" if another hunger striker died and urged the government to "act with the utmost haste".

In London, ministers and officials prepared their response, setting out the concessions the government was to offer.

They included allowing the prisoners to wear their own clothes, rather than prison uniform, and to receive normal visits, parcels and letters as well as "further developments" on prison work and remission.

Mrs Thatcher clearly took a close interest in the process. The draft message in the files includes a series of detailed amendments, apparently in her handwriting.

The message ended: "If the reply we receive is unsatisfactory and there is subsequently any public reference to this exchange we shall deny that it took place. Silence will be taken as an unsatisfactory reply."

Despite the careful build-up and the apparent concession to the key IRA demands, the approach was rebuffed. The following day, a fifth hunger striker, Joe McDonnell, died.

Nevertheless, the British government then made a second attempt to break the deadlock. Mr Atkins' office told No 10 they had used Soon to repeat "what was in essence the message sent on July 7".

The hunger strikes carried on for another three months, during which five more prisoners died.

Ministers even discussed British withdrawal from the Northern Ireland -- but admitted "civil war and massive bloodshed" were likely to be the immediate outcome.

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