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US senator Bernie Sanders slammed Thatcher over IRA hunger strikes

By Shane Hickey

Published 19/02/2016

Hunger striker Bobby Sands' coffin, flanked by an IRA colour party, leaving his mother's home in Twinbrook.
Hunger striker Bobby Sands' coffin, flanked by an IRA colour party, leaving his mother's home in Twinbrook.
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
Tomboy Loudon, Gerry Roche, Denis Donaldson and Bobby Sands pictured in the Long Kesh prison, Northern Ireland.
Hunger strike protesters outside the Dail in Dublin 1981
Hunger strike marchers blocked by gardai as they approach the British Embassy in Dublin
PACEMAKER BELFAST Rioting in west Belfast on the day hunger striker Bobby Sands died in 1981
A man walks past the Bobby Sands mural, in the Falls road area of Belfast
Masked gunmen fire a volley of shots beside hunger striker Bobby Sands coffin, at Milltown Cemetery.
Bobby Sands (seated fourth from left). The Star of the Sea football team.
Hunger striker Bobby Sands funeral procession making its way down Stewartstown Road on Route to Milltown cemetery
Several unionist politicians have called for Maze cells which housed hunger strikers to be flattened
Bobby Sands funeral
1st March 2011. Launch of the Hunger Strike 30th Anniversary Exhibition in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast. Ten republican prisoners died during the 1981 protest inside the Maze Prison. A letter written by Bobby Sands on cigarette paper which was smuggled out of the prison pictured at the exhibition.
Michael Fassbender stars in Hunger, the film about the last six weeks in the life of Bobby Sands
Kieran Doherty died in the Maze prison in 1981 after being on a hunger strike
Former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald pleaded with Ronald Reagan to pile pressure on Margaret Thatcher over the hunger strikes

US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders appealed to Margaret Thatcher to end the "humiliation and abuse" of IRA prisoners in the hunger strikes, papers show.

The US senator, widely considered the frontrunner to secure the Democratic Party's nomination, wrote: "We are deeply disturbed by your government's unwillingness to stop the abuse, humiliation and degrading treatment of Irish prisoners now on hunger strikes in Northern Ireland.

"We ask you to end your intransigent policy towards the prisoners before the reputation of the English people for fair play and simple decency is damaged."

The correspondence was found in the senator's archive, held by the University of Vermont.

In a separate development it emerged that the Irish Government's failure to extradite to the UK a priest wanted for trial on terrorist offences enraged the former prime minister.

Released State papers detail the anger in Cabinet when the then Irish attorney general failed to act on a request for Fr Patrick Ryan to be sent to Britain, where he was wanted for alleged IRA activities.

Mrs Thatcher said the controversial affair "sapped confidence" that the Irish authorities would tackle paramilitaries.

Ryan was arrested by Belgian police who found large quantities of cash and bomb-making equipment in his home, two months after the IRA killed three off-duty servicemen in the Netherlands.

Although British authorities tried to extradite him to the UK, he was instead sent back to Ireland in November 1988.

A memo from a Cabinet meeting under a week after Ryan was sent to Ireland details how documents had been sent to the then Irish attorney general John Murray illustrating why Ryan was wanted.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher
A man walks past the Bobby Sands mural, in the Falls road area of Belfast
Former PM Margaret Thatcher

But Patrick Mayhew, the then British attorney general was unable to get in contact with his opposite number for several days.

Mayhew said Murray had been in possession of the documents for five-and-a-half days but had done nothing to facilitate the move.

"It had been pointed out to them that he (Ryan) was in possession of a great deal of vital information for combating terrorism in the Irish Republic as well as the United Kingdom," the memo of the Cabinet meeting read.

"The prime minister, summing up the discussion, said that the behaviour of the Irish authorities in the Ryan case sapped confidence in their willingness to combat terrorism in the spirit of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and made that Agreement appear to many as a hollow sham."

The extradition request was eventually rejected after two weeks because Mr Murray said the priest would not receive a fair trial. Mrs Thatcher said in Parliament the claim was a "great insult to the people of this country".

At the time, Ryan said in an interview that he had raised money for nationalist causes but never bought explosives for the IRA.

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