July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Irish News: Hunger Strike Deal Must Be Disclosed

Hunger Strike Deal Must Be Disclosed
Seamus McKinney, Irish News

TRUTH: The 10 republican hunger strikers – pictured on the first day of each of their individual protests at the Maze Prison – and the dates on which they died PICTURE: Alan Lewis/Photopress

The first IRA hunger striker to speak about a possible deal which could have saved the lives of five or possibly six of his colleagues has called for the full facts of the initiative to be made public.

Gerard Hodgkins, who spent 20 days on hunger strike in 1981, has demanded that Sinn Fein and others make public all records relating to the era.

He was speaking after a number of documents, released under the Freedom of Information Act, appeared to confirm details of a deal offered to the IRA in the days before Joe McDonnell died on July 8 1981.

Last year, charges of abduction from 1990 against Mr Hodgkins and former Sinn Fein director of publicity Danny Morrison were quashed. Mr Morrison has previously played down the significance of any proposed deal.

Extracts from two letters from Downing Street to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) dated July 17 and 18 1981 have been made public as well as an undated telegram from the NIO to the British cabinet office.

In 2005, former prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who acted as publicity officer for the hunger strikers at the time,  published an account of a deal sanctioned by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The deal indicated agreement over three and possibly four of the prisoners’ five demands on clothes, association, remission and possibly work.

Claims by Mr O’Rawe that the deal was rejected by the outside IRA leadership because they wished to capitalise on political gains at the time were rejected by Mr Morrison and those managing the Hunger Strike from the outside.

But an extract from the letter from Downing Street to the NIO on July 8 1981 indicates a deal was offered but initially rejected by the IRA because of its tone rather than its content.

The letter said that the secretary of state, Humphrey Atkins, told Mrs Thatcher the terms were offered to the Provisionals.

“Their response indicated that they did not regard it as satisfactory and that they wanted a good deal more. That appeared to mark the end of this development and we made this clear to the PIRA during the afternoon.

“This had produced a very rapid reaction which suggested that it was not the content of the message which they had objected to but only its tone,” the letter stated.

In a letter dated July 18 1981 (following the death of hunger striker Martin Hurson on July 13), it was revealed that Mrs Thatcher bowed to pressure from Humphrey Atkins not to send an official to meet the hunger strikers. Mr Atkins was concerned that if an official outlined the British position to the prisoners his meeting would become public.

The IRSP, the political wing of the INLA whose hunger strikers Kevin Lynch and Michael Devine died after the deal was offered, said the INLA’s army council in 1981 was not aware of the deal.

IRSP spokesman William Gallagher said: “Both the then INLA army council and the INLA prisoners’ OC have stated to the IRSP that if they had been made aware of the content of these developments at the time they would have ordered the INLA prisoners to end their hunger strike.”

Michael Devine jnr, whose father – also Michael – was the last hunger sriker to die, said the families deserved to be told the truth about what happened.

“Why were the families or the prisoners themselves never told about the nature and content of these contacts?

“I would appeal to Sinn Fein and the British government, given their public positions on truth and reconciliation, to tell us the truth and give us closure,” he said.

Mr Hodgkins, the first IRA hunger striker to speak out about the deal, said the documents supported the claims of a deal first made by Mr O’Rawe.

“When it first came out [in 2005] I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. But I followed the debate and do now,” he said.

Mr Hodgkins said he believed the group which was working with the hunger strikers – and which included Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams – may have allowed the protest to continue for political gain.

If this was the case, Mr Hodgkins said he understood why they did so but would not have agreed.

He said the Sinn Fein leadership should release all information about the Hunger Strike.

“This has become a festering sore in the republican family,” he said.

Sourced from Saoirse 32

Category: 2009, Former Hunger Strikers, Irish News, Media, News articles, Statements

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A day-by-day account of the events of early July, 1981.

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