Another Irish nationalist number striker, 25-year-old Kevin Lynch, died in British-ruled Northern Ireland this morning, shortly after relatives of one of his fasting comrades asked authorities for medical treatment in an attempt to save the comrade's life.
Lynch, a member of the splinter Irish National Liberation Army faction who was serving 10 years for participating in attacks on Ulster security forces, died at 1 a.m. in the Maze Prison outside Belfast after refusing food for 71 days. He was the seventh terrorist to take his own life in the protest for changes in prison rules that would distinguish nationalists from other inmamtes.
One of the seven remaining current hunger strikers, Kieran Doherty, also 25 and an IRA member who was elected to the Irish Parliament last month, is reported to be near death still conscious after 72 days without food.
But Patrick Quinn, 29, serving a 14-year sentence for an attempted attack on British soldiers in Ulster, was rushed to a hospital outside the prison yesterday after his family signed a statement permitting authorities "to take whatever steps were necessary to save his life," according to a government spokesman.
Quinn had earlier been given the last rites after 47 days of starvation when his condition deteriorated much more rapidly than expected. His mother and sister acted, according to the spokesman, when it became clear that Quinn was "not capable of making a rational decision."
The family's decision was the first public break in ranks by protesting prisoners' relatives, a number of whom recently have pressed militant Irish nationalist leaders to order an end to the fast. Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald of Ireland added to this pressure yesterday when he publicly accused the IRA of thwarting repeated efforts during the last two weeks to settle the strike.
[Doherty's mother, Margaret Doherty, hinted strongly at the families' pressure, telling reporters: "Our sons don't want to die. It's hard to believe they're going to die one after another," The Associated Press reported from Belfast].
The most promising recent effort to end the Maze hunger strike had been a mediation attempt by the International Red Cross and an agrement by British officials, after considerable prodding from the Irish government, to explain in person to the hunger strikers changes that would be made in the Ulster prison regime if they end their fast.
But the hunger strikers and other protesting Irish nationalist prisoners dismissed the Red Cross delegation last week as "pawns of the British." They then refused to listen to two British officials without the presence of their paramilitary leader in prison, Provisional IRA member Brendan McFarlane. British officials said they could not allow this because it would amount to giving up some of their control of the prison to paramilitary leaders.
While criticizing the British government for delaying unnecessarily before finally moving to meet with the hunger strikers, FitzGerald laid greater blame for the first time on what he called the "intransigence" of the Provisional IRA just as the British appeared to be giving ground under pressure from Dublin.
"The hardening of the IRA line thwarted the efforts of those who had pressed for a humanitarian solution and who included, at different times, the European Commission of Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace and several eminent churchmen," FitzGerald charged in a statement.
"In thwarting these efforts, the leadership of the Provisional IRA, far from saving lives, was once again facing all those concerned with a stark choice between total concession to their demands and the deaths of further hunger strikers."
Having helped pressure the British government into being more flexible in its response to the crisis, FitzGerald appeared to be trying to increase the pressure on the Provisional IRA leadership by a growing number of hunger strikers' relatives to accept changes in prison rules offered by the British.
British officials have said that once the hunber strike is over they will allow prisoners in Ulster to wear their own clothes, will administer rules on prison work and leisure time and association among prisoners more flexibly and will restore to fasting prisoners the more liberal mail, visitor and remission of sentence privileges available to other inmates.
The hunger strikers and the militant leadership of the rest of hundreds of convicted Irish nationalist terrorists have insisted, however, on having their five demands on these conditions met to the letter. Disagreements remain, for example, on the prisoners' demand that they be exempted from all industrial work. They also want changes guaranteed through direct negotiations between British officials and paramilitary leaders like McFarlane.
Yesterday, a statement on behalf of the prisoners dismissed a renewed appeal by the Roman Catholic bishop of Londonderry, Edward Daly, to end the hunger strike.
"Our position has not and will not alter up to such a time as the British government decides to honorably settle the issue," the prisoners' statement said. It urged Catholic Church leaders and FitzGerald's government in Dublin "to spend their time pressurizing the British -- not us."