July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Ten Men Dead pgs 292-294: The offer described

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

“While the [ICJP] commissioners were occupying centre stage, at least in their eyes and those of the media, the hard bargaining was in fact going on in the wings. The Foreign office had relaunched the ‘Mountain Climber’ initiative. While the commission was busily negotiating – or ‘clarifying the situations’ – between the prisoners and the Northern Ireland Office, the Foreign Office was talking directly to the external leadership of the IRA, through the medium of the same middleman as had been used in December [1980].

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.”

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

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

There's an inner thing in every man,
Do you know this thing my friend? It has withstood the blows of a million years, and will do so to the end.