Pope John Paul II put pressure on IRA members to end their initial hunger strike in 1980 at the H Blocks prison in Northern Ireland new documents have revealed.
The pope urged local clergy to put strong pressure on the IRA hunger strikers to accept food because their fast to the death violated Christian principles.
The information is contained in new documents released by the British National Archives and reported by The Irish Times.
The text of the pope’s message was given to the British government, likely encouraging them to stand fast against the prisoner’s demands. to be treated as political prisoners.
Ten prisoners eventually died on a later hunger strike led by Bobby Sands.
The papal messages related to the first hunger strike which was called off at the last moment with several men seriously ill.
British officials believed the message “had obviously been somewhat unwelcome” to the Irish bishops, “to judge from the lack of any announcement from Archbishop O’Fiaich (then Archbishop of Armagh and dealing directly with the issues) or any others, or the release of the text”.
Archbishop Tomas O Fiaich was a staunch defender of the hunger strikers and was likely upset with the Vatican instructions.
But the British believed the pope’s message helped then writing that the message was “clear enough: the Irish hierarchy should not address themselves merely to the British authorities (as they have up to now) but also to the prisoners themselves (which they have hitherto failed to do)”.
The pope said: “The Bishops are urged not only to insist with the British Authorities but also to do everything possible in order to persuade prisoners to adopt a more human attitude, and I repeat, one more in keeping with Christian principles.”
Former Sinn Féin director of publicity Danny Morrison, a key figure back then in the hunger strikes told the Irish Times the report was to be expected.
“This comes as no surprise: Bishop Cahal Daly, a well-known anti-republican prelate, was chief adviser to the Vatican on the North, and his fingerprints are all over this perverse advice.”