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Northern Ireland: beyond the hunger strike

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The prisoners' hunger strike in northern Ireland starkly draws attention to the need for solutions to strife going beyond the immediate and untenable demands of the strikers. Whatever the outcome of this episode, the efforts to negotiate a just form of political participation for both the Protestant majority and Roman Catholic minority will have to continue. The British government's worthy moves to that end may have borne little fruit this year. But there is hope in the fact that Britain's Prime Minister Thatcher has been meeting with the Irish Republic's Prime Minister Haughey, who has been denouncing violence as firmly as he has supported full negotiations. And Mr. Haughey proceeds now with the benefit of increased popular backing in his post, as evidenced by his party's success in a recent by-election.

An essential element in seeking solutions will be progress toward governmental consistency in dealing with the situation in northern Ireland as it is. In respect to criminal justice, which is the current headline issue, there ought to be consideration of consistency not only in providing humane conditions for prisoners but in ensuring legal procedures for the accused.

Some inconsistencies that have brought international attention are involved in the matter of the hunger strikers. They demand that convicted terrorists be given status and privileges different from other prisoners on the basis that the terrorists are "political prisoners." The inconsistency such favorable status to prisoners convicted of politically motivated crimes committed before March 1976; then it abolished this status for those convicted of later offenses. Thus many current prisoners are victims of a changed standard, however misguided the granting of special status was in the first place.

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