NIO officials considered ways to “brain wash” hunger strikers to abandon their protest, Stormont files from 1982 reveal.
Pressure was to be put on inmates to stop fasting before their conditions became critical.
An assistant governor who visited the infirmary at the Maze prison regularly was put forward as a candidate for the risky operation, NIO documents published today by the Public Record Office in Belfast show.
One NIO official asked: “Is there any possibility of using all the resources available to us to identify the best candidate for capitulation and then go to some lengths to organise pressure on them over the next number of weeks before his condition becomes critical?”
The operation was considered but discarded by senior government officials during the strikes, which lasted for 217 days and sparked international protest and mounting sectarian violence on the streets.
A hospital officer or assistant governor was to befriend the prisoners and cultivate relations. Officials said that engineering a capitulation would be of great value because the IRA’s propaganda would be thrown into disarray.
Civil servants acknowledged that there would be dangers if an effort against a single prisoner became public knowledge but that would be defensible if it could be shown to have prevented a prisoner’s pointless death.
One official expressed scepticism about whether an inmate could be persuaded to come off the strike and said it would be out of the question to involve doctors or other hospital staff.
“The only obvious candidate for the brain washing would be Assistant Governor McCartney who visits the hospital regularly in the normal course of events,” he said.
Archives also showed the government was prepared to offer republican hunger strikers the freedom to wear their own clothes if they ended their fast.