Following the deaths of two more hunger strikers in Northern Ireland, there is now an intense effort under way to persuade the remaining men taking part in the fast to give up their protest.
Pressure is coming from the Roman Catholic church, the Irish Republic's government, and some of the families of the hungerstrikers as well as British officials.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Londonberry, Edward Daly, has appealed to the relatives to follow the example of the Quinn family who instructed medical staff to save the life of Paddy Quinn. He has been taken to a Belfast hospital where he is being fed intravenously. When he entered a coma after 47 days on hunger strike, Quinn's family decided he was incabable of making a rational decision.
Dr. Daly, who has played a leading role in trying to resolve the hunger strike, appealed in a statement to the hungerstrikers to end their protest: "Your families want you to live. I want you to live. Nothing further can be gained by further deaths on hunger strike. Give an opportunity for discussions to take place in a calmer and less tense atmosphere."
In the background is the fear openly expressed in Dublin that the IRA campaign now threatens to destabilize society south of the border with Northern Ireland.
The Irish police have already fought a pitched battle with pro-hunger strike marches outside the British Embassy in Dublin and it is becoming commonplace to see riot-helmeted police officers patrolling the city's streets.
Security sources say the danger is that the upsurge in emotional support for the hunger strikers will be channeled into revitalizing the IRA's terrorist campaign. There are already signs of the IRA reaping substantial financial rewards from abroad since the hunger strike became headline news.
Now their leaders have to decide if they want to mount a direct challenge to the political leadership south of the border in the Republic of Ireland as they have done in Ulster.
Bishop Daly also criticized the British government in his statement for what he called "duplicity in its relations with those seeking and working for a solution."
He said British officials were prepared to say off the record what they were not prepared to have written down -- a comment on attempts to persuade London to put in writing the improvements it would institute in the prison regime in Northern Ireland if the fast ended.
Dr. Daly said he doubted whether, after several years of imprisonment, many of the republican prisoners in Northern Ireland were able to rationalize their situation.
The most outspoken condemnation of the Provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) for their part in the hunger strike, meanwhile, has come from the new prime minister of the Irish Republic, Garret FitzGerald.
In Dublin Dr. FitzGerald said the prison protest had begun several years ago when men there first refused to wash and clean out their cells.
"The prison protest was intended by the Provisional IRA to intensify their campaign outside the prison," Dr. FitzGerald said. He accused the Provisional IRA of "thwarting" efforts to end the crisis.
"The prisoners represent themselves as belonging to a military command structure," Dr. FitzGerald said. "It is clear that those who are in charge of this structure can at any time resolve the crisis by ordering the hunger strikers to end their protests.
"They have not done so. They cannot evade responsibility in the deaths of the hunger strikers, although they seek to do so by manipulation of the media," he said.
Relations between the British and Irish governments have reached a new low point since Dr. FitzGerald took office on June 30. Besides his hard words for the IRA, FitzGerald has taken an extremely tough line toward London over the hunger strike and has criticized British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her government for mi ssing opportunities for ending the protest.