Tensions ease between London and Dublin on hunger-strikers

Britain appears to have persuaded the Irish government that it is doing all it reasonably can to end the IRA hunger strike at the Maze Prison in Belfast. Hence, tensions across the Irish Sea have begun to ease.

The sudden improvement in relations between London and Dublin, where the new Irish prime minister, Garret FitzGerald, has scraped through parliamentary votes on a tough budget, means that the hunger strike is likely to continue for at least some weeks more.

Shortly after he came to power in early July, Dr. FitzGerald seemed eager to apply maximum pressure on Britain to accept a compromise at the Maze. He came close to accusing the British government of bad faith for responding sluggishly to attempts by a mediation team from Dublin to produce a compromise formula.

But what promised to be a serious breakdown in relations between London and Dublin has been averted, at least for a time, largely because the Provisional wing of the illegal Irish Republican Army (IRA) has been overplaying its hand with the hunger-striking prisoners.

Dr. FitzGerald had been especially anxious for Britain to meet the IRA request that a British government official speak directly to hunger-striking prisoners. Britain agreed, but then the IRA insisted that an IRA official not on hunger strike should be present as well.

At this point Dr. FitzGerald accepted that Britain had fulfilled its part of the bargain and that the IRA was making unreasonable demands. The Irish prime minister hardened his position even more when it was learned that the hunger-strikers, apparently an orders from the IRA, had refused to cooperate with attempts by a Red Cross team to look into their situation.

On balance the British government would prefer to deal with Dr. FitzGerald than the man he displaced as Irish prime minister Charles J. Haughey.

It is accepted, however, that Dr. FitzGerald's grip on office is precarious. His administration is thought likely to survive at least until some time in the fall.

In that period it is possible there will be a summit meeting between Dr. FitzGerald and Mrs. Thatcher, but officials in Dublin and London do not hold out much hope that it will be politically productive unless a means can be found in the interval to defuse the H-block crisis.

The chances of a breakthrough are rated as slight. Two prisoners, one of them a successful candidate in the Irish general election, are close to death. The feeling is that only a miracle can save their lives.

Mrs. Thatcher meanwhile shows no sing of conceding the hunger-strikes' chief demand: that they be accorded status as political prisoners.

The result is continuing deadlock, with the only welcome development the modest improvement in dealings between the British and Irish governments.

But even that relationship could go sour again as quickly as it improved if the hunger-strikers die and popular pressures mount on Dr. FitzGer ald to start taking a hard line with Britain.

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