Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

FitzGerald plea over hunger striker

Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney, who spent 53 days on IRA hunger strike.

Ex-taoiseach Garret FitzGerald personally pleaded with US president Ronald Reagan to pile pressure on Margaret Thatcher for an urgent compromise over the Maze hunger strikes, it has been revealed.

In a desperate sign of the gravity of the crisis, 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 US leader, he assured Mr Reagan that he could play a decisive role in ending the IRA prisoner fast.

While it was early in the leaderships of both Mr Reagan and British prime minister Mrs Thatcher, the pair would go on to be considered political soulmates during the West's cold war tensions with the Soviets.

A letter, dated July 1981, was drafted after six Long Kesh prisoners had already died and the Irish 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 assasination 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 twenty four 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.

The then Taoiseach evoked the help of past US presidents in speaking out against "misguided Americans" who backed IRA violence. Their actions were decisive in saving many lives, he wrote.

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