CARDINAL Tomas 0 Fiaich the Irish Primate said this week that the deaths of hunger strikers Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson could have been avoided if the
efforts of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace "had met with the positive response they merited-.
He urged the British Government to send in a representative to talk with the prisoners without delay. But a spokesman for the Northern Ireland office has said there is no immediate prospect on an official visiting the Maze hunger strikers.
The cardinal's statement reflected the bitter disappointment felt in Ireland at the Government's decision to go back on an agreement apparently reached with the Commission early last week.
The Commission said in a statement last Wednesday that Mr Malcolm Alison. a Northern Ireland Minister, had agreed to send in a Northern Ireland Office official to talk direct to the prisoners but that subsequently this undertaking had not been honoured.
The statement set out in detail the assurances given by Government officials: it is significant that the Northern Ireland Office has not denied any of the specific facts mentioned by the Commission.
This week Mr Jerome Connolly, the Commission's executive secretary, said his main fear now was that the last-minute collapse of the initiative would lead to a further hardening of the attitudes of both sides in the dispute.
Cardinal 0 Fiaich said he accepted unreservedly the account of the proceedings given by the members of the Commission for Justice and Peace. "Their honesty and integrity shone like a beacon throughout all their work." he added.
"The tragedy is that another golden opportunity to resolve the H-Block impasse without loss of principle was missed," he said. He urged Catholics to reject hatred and violence and to redouble their prayers for reconciliation and peace among all Irish men and women.
The cardinal also urged the prisoners "to build in a conciliatory fashion, on the Commission's hard-won achievements.'"
At an Orange dernonstration in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, the Rey Ian Paisley claimed that the Commission for Justice and Peace had shown by its action that the Catholic Church was allied to "the IRA murderers-. He said he did not lose any sleep over the death of a hunger striker.
Mr Paisley's claim was totally rejected by Mr Connolly, who said the Commission's overriding objective had been "to save lives — not just those of the hungerstrikers but also those which are in danger due to the strike's impact on the whole community."