26 November 2005

Today in history: Police foil IRA hospital rescue attempt


26 November 1972

Sean MacStiofain has refused to eat or drink for nine days

Eight armed men protesting against the imprisonment of Sean MacStiofain have tried to rescue him from a Dublin hospital.

MacStiofain - who has refused to eat or drink for nine days - was sentenced to six months imprisonment yesterday for being a member of the IRA.

Four men, two of them bystanders, were injured during a gun fight with Special Branch officers on the ward of the Mater Misericordiae hospital where the convicted IRA chief is being held.

But police said they had foiled the attempt and arrested seven of the attackers.

The gang arrived at the hospital near Mountjoy Prison in north Dublin just after dark.

A Garda spokesman said they were disguised as hospital workers and priests and were able to approach the floor where MacStiofain was being held without being suspected.

"But when they got within sight of the ward, handguns were produced and the shooting started," he said.

Gun battle

The gunmen grabbed a nurse and three police officers, but a fourth was able to run into an adjoining office and radio for support.

The gun battle took place in a narrow passageway leading to the ward. A Special Branch officer was shot in the hand and one of the attackers was hit in the stomach.

Troops have been called to the hospital to help guard the building, but a police representative told reporters the situation was under control.

"There was never any danger of their getting MacStiofain out," he said.

In Context

Sean MacStiofain was born John Stephenson in east London in 1928. He was brought up in England but had an Irish mother.

His involvement in Irish political groups began in his late teens and he joined the Irish republicans' English movement - United Irishman - in the early 1950s.

By the time he was arrested MacStiofain was the IRA's chief-of-staff, but was replaced after ending his hunger strike after 57 days - a sign of weakness in many republicans' eyes.

He died in May 2001.

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