July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

“Rusty Nail”: Prolonging the Hunger Strike: The Derailing of the ICJP

Friday, July 17, 2009

Prolonging the Hunger Strike: The Derailing of the ICJP
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

In addition to last week’s expanded timeline, two interesting articles originally in the Washington Post in 1981 have been added to the new hunger strike archive: Break Seen In Ulster Jail Crisis and 5th IRA Hunger Striker Dies Before Settlement Reached. They are very detailed about the ICJP offer and, put together with what we know today about the Adams negotiations with the British over the Mountain Climber offer, paint a very stark picture of how needlessly the hunger strike was prolonged.  It has been said by some who subscribe to the Morrison narrative of events that the Brits wanted the Provos to ‘call off the strike’ before they would move on any deal. Such language however is without nuance and negates the reality of what was happening. The FOI documents obtained by the Sunday Times illuminate this.

“The statement has now been read and we await provo reactions (we would be willing to allow them a sight of the document just before it is given to the prisoners and released to the press). It has been made clear (as the draft itself states) that it is not a basis for negotiation.” – Extract from a Telegram from the Northern Ireland Office to the Cabinet Office

Lest there be any doubt of their intentions, it should be clear that this is an internal directive of what they were going to do.

The Brits were looking assurance that their offer would be accepted. Once Adams said yes it would be, the choreography would be the Brits sending in the NIO with the statement to be read to the prisoners, who would ‘accept’ it and then the end of the hunger strike would be announced and the statement be released to the press.

So reducing it to language such as ‘calling off the strike’ makes it seem as if for nothing – as we saw from the 81 report, the ICJP had the essence of the M/C offer, the Brits had offered the ECHR as guarantors; to any rational eye it does not make sense why that was torpedoed. Reading the 81 reports you see the lay of the land as it was without knowledge of the M/C offer. Knowing what we know now, it seems likely the reason the NIO official did not go in was because the Brits were directly negotiating with the Adams committee; and in the meantime, the Adams committee were intent on getting the ICJP offside – to the point that McFarlane, following orders to shut the ICJP out, turned his back on them when they were so close to getting the deal done. What we see from the historical record is that the Brits, the ICJP, even the prisoners were prepared to end the strike. Evidence is all over the place of this – but no record exists of the Adams committee doing anything but what they could to prolong the strike. Just a week or so later, during the last weeks of July, they were stalling acceptance of the British offer over nailing down details of exactly what could be put into parcels. They had already won the concession of letters and parcels, yet they allowed men to die over fighting about what could be put in the parcels. That is the sort of detail you fight over, if you have to, after the strike is settled – not at the expense of people’s lives. Like George Mitchell said of them during the Good Friday negotiations, they were addicted to over-negotiating.

There were 2 offers on the table from the Brits in early July – the ICJP and M/C offer. Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, the two offers did not differ in substance. They were much the same and contained enough to settle the protest. Rather than show British duplicity this shows that the British were serious about ending the hunger strike. It shows they were desperate to, actually. With the ICJP offer, you had the backing of the Irish government, and no shortage of mediators to stand as guarantors. As mentioned the Brits suggested the ECHR. That’s the Brits putting forward a guarantor! (Not much later they would send in the Red Cross in the hopes that they would fulfil the same remit – have the ability to secure a deal and act as guarantors to satisfy the prisoners and the international community that the Brits were honouring their end; they too were rejected by Adams and co.) The ICJP had the backing of the prisoners, who told them if they got someone from the NIO in to stand over the deal, they’d accept it. (In addition, the prison leadership, O’Rawe and McFarlane, also accepted the M/C version of the offer, with McFarlane describing it as ‘amazing’ and as a ‘huge opportunity’ and ‘a potential here to end this’; that they accepted the offer is no longer under question now that the conversation has been corroborated.) That was all the Brits were waiting for, an assurance that if they went in, the prisoners were going to say yes. As far as everyone connected with the ICJP initiative were concerned, everything was good to go. The NIO would go in, the prisoners would say yes, and Joe McDonnell had a chance.

But the Brits, desperate to get the guarantee the prisoners would say yes, opened the channel directly to the Provos. And this is where the mistake lay. Once the Provos got on the line, the ICJP was rendered redundant. Sure, they could stand as guarantors of the implementation of the deal, but as far as guaranteeing the assurances the British needed in order to go into the jail with the offer, Adams was the real deal in their eyes. And Adams had to have seen the ability to have direct negotiations with the British as an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. He didn’t share this activity with the rest of the A/C – this was kept tight between his small group. We know now that he was on the phone with the British himself, bypassing Duddy, during the negotiations; the conversation described in Before the Dawn has been verified and Duddy was at a loss to explain it, as it was outside his scope. We also know that Duddy was never informed that the prisoner leadership – O’Rawe and McFarlane – had accepted the offer; instead he was told it was rejected on the basis that ‘more was needed’. At this point, it must be remembered, the push for a political agenda was already well on the table; the Sands bill had just gone through, and it was known that Sands’ seat would be contestable (this would have been known from his death).

So while the ICJP were waiting for the NIO to come in and give their deal to the prisoners, Adams was dealing directly with the British. The British put the ICJP on hold, but gave no indication of why – because they couldn’t! From their position, and they made this clear to Adams who promptly broke their confidence by telling the ICJP, the negotiations they were having with Adams were secret – it would compromise the British Government fatally to be seen to be negotiating directly with the PIRA. So the ICJP was kept in the dark by the British, not because they were playing games and wanted to see as many hunger strikers die as possible, but because of the secret nature of what they were doing with Adams. The ICJP were not the only ones kept in the dark; Michael Alison could only tell the Friends of Ireland in Washington DC that there had been “drafting problems”, and that resolving them could not happen until “after the prisoners had gone to bed”. He had to maintain the British hard-line façade. This is why many of the papers relating to this time period are still classified; the repercussions that Thatcher would have felt had the extent of her direct contact with the PIRA been known would have brought her down, especially if her overtures were snubbed. Over a decade later, when it was revealed that John Major had had a back channel with the PIRA the ructions were serious. 

What has always been missing from the established narrative is the reason why the Brits did not send the NIO in with the ICJP offer when they were supposed to. Now we know why – they were getting what they believed was the real deal directly from the horse’s mouth. And Adams was telling them, ‘more was needed’, and then, when the Brits appeared to pull back from their very extended limb, it was ‘tone, not content’ – which they then wasted time negotiating over, right up until the moment Joe McDonnell died. It was a waste of time because as we see when the British came back after the funeral of Martin Hurson, they were negotiating over items of little importance, and as ultimately, when the hunger strike ended months later in October, the prisoners got what was on offer in July.

So the question of who was really prolonging the strike, the British or Adams, falls on Adams. He kept secret the fact of his negotiations from others on the Army Council; he withheld details of the negotiations from the prisoners; he kept the offer and negotiations secret from the IRSP and INLA, who also had men dying on hunger strike; all of this history has been buried until O’Rawe came forward writing of his and McFarlane’s acceptance of the M/C offer. Because of that and the information that has come out since then, the picture of what happened during the hunger strike is much clearer. He scuttled the ICJP settlement, and later would have the Red Cross chased, and used the prisoners, who were not informed of the details of what he was doing, as cover to prolong the hunger strike to the election of Owen Carron.

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Category: "Rusty Nail", 2009, Commentary, Gerry Adams, ICJP, Margaret Thatcher, Media, Mountain Climber, Slugger O'Toole

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One Response

  1. […] But we know that is all totally irrelevant, a sleight of hand, a distraction. It is even more insulting coming from Gerry Adams, who according to his own autobiography was on the phone negotiating with the British at the time of Joe McDonnell’s death (See Timeline, 8 July). A reasonable person would think that is the sort of thing Adams should be talking about now, not more bollocks about how the ICJP were kept waiting, as if that leaving out the fact it was while the British conducted their secret negotiations with Adams explains why the it was somehow all the hunger strikers’ fault because they didn’t trust the British and the fact the ICJP were kept waiting six times is some sort of perfect example of why. This lame excuse for cover does not wash, Mr Adams. […]


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

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