Another Irish nationalist hunger striker, Kieran Doherty, who was elected to the Irish parliament in June, went into a coma in the Maze prison in British-ruled Northern Ireland today just hours after the early morning death of fellow protesting prisoner Kevin Lynch.
The death of Lynch, 25, after 71 days of starvation was marked by ritual blowing of whistles, banging of garbage can lids and women praying in the streets in the Roman Catholic, Irish nationalist ghettos of western Belfast. During several hours of rioting that followed, mostly youthful gangs attacked police and Army patrols with stones, molotov cocktails and homemade hand grenades, according to the police, who said they responded with plastic bullets to disperse the rioters.
Later today, police used tear gas for the first time in Ulster since 1972 during an extensive house-to-house search for terrorists and weapons in western Belfast, where snipers have recently find on security forces. A large area was sealed off by armed police and troops, doors were smashed and tear gas "was used at one location," a police spokesman said, "to avoid a possible violent exchange with armed persons." Police said a high-powered rifle was found and no arrests were made, but nationalist sources said at least three people were being held.
Doherty, 25, has refused food for 72 days, the longest anyone has survived on the hunger strike. Seven convicted terrorists have starved to death since May in their protest for changes in prison rules so they would be treated like political prisoners rather than criminals. member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, Doherty has been serving a 22-year sentence for possession of explosives and firearms follwoing a terrorist attack in Ulster.
While already on his hunger strike in June, Doherty was elected in absentia to a seat in the parliament of the neighboring Republic of Ireland from a strongly nationalist constituency on the border with Ulster. His death would require an election to fill the vacant seat that could threaten the slim parliamentary majority of the month-old Dublin government of Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald.
The hunger strike so far is continuing despite the decision of the mother of Patrick Quinn to authorize medical treatment to try to save his life when he lost consciousness after refusing to eat for 47 days. Quinn, 29, was taken to the military wing of Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast, where physicians reportedly are treating him with drugs and vitamin injections. It is not known whether he will agree to further treatment should he revive.
A spokesman for the Provisional Sinn Fein, the political wing of the outlawed, paramilitary Provisional IRA, said in Belfast today that "we make no criticism of the family for calling doctors. There is no recrimination. We are not into judging the family for their actions."
FitzGerald yesterday accused Provisional IRA leaders of thwarting several recent efforts to end the hunger strike. Provisional Sinn Fein contends the decisions on negotiations are up to the hunger strikers and other Irish nationalist prisoners in the Maze in Belfast. The campaign is under the claimed paramilitary leadership is under the claimed paramilitary leadership of Brendan McFarlane, who is serving a minimum 25-year sentence for murder in a 1975 bomb and gun terrorist attack on a Protestant British loyalist pub in Belfast that killed five people and injured 68.
Provisional Sinn Fein was waiting to hear from the prisoners whether others would replace Lynch and possibly Quinn on the hunger strike, the spokesman said. Besides Doherty, five other prisoners are refusing food.
The decision by Quinn's mother and sister to sign a statement authorizing hospital treatment to try to save his life was the first public evidence of a rift among the relatives of the remaining hunger strikers. Some of them have been pressing Provisional IRA leaders to order an end to the protest and accept changes in prison rules indicated by the British government, according to informed sources, because they fear the hunger strike is becoming futile.
But other relatives are continuing to ask Irish government officials and church leaders to put pressure on the British to give more ground. Some of them met yesterday with the Irish foreign minister in Dublin and with Cardinal Thomas O'Fiaich, the Catholic primate of Ireland.
Meanwhile, Lynch's body was moved in the early morning darkness today to Londonderry County, where a paramilitary funeral will be held in his home town of Dungiven. He had joined the Irish National Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Irish Republican Army, only months before being arrested in 1976 and later convicted of participating in a punishment shooting and possessing firearms for a planned attack on a British Army post.
As a youth, Lynch had captained Londonderry County's under-16 hurling team, which won the all-Ireland championship. He also worked as a bricklayer in England for three years before returning to Ulster and becoming an active Irish nationalist terrorist. While on hunger strike, Lynch won more than 3,000 votes in the Waterford County constituency in Ireland's June national election.