July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Side by Side: The July Offer and Ten Men Dead

Compare and Contrast

Excerpt from David Beresford’s Ten Men Dead, where the 5 July offer is described on pages 292-294 (Formatted for clarity)

The channel had been reopened by the Foreign Office in the wake of the conciliatory 4 July statement by the prisoners, in which they had insisted that their five demands could be met without any departure from ‘principle’ on the Government’s part. The Mountain Climber had told Adams, through their middlemen, that provided it led to an immediate end to the hunger strike, the Government was prepared to issue a statement setting out agreed concessions.

  • The Foreign Office, in its first offer, had conceded the prisoners’ main demand of their own clothing – all of the prisoners in the north would get it, irrespective of the reason they were in jail, so that the Government could claim it was no recognition of any ‘special’ status.
  • Visits and other such privileges had been agreed: the protesting prisoners would have them all restored on the ending of the hunger strike. But the prisoners were sticking on work, association and the restoration of lost remission.
  • On work, the Foreign Office was prepared to fudge the issue, suggesting that the main prop would be domestic tasks, such as cleaning, laundry and kitchen duties, together with “constructive work” such as building a chapel in the prison – the proposal put forward by Cardinal O Fiaich to Roy Mason so many years before – making toys for charities and studying for the Open University, or other educational courses. The prisoners wanted self-education to be the main prop, while being prepared to do maintenance work.
  • The Foreign Office was offering nothing new on free association, arguing that the prisoners were already allowed to mix during leisure hours, in the evenings and at weekends, and that what they were demanding was ‘unsupervised’ association, which would create unacceptable security problems – paramilitary activities like those which went on in the Cages. The prisoners had retorted that they only wanted free association in the wings and that there was no requirement that control be restricted – they would not interfere with the supervisory duties of warders.
  • The Government had made a vague offer to restore a proportion of lost remission; the prisoners wanted it all back – for some men it meant an extra year or more in jail.

The July Offer from Thatcher

“The NIO has several drafts of this document on file, which differ only in minor detail. This was one which Thatcher authorised to be sent to the IRA on July 8th 1981. The letter from Downing Street to the NIO sent on that date (and on the Sunday Times website) describes it as as “a draft statement enlarging upon the message of the previous evening but in no way departing from its substance” It went on “if the PIRA accepted the draft statement and ordered the hunger strikers to end their protest the statement would be issued immediately. If they did not the statement would not be put out.” At the meeting in Derry Brendan Duddy said this draft statement set out the offer which he had sent to the IRA on 5th and which, he said, was rejected by the IRA.” *- Liam Clarke

* “More was needed”

Statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

1. In the light of discussions which Mr Michael Alison has had recently with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, during which a statement was issued on 4 July on behalf of the protesting prisoners in the Maze Prison, HMG have come to the following conclusions.

2. When the hunger strike and the protest is brought to an end (and not before), the Government will:

I. extend to all male prisoners in Northern Ireland the clothing regime at present available to female prisoners in Armagh Prison (i.e. subject to the prison governor’s approval);

II. make available to all prisoners in Northern Ireland the allowance of letters, parcels and visits at present available to conforming prisoners;

III. allow the restoration of forfeited remission at the discretion of the responsible disciplinary authority, as indicated in my statement of 30 June, which hitherto has meant the restoration of up to one-fifth of remission lost subject to a satisfactory period of good behaviour;

IV. ensure that a substantial part of the work will consist of domestic tasks inside and outside the wings necessary for servicing of the prison (such as cleaning and in the laundries and kitchens), constructive work, e.g. on building projects or making toys for charitable bodies, and study for Open University or other courses. The prison authorities will be responsible for supervision. The aim of the authorities will be that prisoners should do the kinds of work for which they are suited, but this will not always be possible and the authorities will retain responsibility for decisions about allocation.

3. Little advance is possible on association. It will be permitted within each wing, under supervision of the prison staff.

4. Protesting prisoners have been segregated from the rest. Other prisoners are not segregated by religious or any other affiliation. If there were no protest the only reason for segregating some prisoners from others would be the judgment of the prison authorities, not the prisoners, that this was the best way to avoid trouble between groups.

5. This statement is not a negotiating position. But it is further evidence of the Government’s desire to maintain and where possible to improve a humanitarian regime in the prisons. The Government earnestly hopes that the hunger strikers and the other protesters will cease their protest.

Category: Documents, Ten Men Dead, The British Offer from Thatcher

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SPRING 2013: 55 HOURS
A day-by-day account of the events of early July, 1981.


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