July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Sinn Fein Timeline

Timeline referred to in Sinn Fein statement
*Compare with previous timeline from Danny Morrison, 2006
See also Expanded Timeline 29 June – 12 July 1981

Timeline around Joe McDonnell’s death, 1981 H-Block Hunger Strike

29 June 1981
Four hunger strikers have already died: Bobby Sands on Day 66, Francis Hughes on Day 59, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara on Day 61 of their hunger strikes.

Joe McDonnell is on Day 52 without food. NIO Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins reaffirms that political status will not be granted and that implementing changes in the areas of work, clothing and association present “great difficulty” and would only encourage the prisoners to believe that they could achieve status through “the so-called ‘five demands’”.

3 July
Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP) has eight-hour meeting with Prisons Minister Michael Alison.

4 July
ICJP again meets Alison and they meet the eight Hunger Strikers in the prison hospital. They are shocked at the condition of Joe McDonnell. Prisoners later issue statement saying British Government could settle the Hunger Strike without any departure from “principle” by extending prison reforms to the entire prison population. ICJP tells prisoners’ families they are “hopeful” but that prisoners deeply distrust the authorities.

British Government representative (codenamed ‘Mountain Climber’) secretly contacts republican leadership by ‘back channel’. Insists on strict confidentiality.

5 July
After exchanges, Mountain Climber’s offer (concessions in relation to aspects of the five demands) goes further than ICJP’s understanding of Government position. Sinn Féin’s Danny Morrison is allowed (on a Sunday) to visit Hunger Strikers in prison hospital and updates them on all developments. Separately, he meets prison O/C Brendan McFarlane and explains what Mountain Climber is offering should Hunger Strike be terminated. McFarlane meets Hunger Strikers. Morrison is allowed to phone out from the doctor’s surgery. Tells Gerry Adams that prisoners will not take anything on trust, and prisoners want offers confirmed and seek to improve them. While waiting for McFarlane to return, Morrison is ordered out of the prison by a governor, John Pepper.

ICJP visits Hunger Strikers and offer themselves as mediators. Hunger Strikers say they want NIO rep to talk directly to them. Request by Hunger Strikers to meet McFarlane with ICJP is refused by NIO. Mountain Climber is told that prisoners want any offer verified.

6 July
Gerry Adams confides in ICJP about secret contact and the difference in the offers. ICJP is stunned by disclosure. It confronts Alison and demands that a guarantor goes into the jail and confirms what is on offer. Alison checks with his superiors and states that a guarantor will go in at 9am the following morning, Tuesday 7 July. Hunger Strikers are told to expect an official from the NIO.

7 July
Republican monitors await response from Mountain Climber.

11.40am: Bishop O’Mahoney (ICJP) telephones Alison, asking where the guarantor is. Alison suggests he and the ICJP have another meeting. O’Mahoney tells him he is shocked, dismayed and amazed that the Government should be continuing with its game of brinkmanship. The bishop says: “I beg you to get someone into prison and get things started.”

12.18pm: ICJP decides to hold 1pm press conference outlining what had been agreed by the Government and explain how the British had failed to honour it.

12.55pm: NIO phones ICJP and says that an official would meet the Hunger Strikers that afternoon.

1pm: ICJP calls off its press conference.

Late afternoon: Statement from PRO, H-Blocks, Richard O’Rawe: “We are very depressed at the fact that our comrade, Joe McDonnell, is virtually on the brink of death, especially when the solution to the issue is there for the taking. The urgency of the situation dictates that the British act on our statement of July 4 now.”

4pm: NIO tells ICJP that an official will be going in but that the document was still being drafted.

5.55pm: ICJP phones Alison and expresses concern that no official has gone in.

7.15pm: ICJP phones Alison and again expresses concern.

8.50pm: NIO tells ICJP that the official will be going in shortly.

10pm: Alison tells ICJP that no one would be going in that night but would at 7.30am the next morning and claims that the delay would be to the benefit of the prisoners. Republican monitors still waiting confirmation from Mountain Climber that an NIO representative will meet the Hunger Strikers. The call does not come.

8 July
4.50am Joe McDonnell dies on the 61st day of his hunger strike.

9am: An NIO official visits each Hunger Striker in his cell and reads out a statement which says that nothing has changed since Humphrey Atkins’s policy statement of 29 June.

ICJP holds press conference and condemns British Government and NIO for failing to honour undertaking and for “clawing back” concessions.

Late afternoon: Statement from PRO, H-Blocks, Richard O’Rawe: “The British Government’s hypocrisy and their refusal to act in a responsible manner are completely to blame for the death of Joe McDonnell. The only definite response forthcoming from the British Government is the death of Joe McDonnell. This morning, Mr Atkins has issued us with yet another ambiguous and self-gratifying statement. That statement, even given its most optimistic reading, is far removed from our July 4 statement. At face value it amounts to nothing.”

10 July
ICJP leaves Belfast.

Prisons Minister Michael Alison flies to Washington, DC. He blames the breakdown on the ICJP’s “over-eagerness” and says they had misrepresented what he had said, inflating his “privately expressed sentiments” to suggest that a solution was near. Its proposals to the British Government were “wildly euphoric and wildly out of perspective”, he says. He compares talking to Hunger Strikers as like talking to hijackers: “You continued talking while you figured out a way to defeat them, while allowing them to save face.”

23 July
Late afternoon: Statement from PRO, H-Blocks, Richard O’Rawe: “The [ICJP’s] proposals were vague but even at that we did not believe they contained a just settlement. After Joe McDonnell’s death on July 8th the British Government issued their present policy statement which in substance and even given an optimistic reading was a dilution of the diluted package attained initially by the ICJP.

“It is vital also that everyone realises that the ICJP have been victims of British perfidity [sic] and that the ambiguity which accompanies all British statements is deliberate…

“The death of our comrade Joe McDonnell on July 8th, plus the Humphrey Atkins statement of the same day, and the evolution of bitter claim and counter-claim between the British and the ICJP left one thing clear – that intermediaries (and this is no slight on the ICJP), are dangerous and that only direct talks between the British and ourselves based on our 4th July statement can guarantee clarity and sincerity and thus save lives.”

In relation to a very late intervention by the Red Cross at the invitation of the British, in the same statement the PRO wrote: “They [the British] hoped to brinkmanship us in a mediating situation, hoping that we would accept a cosmetic settlement…”
He accused the British Government of having “no intention of genuinely ending the hunger strike…

“At present, the British are looking for what amounts to an absolute surrender. They are offering us nothing that amounts to an honourable solution and they have created red herrings, that is, their refusal to allow Brendan McFarlane to represent the Hunger Strikers, to cover their inflexibility…

“Lastly, we hope that it is clear that we cannot end the Hunger Strike unless justice is done and that ultimately lies in the hands of the Brits.”

8 August
Death of Tom McElwee.

Late afternoon: Statement from PRO, H-Blocks, Richard O’Rawe, attacking Humphrey Atkins:
“For a man to claim he has stated his position clearly in relation to ‘what will happen when the protest ends’, despite the fact that no one really knows what is on offer, shows the insensitivity/insanity of his position and policy.

“We suggest that he won’t outline his policy because: No 1, he hopes to about turn – at some time; and No 2, he knows he is offering so little that even moderate opinion would be insulted…

“Very much prominent in their [British] thinking is the belief that, sooner or later, we are going to pack up and give in. They have a rude awakening awaiting them.”

2009
Bobby Sands Trust releases unpublished interview from 1986 with Sir John Blelloch, a member of MI5 who had been seconded to the NIO as a Deputy Secretary at the time of the 1980 and 1981 Hunger Strikes. It is an insight into the psyche of the British at crucial periods in the Hunger Strikes, particularly at the time of mediation attempts by others, including the ICJP. Blelloch states: “There was absolutely no change in the [British] Government’s position.”

Full interview – http://www.bobbysandstrust.com/archives/1069

Sourced from An Phoblacht

Category: 2009, An Phoblacht, Media, Sinn Fein, Statements, Timelines

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


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