Tuesday 10 December 2019

Bernie Sanders slammed Margaret Thatcher over IRA hunger strikes

Shane Hickey

US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders appealed to Margaret Thatcher to end the "humiliation and abuse" of IRA prisoners in the hunger strikes, papers show.

The US senator, widely considered the frontrunner to secure the Democratic Party's nomination, wrote: "We are deeply disturbed by your government's unwillingness to stop the abuse, humiliation and degrading treatment of Irish prisoners now on hunger strikes in Northern Ireland.

"We ask you to end your intransigent policy towards the prisoners before the reputation of the English people for fair play and simple decency is damaged."

The correspondence was found in the senator's archive, held by the University of Vermont.

In a separate development it emerged that the Irish Government's failure to extradite to the UK a priest wanted for trial on terrorist offences enraged the former prime minister.

Released State papers detail the anger in Cabinet when the then Irish attorney general failed to act on a request for Fr Patrick Ryan to be sent to Britain, where he was wanted for alleged IRA activities.

Mrs Thatcher said the controversial affair "sapped confidence" that the Irish authorities would tackle paramilitaries.

Ryan was arrested by Belgian police who found large quantities of cash and bomb-making equipment in his home, two months after the IRA killed three off-duty servicemen in the Netherlands.

Although British authorities tried to extradite him to the UK, he was instead sent back to Ireland in November 1988.

A memo from a Cabinet meeting under a week after Ryan was sent to Ireland details how documents had been sent to the then Irish attorney general John Murray illustrating why Ryan was wanted.

But Patrick Mayhew, the then British attorney general was unable to get in contact with his opposite number for several days.

Mayhew said Murray had been in possession of the documents for five-and-a-half days but had done nothing to facilitate the move.

"It had been pointed out to them that he (Ryan) was in possession of a great deal of vital information for combating terrorism in the Irish Republic as well as the United Kingdom," the memo of the Cabinet meeting read.

"The prime minister, summing up the discussion, said that the behaviour of the Irish authorities in the Ryan case sapped confidence in their willingness to combat terrorism in the spirit of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and made that Agreement appear to many as a hollow sham."

The extradition request was eventually rejected after two weeks because Mr Murray said the priest would not receive a fair trial. Mrs Thatcher said in Parliament the claim was a "great insult to the people of this country".

At the time, Ryan said in an interview that he had raised money for nationalist causes but never bought explosives for the IRA.

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