THE DEATHS of Kevin Lynch and Kieran Doherty, like the deaths of six previous Irish Nationalist hunger strikers, have touched off another round of rioting in Northern Ireland's cities. Once again, cars are being overturned, barricades erected, stones, acid bombs and molotov cocktails hurled, and bullets fired.

Mr. Lynch and Mr. Doherty were volunteers in this sinister gesture of protest. Unlike these two hunger strikers, however, the Catholics and Protestants, soldiers and children who have been killed in Northern Ireland's continuous warfare are not volunteers.

The deaths of Mr. Lynch and Mr. Doherty are a special misfortune: the demands of the imprisoned IRA mean are minor issues that have eclipsed promising efforts to find solutions to Northern Ireland's critical political problems. The questions raised by the prisoner's hunger strikes--the rights of Nationalist prisoners to political status, including the right to wear civilian clothes to congregate to be exempt from work duties and the like--are not so critical as either the IRA or London would have the world believe. The IRA is a terrorist organization, which, in its battle to unite Ulster with the Irish Republic, has killed Catholic and Protestant, soldier and civilian alike. The IRA deserves no sympathy. In the negotiations held by the Roman Catholic Churches' Irish Commission for Justice and Peace last month, both sides made large concessions in their demands and seemed to be making real progress toward accommodation. Once again, the IRA's tactics have succeeded in blocking an agreement. The stiff, rather unimaginative response by the British authorities has not bee helpful either.

Hunger strikes and the violence they have spawned are not a valid reason to delay serious negotiations toward a solution to the tragedy in Northern Ireland. Such a solution cannot, as Protestant leaders wish, continue the present system of discrimination against the Ulster Catholics. Nor can it reflect the IRA's wish of uniting the North with the Republic of Ireland against the wishes of the Protestants, who are the majority of Northern Ireland's people.