The mother of Provisional Irish Republican Army hunger-striker Bobby Sands said today that he refuses any attempt to save his life, start of British acceptance of his demands for political-prisioner status.
After visiting her son today, Rosaleen Sands, 56, said, "He's very, very weak. He is prepared for the end." Sands has fasted in his Maze Prison cell for 61 days and in reported to be emaciated and weakening rapidly. A papal envoy pleaded with him yesterday to end the strike.
Asked if she would authorize intravenous feeding if her son fell into a coma, which would be her decision according to British officials, she said she would obey his instruction not to permit. "He asked me not to, and I promised not to," she said in a quiet voice. "It's a sad thing to say. I love my son just like any other mother."
British officials and both Catholic and Protestant politicians made appeals to the people of Northern Ireland to ignore extremist provacations and media speculation of violence.
Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Humphrey Atkins accused the Provisional IRA of trying to create a "siege mentality" here by leading Catholics to believe they will be attacked by 'protestants and the security forces if Sands' death leads to street protests. Moderate Catholic and Protestant politicians urged their communities to disregard forecasts of violence and paramilitary preparations by militant Catholic Irish nationalists and Protestant Ulster unionists.
Their concern grew at the special papal envoy returned to Rome after delivering the appeal from Pope John Paul II to Sands and three other nationalist terrorist hunger strikers in the prison outside Belfast. The Rev. John Magee said he was leaving Ulster, after also visiting families of two Protestant members of the security forces recently murdered by nationalist terrorists, "in fervent hope that somehow, sometime this sppeal will be instrumental in helping bring about a peaceful and lasting solution to this dangerous and tragic situation."
The Irish-born priest said he had appealed to the IRA men "to end their hunger strike in order to save and respect their own lives and the lives" of those who might be affected should they die.
Sands, 27, is serving a 14-year sentence for weapons possession. The strikers seek special status to distinguish them from common criminals.
In Parliament in London, Prime Minister Maraget Thatcher reiterated the British government's positon that there can be no granting of political status to convicted criminals."
With hope for averting Sands' death evaporating, attention focused here on the possible aftermath. Appealing to Ulster residents to remain calm and ignore "lies and rumors," Northern Ireland Secretary Atkins charged that "the Provisional IRA have deliberately planned and created a climate of tension and fear in a number of areas throught Northern Ireland."
The aim of Provisional IRA leaders, Atkins said, is to "stir up a sectarian conflict and enable them to exercise control of Catholic and present themselves as alone capable of protecting threatened people." In one Belfast neighborhood, he charged, terrorists were planning to evacuate Catholic families, burn down their houses and, "by throwing the blame to others, further fuel sectarian conflict."
Provisional IRA spokesmen denied the charges and accused Atkins of trying to divert attention from the hunger strike. However, leaflets have been circulated in Catholic neighborhoods warning residents to stockpile food and other essentials.
Dozens of militant Irish nationalists have been arrested in recent days here under Britain's laws to prevent terrorism, which allow them to be detained and questioned without charge for a week. Police spokesmen said many are suspected of involvement in recent attacks on security forces. But reliable political sources said at least 60 people, mostly militant Catholic nationalists and hunger-strike support leaders, were being detained as "precaution" against their involvement inviolence.
The Catholic Social Democratic and Labor Party, which opposes the Provisional IRA, said police were acting improperly by arresting only Catholic nationalists in "a form of preemptive strike" while doing nothing about "the most obvious preparations and public threats emanating from [Protestant] loyalist terrorist organizations."
Outlawed Protestant paramilitary groups have been reassembling and 1,000 unarmed Protestant Ulster Defense Association members massed in a show of defensive strength near the border with Catholic neighborhoods in West Belfast this week. "War is no doubt going to be unleashed on us," said militant Protestant Unionist politician Ian Paisley.
On a more moderate unionist level, Harold McClusker, who like Paisley is a member of Parliament, appealed to Protestants to ignore such "prophecies of doom." He said in an interview that he doubted there would be large-scale sectarian battles like those in 1969, which involved masses of Catholics and Protestants here and began the crisis that continues today.
Like many other politicians and officials here, McClusker said he feared an outburst of rioting he followed by selective terrorist killings, but "there will be no explosion -- only a victory for the IRA with a lot of media attention."
Catholic nationalist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey also said she did not expect the "doomsday explosion" speculated about by the burgeoning international press corps here. But she said there would be "a strengthening of Catholic solidarity against the British."
John Hume, leader of the moderate Catholic Social Democratic and Labor Party, said in Londonderry, "I hope all the alarm some people are spreading will go unheeded."