Vatican archbishop's interest in Troubles sparked suspicion
Published 31/12/2011 | 05:00
A SENIOR Vatican official took such an interest in the Troubles that Irish officials believed he was influenced by Conservative MPs in London. Meanwhile, the British thought he was in close contact with supporters of the Provisional IRA.
Documents released by the National Archives show that Archbishop Silvestrini, Secretary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church (the equivalent of a foreign affairs minister) had approached Frank Coffey, Ireland's ambassador to the Vatican in May 1981.
He suggested that "repartition" of the North might help bring an end to the violence there.
Repartition would have seen the six counties further divided, allowing the nationalist population to live in the Republic while Unionists would live in a tiny three-county enclave.
Mr Coffey was at a loss to explain the Vatican's interest in repartition and put it down to a belief by British politicians that such an arrangement "might at least give Britain a respite from the Irish problem for a number of years".
A few months before that, Archbishop Silvestrini had questioned British minister Mark Heath about the decision of IRA prisoners at the Maze Prison in Belfast to go on hunger strike in support of a number of demands, including the right to wear their own clothes.
It was reported that Mr Heath believed "that the Vatican had received a request for intervention, or a complaint at British intransigence, from some fairly influential person or group favourable to the Provisionals".