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British government blocked effort by Pope John Paul II to end IRA hunger strike

December 30, 2011

Newly released documents from the British government archives show that Pope John Paul II was nearly successful in an imprisoned Irish militant to suspend his hunger strike in 1981. But the British government rejected a proposal for negotiations.

Working through an intermediary, Msgr. John Magee—who at the time was a personal secretary to the Pontiff, and later became Bishop of Cloyne—the late Pope persuaded Bobby Sands to end his hunger strike in exchange for talks with a British government official, with priests and other prisoners as witnesses. The government turned down the offer, refusing to negotiate with Sands.

Sands, a leader of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), had begun the hunger strike in an effort to force the British government to recognize him as a political prisoner. British authorities insisted that IRA militants had been jailed strictly for criminal activity. Sands died shortly after the Pope’s attempt to resolve the impasse.


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