Euphoria of Thatcher-Haughey summit in Dublin fades as Britain stands firm on status of Ulster

Euphoria in dublin at the apparent success of last week's summit meeting here between Irish Premier Charles J. Haughey and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has begun to dissipate.

The differing interpretations the two prime ministers have put on the outcome of their five hours of talks has led to doubts that Mrs. Thatcher is inclined to consider any major constitutional change for the position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

Mrs. Thatcher has repeated in the British House of Commons that there is no question of Northern Ireland's constitutional position being affected by the joint studies she and Mr. Haughey have agreed to set up to look at new institutions of common interest to Britain and Ireland. But this has not deterred Irish ministers from saying that they will beentering the talks with "everything on the table."

Overshadowing these political developments is the critical position of "republican" prisoners at the Maze Prison near Belfast. (Republicans favor Northern Ireland's union with the largely Roman Catholic Irish Republic in the south.) Seven of them are in their seventh week of a hunger strike aimed at achieving political status for prisoners of the Provisional wing of the illegal Irish Republican Army (IRA).

This week numerous republican prisoners have joined them. There are now nearly 50 on hunger strike. A visitor to the prison said, "it was like staring death in the face."

Doctors believe that unless a compromise can be found it is now only a matter of days before the first of the hunger strikers dies. So far no acceptable mediator has come forward and there is a growing fear on both sides of the Irish border that the intransigent attitude of the parties involved will lead to renewed bloodshed in Ulster.

It is partly because of the hitherto lessening of tension in Northern Ireland that Mr. Haughey and Mrs. Thatcher decided to embark on a new initiative to break the political deadlock in Ulster.

This year less that 100 people have been killed in Northern Ireland as a result of the sectarian violence and the IRA campaign.

In 1972 -- the worst year -- 467 lives were lost in violence and since 1969 more than 2,000 people have been killed in Ulster's feuding.

The Irish government believes the killing will not be ended until Britain embarks on an entirely new course of government for Northern Ireland. Such a government would not only recognize the role of the Catholic minority in the administration of the province but also acknowledge the part the Irish Republic plays in the historical and day-to-day lives of the people of Ulster.

At the last big conference to consider Northern Ireland's future, held at Sunningdale in Britain in 1973, the Irish government swallowed its own constitutional claim to sovereignty over Ulster by declaring "that there could be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until a majority of the people in Northern Ireland desired a change in that status."

Observers here believe, despite Mr. Haughey's hard-line reputation, that a similar declaration from him would be forthcoming in any new treaty or agreement with the British government.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.