July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Jim Gibney (May, 2006)

Tragic period clouded by ‘set of proposals’

(Jim Gibney, Irish News)

The protest for political status in Armagh Women’s prison and the H-Blocks of Long Kesh lasted for five years between September 1976 and October 1981.

At no time before the first hunger strike in October 1980 did the British government try to end the protest by any means other than brutalising and degrading the prisoners.

The first hunger strike involved seven men in the H-Blocks and three women in Armagh jail.

It lasted 53 days.

The British deliberately waited until Sean McKenna had hours to live before sending a document to the hunger strikers outlining a changed prison regime if they ended the strike.

Hours before the document arrived the strike was ended rather than let Sean McKenna die.

The document could have been the basis on which the prison protests ended.

However the document was an offer from the British to the prisoners not an agreement. There is a huge difference.

The first hunger strike ended on December 18 1980. The second hunger strike started 72 days later on March 1 1981.

The British government could easily have prevented the second hunger strike by implementing the prison regime detailed in their December 18 document.

They refused to do so.

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Bobby Sand’s 25th anniversary occurred last Friday May 5. He died after 66 days on hunger strike. At no stage during those 66 days did the British government offer an agreement to end the hunger strike.

Francis Hughes died on May 12, seven days later. The British did not offer an agreement before he died.

Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara died on May 21, nine days later. The British did not offer an agreement before they died.

Joe McDonnell died on July 8, 47 days later. The British did not offer an agreement before he died.

Martin Hurson died on July 13, five days later. The British did not offer an agreement before he died.

Kevin Lynch died on August 1, 18 days later. The British did not offer an agreement before he died.

Kieran Doherty died on August 2, 24 hours later. The British did not offer an agreement before he died.

Thomas McElwee died on August 8, six days later. The British did not offer an agreement before he died.

Mickey Devine died on August 20, 12 days later. The British did not offer an agreement before he died.

Five years of protest; 270 days of hunger strikes, 10 men dead. The prisoners ended the hunger strike without the offer of an agreement.

Within days they had their own clothes and within a year political status.

They paid an awful price.

These are the unassailable and incontrovertible facts from that heroic and tragic period.

Judge these facts against the claim by Richard O’Rawe in his book Blanketmen that three days before Joe McDonnell died he and Bik McFarlane, the O/C of the prisoners, discussed out their cell windows a ‘set of proposals’ from the British acceptable to them but rejected by the republican leadership outside the jail.

Bik said there was no conversation with O’Rawe out the window.

Two cells separated Bik and O’Rawe. Bik’s cellmate and O’Rawe’s cellmate did not hear such a vital exchange.

There were 46 men in the wing. None of them heard the alleged conversation and they would have.

O’Rawe as PRO wrote regularly to the leadership outside. He never wrote to them about the rejected ‘set of proposals’.

On his release he worked for a year in Sinn Féin’s press office with Danny Morrison.

He never mentioned the rejected ‘set of proposals’ to him.

For 24 years he was regularly in the company of ex-prisoners. He never mentioned the rejected ‘set of proposals’ to anyone.

O’Rawe’s ‘set of proposals’ are first mentioned ‘exclusively’ by him in the Sunday Times of all papers.

Before the extract from his book appeared he did not have the decency to warn the relatives of the dead hunger strikers who are deeply hurt by his bogus claims.

On the eve of Joe McDonnell’s death the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace six times asked the Northern Ireland Office to put to the hunger strikers what the NIO was claiming to be offering. Six times it refused. Joe McDonnell died and the ICJP left in disgust.

Had the British offered an ‘agreement’ they would have told the world about it at the time and used it against Sinn Féin and the IRA since.

O’Rawe stands alone on this, awkwardly close to those who stood with Thatcher 25 years ago this year.

May 12, 2006
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This article appeared first in the May 12, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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Category: 2006, Commentary, Irish News, Media, Statements

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