Another Irish nationalist hunger striker died in British-ruled Northern Ireland today after hopes for a settlement of the protest faded again.
Thomas McIlwee, 23, a member of the outlawed Provisional Irish Republican Army serving a 20-year sentence for manslaughter, died at 11:27 a.m. in the Maze Prison outside Belfast after refusing food and medical attention for 62 days. He was the ninth hunger striker to die since May in the protest by convicted terrorists demanding that prison rules be changed sot they would be accorded political rather than criminal status.
McIlwee's death was followed by scattered attacks on police and Army partrols in Catholic neighborhoods of West Belfast by youths who hijacked, overturned and burned some cars and thre molotov cocktails.
McIlwee had been convicted of participating in a 1976 Provisional IRA bombing attack on shops and other businesses in the Ulster town of Ballymena. A woman shopkeeper was killed and the town center devastated when 17 bombs exploded.
New efforts to end the hunger strike before MdIlwee died failed late this week when the British government rejected a new statemen of the prisoners' demands and a request from the government of Ireland that prison rules be changed for nonprotesting prisoners in Ulster to demonstrate to the hunger strikers what they could expect if they ended their fast.
Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald's government pressed Britain to indicate what prison rules might be changed if the protest ended. But after consultations with Prime Minister Maragaret Thatcher, British diplomats told Dublin this could not be done.
British sources said the only change that could be made easily and quickly if the hunger strike ended would be to allow the prisoners to wear their own clothes.
A statement last night by Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, Humphrey Atkins, made the government's position sound even less flexible than that. Atkins said, "The government sees no justification for giving prisoners in Northern Ireland a substantially different regimen" from those imprisoned elsewhere in Britain. He reiterated earlier statements taht the government would be "flexible and humane" in running prisons in Northern Ireland.
Atkins was responding to a statement released Thrusday on behalf of the protesting prisoners. Insisting that what they were demanding was "compatible" with British principles, the prisoners suggested alternatives to "unrewarding, demeaning" prison work. They said they wanted to limit their work to maintenance of their cellblocks, including cooking now donw by prison employes, and educational and training programs, including instruction of and by prisoners in the Irish language and musical skills.
Atkins said changes suggested by the prisoners amounted to a reiteration of their original demands, which he said would in effect give them control over the conditions of their confinement. Asked about the prisoners' request that the government meet them "halfway," British officials repeated that they would not negotiate changes in prison rules under "duress" of the hunger strike.
"It is of the greatest importance that the protesters, their families, and others who either influence their thinking or claim to speak for them should understand clearly that the protesters' demands as elaborated in their latest statement cannot be met unless the government agrees to the abandonment by prison authorities of their proper responsibility for control within the prison," Atkins said. "This they will not do . . . ."
British officials had been poionting in recent days to signs that some of the hunger strikers' relatives are pressing for an end to the protest. The mother of hunger striker Patrick Quinn authorized medical treatment and nourishment after he lost consciousness July 31. He is now conscious and still accepting nourishment in a hospital outside the prison.
Well-informed sources said that the families of two of the five other hunger strikers now alive also want to have the fast stopped, but that relatives of the others, like McIlwee's mother, support the protest.