July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Irish News letters page: The men behind the wire grow all the more noble as time reveals its truth

The men behind the wire grow all the more noble as time reveals its truth
Irish News letters page
Carrie Twomey

Manus McDaid claims in his most recent letter, entitled ‘(S)he who paid the piper’ (September 16), that he never heard of the claim that the last six hunger strikers could have been saved by a deal on offer from Thatcher – the same terms that the prisoners got at the end of the hunger strike – but instead were sacrificed for Sinn Fein’s gain.

Yet it was only June when he was expounding on the same topic – making similar misleading points about the ending of the first hunger strike – in a previous letter to The Irish News (‘Tread lightly on the dreams of heroes’, June 13).

Perhaps Manus suffers from goldfish syndrome.

This would entail swallowing whole whatever crumbs are being served, then promptly forgetting their content, a memory sustained only, if at all, until the next line is fed.

The first hunger strike ended not because of British duplicity but because of the humanity of the late Brendan Hughes.

The second hunger strike continued far longer than it needed because of the inhumanity of those managing it on the outside, to whom the hunger strikers were merely more cannon fodder for their ambitions.

This heartbreaking fact does not in any way whatsoever impinge on the integrity of the hunger strikers.

In fact, it makes them all the more noble as they had little idea of the manner in which they were being abused by their own – and remained committed to their beliefs to the end.

The same cannot be said and will no longer ever be believed about those who led them.

Sourced from the Irish News

Anthony McIntyre: Victory to Blanketmen

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Victory to Blanketmen
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

It might have been a long flight for Richard O’Rawe, most of it a climb. It is said that aircraft are most strained during the ascent but once in the sky the cruise is relatively easy. The author of Blanketmen now finds himself cruising at a moral altitude well above that of his critics.

For long we had been regaled with delusional tales of how O’Rawe had been comprehensively demolished and that each new non-discovery by his opponents had finally concluded the debate in their favour. Truly underwhelming stuff where wish was parent to the thought.

Even before this week’s Irish News special on the 1981 hunger strike O’Rawe’s integrity had been both salvaged and enhanced. With Brendan McFarlane feeling compelled to reconfigure his account of the pivotal 1981 prison conversation between himself and O’Rawe in the wake of serious erosion of his original account, the die was cast. After that few believed that O’Rawe had made it all up. They may not have attributed any malign motive to McFarlane but simply acknowledged that O’Rawe’s narrative possessed a consistency that unlike the counter narrative was not chameleon in character. The pendulum of culpability swung decisively away from O’Rawe.

His vindication secured, that the Irish News debate took place at all was further validation of the position of Richard O’Rawe. That the claims made in his book Blanketmen almost five years ago are being given such exposure this week in a newspaper read by more Northern nationalists than any other were beyond his wildest expectations at the time of publication. It was also something Sinn Fein would have viewed as a nightmare had they any inkling. Now all O’Rawe has to do is turn up. His critics, by contrast, have no option but to turn up; a sign of how the balance of power of persuasion has undergone a significant shift. And where they needed to raise the level of their contribution they singularly failed. The issue has now been pushed to a new plateau. Had the original allegation in Blanketmen been about the existence of either the unicorn or the mermaid that would have been the last anyone heard of it. What kept it going to the point where O’Rawe’s narrative is now the dominant one, having successfully challenged and displaced the previous one, was the ring of truth that resonated from it.

There are echoes of the Birmingham Six emanating from this controversy. When convicted it looked as if their goose was cooked. Few gave them a snowball’s chance in hell. When challenged the British judiciary jerked and jumped as if they had had been tapped with a cattle prod. Howls of indignation met the challenges of those seeking to establish accuracy. ‘How dare anyone question us’ was the standard arrogant refrain. All critics were told to shut up and just accept the view of Lord Denning that all they had to offer was an appalling vista. They were smeared as terrorist sympathizers. It got the judiciary nowhere as they were swamped under an avalanche of probing and investigative journalism.

Seems something similar is taking place here. The regime of truth which had little true about it is being dismantled month by month. The old chant from within the bowels of the H-Blocks, ‘Victory to the Blanketmen’, has meaning like never before.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Irish News: Independent inquiry may end ‘festering sore’

Independent inquiry may end ‘festering sore’
Was there a deal?
By Seamus McKinney

SENIOR IRSP figure Willie Gallagher says he cannot understand why any republican would not support calls for an inquiry into the handling of the hunger strikes.

Mr Gallagher, who has been criticised by Sinn Fein for his involvement in the campaign, said only an independent inquiry could put an end to what he said was a “festering sore”.

“We note that of the four republicans whom the families specifically called on to back an inquiry; Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison, Bik McFarlane and Richard O’Rawe, only O’Rawe has publicly stated that he is willing to give his backing to the inquiry,” he said.

“The silence of the other three has been noted and can only but be interpreted as damning.”

The Strabane man said the only conclusion he could draw from their silence was that they were concerned about what might come out.

Mr Adams and Mr Morrison have spoken about the controversy at a private meeting with families of the hunger strikers in Gulladuff and publicly.

Mr Gallagher said the IRSP was not pursuing the issue to embarrass Sinn Fein.

“However, we totally refute the claims by Sinn Fein that in looking for answers into how our hunger strike comrades died, we are somehow being dishonourable,” he said.

“That is highly insulting and it is hard to understand how anyone could reach such a conclusion.”

The IRSP ard comhairle member denied Sinn Fein claims that evidence put forward at a meeting on the issue at Derry’s Gasyard centre was “manufactured” by people with an anti-Sinn Fein agenda.

“The IRSP demands answers as to why the 5 July Mountain Climber (IRA/British government go-between in 1981) offer – which was accepted by the IRA jail leadership – was rejected and who outside the prison rejected it,” he said.

“We also want to know why the INLA jail leadership and their outside representatives were kept in the dark about the Mountain Climber negotiations and the offer.”

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: O’Rawe warned of backlash from republicans – journalist

O’Rawe warned of backlash from republicans – journalist
Was there a deal?
By Allison Morris

VETERAN reporter Ed Moloney has said that he warned Richard O’Rawe about an inevitable backlash from former republican associates if he went ahead and published his book.

O’Rawe’s claims that the Sinn Fein leadership sabotaged a possible resolution to the protest in order to further the party’s political fortunes has caused a storm of controversy which has gained momentum ever since.

Having covered the unfolding situation at the Maze prison as a journalist, from the blanket protest through to the first and later the second Hunger Strike on which 10 men died, the former Irish Times and Sunday Tribune northern editor said claims contained in Blanketmen came as no surprise to many.

“I not only read Richard’s book at an early stage I helped edit it and advised him strongly at the time not to publish it,” he said.

“I told him they, and by they I mean primarily the Sinn Fein leadership, would make his life very difficult.

“Knowing Richard, where he lived and the background he came from, I was aware from previous personal experience that it would get very rough for him.

“But I got the impression this had been eating away at him for some time.”

Mr Moloney, who lives in the US, is expected to reveal new material on the republican movement in a book due out early next year.

The book includes a series of interviews with top republican Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes before his death last year.

Hughes had been a former OC of the IRA’s Belfast brigade and was leader of the 1980 republican Hunger Strike in the Maze.

During his conversations with O’Rawe, Mr Moloney said he was aware that he had delayed publishing his book Blanketmen until the peace process was firmly embedded.

“He did this so he couldn’t be accused of causing the Sinn Fein leadership problems,” Mr Moloney said.

“Covering the Hunger Strike as a journalist, even back then at a republican grassroots level, there was a general feeling that it had just gone on for far too long,” he said.

“Ten deaths was excessive and went way beyond anything that they had previously asked their prisoners to do.

“To leave the decision up to the prisoners themselves was thought by some to be a tactical move.

“Each man carried the weight of the dead comrade who went before them on their shoulders and so the protest continued.”

Mr Moloney said it was fairly well recognised that the 1981 Hunger Strike was the Provos’ Easter Rising.

“So many horrendous horrible acts had gone before it that this supreme sacrifice and unfaltering belief was a kind of justification for the IRA’s campaign,” he said.

“It was also the very start of the modern peace process and the beginning of Sinn Fein’s electoral and political strategy.

“More recently, evidence uncovered by Liam Clarke [who reported details of British government documents which were released to The Sunday Times earlier this year following a freedom of information request], if not entirely settles the matter, then takes us to a point where explanations are certainly required.

“There have been changes to some people’s stories that are so significant it begs the question why?

“That is what in my opinion now needs to be cleared up.”

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Deal claims ‘completely wrong’: O Bradaigh

Deal claims ‘completely wrong’: O Bradaigh
By Staff Reporter

VETERAN republican Ruairi O Bradaigh last night disputed former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald’s version of events surrounding the 1981 Hunger Strike.

Mr O Bradaigh, who was president of Sinn Fein at the time, also appeared to contradict claims by Martin McGuinness about the role of the party at the height of the crisis.

A former chief of staff of the IRA, Mr O Bradaigh was Sinn Fein president between 1970 and 1983 before being replaced by Gerry Adams.

He broke away from the party at its Ard Fheis in 1986 after a majority of delegates voted to drop a policy of abstentionism if elected to the Dail.

He held the position of president of the break-away Republican Sinn Fein since its inception 23 years ago but announced this week that he was stepping down from the post.

Recalling events in 1981, Mr O Bradaigh, who was banned from entering the north, described Dr FitzGerald’s claim that a deal was scuppered by the leadership outside the jail as “completely wrong”.

“I must reject what is being said. Sinn Fein at the time were not involved in making settlements,’’ he said.

“Their role was to campaign for the prisoners. Sinn Fein was not involved at all.

“I don’t believe either that the [IRA] army council was aware that there were terms on offer either.”

Mr O Bradaigh said Sinn Fein was not standing back allowing prisoners to die.

“Sinn Fein felt their job was to get out there… I was galloping all over the country and was in touch with people, at home and abroad trying to get support,” he said.

Writing in yesterday’s Irish News, Martin McGuinness said he was the conduit for an offer from the British government about ending the Hunger Strike protest.

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Gerard Hodgins – “All evidence points to dark dealings”

All evidence points to dark dealings
By Gerard Hodgins


QUESTIONS: Gerard Hodgins, left, pictured with Danny Morrison
PICTURE: Seamus Loughran

THE blanket protests and Hunger Strikes are sacrosanct in republican history. The commitment and courage of the men and women who participated in those prison struggles can never be questioned.

Richard’s [O’Rawe] assertion that the leadership blocked a deal on the Hunger Strike in order to further political ambitions and in the process prolonged the agony doesn’t sit easily in the republican conscience.

So uncomfortable is this fact that most republicans tend to follow the Adams/Morrison narrative that Richard just wants to sell more books and so makes a sensationalist claim about dirty dealings

between the Provisional leadership and the British government in order to increase sales.

This despite the fact that a prima facie case exists that Richard’s assertion has validity: Gerry Adams has (writing in one of his books) previously referred to a happy ending narrative rather than a tell-all story now, yet he won’t elaborate on what this cryptic sentence means.

Gerry Adams has referred to the British coming back with the deal again around the July 18/19 1981.

Gerry Adams has referred to how he got into the habit of catching sleep during the daylight hours during that summer of 1981 because the British would contact him via telephone late at night.

Yet Gerry Adams refuses to put meat on these statements. What is he hiding? What was the true extent of contact between the leadership and the British?

For daring to ask questions like this puts one beyond the pale of the dominant republican narrative. Suddenly you find former comrades in the upper echelons are referring to you as a revisionist, a drug-dealer, a dissident, an antirepublican: no slur is too great, no act too low.

When I learned a meeting was to take place in Gullaghaduff I went along accompanied by Jimmy Dempsey whose son John was killed by the British army the morning Joe McDonnell died.

We both had questions we would like to ask, we were both politely but firmly refused entry to the meeting and I personally was subjected to threats and menaces by a senior Provisional, all because I wanted to ask questions about events in 1981.

When this genie was first let out of the bottle in 2005 the leadership figures were adamant there were neither deals, offers nor anything else. Today they are not so certain.

Bik [Brendan McFarlane] categorically denied that any such conversation took place between him and Richard O’Rawe about accepting a British offer.

Today he says different and remembers “a huge opportunity” and “potential” in the conversation he initially didn’t have with Richard.

On the face of it the evidence points to dark dealings going on in the background of the Hunger Strike, dealings of which nobody on Hunger Strike was aware.

Whether we ever will know the truth of those times is doubtful. The acquisition of any level of power and maintenance of that power is rarely a tale of honour alone.

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Speculation mounts on the identity of Maze spy

Speculation mounts on the identity of Maze spy
Was there a deal?
By Staff Reporter

THE revelation that the Republic’s government had an operative inside the Maze prison during the 1981 Hunger Strike has led to wide speculation about the identity of the ‘spy’.

Throughout the Troubles it was traditionally the British government or IRA that were accused of having spies within the government or security forces on either side of the border.

The only recorded claim of anyone ever being accused of spying for the Republic’s government in the north came in 2004 when John Hume and three other members of the SDLP were accused by the RUC Special Branch of having spied for the Republic.

A Special Branch report submitted to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal named Mr Hume, Austin Currie, Paddy O’Hanlon and Ivan Cooper as spying for then taoiseach Jack Lynch in the 1970s.

“It is also worth recalling previous intelligence to the effect that Mr Lynch’s intelligence officers in Northern Ireland are Messrs Cooper, Currie, O’Hanlon and Hume,” it said.

Mr Hume described the claim as “absolute rubbish”.

“It’s totally ridiculous and has nothing to do with Bloody Sunday,” he said.

“It underlines the total ignorance of senior RUC men in those days about relationships between nationalists and southern politicians.’’

Mr Hume claimed the SDLP kept in regular contact with all parties in the Dail to work out an agreed approach to Northern Ireland.

“When we were founded as a party in the early 1970s, it was common sense that we would build relationships with the parties in the south,” he said.

“How in heaven’s name could we have been agents of the Irish government?

“If we were, what did they think we were doing?”

While there has been a plethora of books in recent years written about MI5 and even the FBI’s role in the Troubles, little or nothing is known about the southern intelligence service’s role in Northern Ireland.

The southern secret service is understood to be made up of Garda Special Branch, the army intelligence unit G2 and the diplomatic corps of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

It is unclear who heads the secret service in the Republic, how many staff it has at its disposal, or where the department is based.

In 2002 the Republic’s then justice minister Michael McDowell denied that the government even had a secret service.

“There is no secret service structure in this jurisdiction,” he claimed.

However, in the same year it was revealed that the Republic’s secret service agency’s lack of spying activity meant it was forced to hand back £431,665, after spending less than half of its £735,000 spy budget.

Irish government officials refused to state why its secret service had spent only half of its spy budget, stating: “It’s a secret.”

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: First confirmation of Republic’s intelligence operations in north

First confirmation of Republic’s intelligence operations in north
Was there a deal?
By Bimpe Archer

FORMER taoiseach Garret FitzGerald’s revelation that the Republic’s government had a mole in the Maze prison is the first reference to emerge from the Troubles of such operations.

The 83-year-old would not be drawn on the identity or position of the Irish government’s source within the jail.

However, the person was not the only agent from the Republic operating in the north at that time.

One well-placed nationalist source said the Republic’s military intelligence – also known as G2 – was active in the north.

However, he said the unit was unlikely to have had a permanent member placed in the jail during the Hunger Strikes.

G2 did not enjoy the resources of the British intelligence services.

“It wasn’t very big or well-funded, nothing like MI6, and it tended to be largely military intelligence,” he said.

“Garda Special Branch wasn’t operating in the north.

“But there were G2 agents on the streets of Belfast and Derry, picking up whatever information they could find.

“I’m sure the British knew but there wouldn’t have been much knowledge on the unionist side.

“They certainly didn’t make themselves known.

“As far as the Maze goes, they would have made contact with a person involved.

“This it the first time I heard about a mole in the prison.”

Lord Maginnis, who was the Ulster Unionist Party candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the second by-election in 1981 which resulted from the death of Bobby Sands, said unionists were not unaware of such practices.

“If [Dr FitzGerald] says there was, there was,” he said.

“I always believed in the old saying: ‘There are no secrets in Northern Ireland’.”

G2, or the Defence Forces Directorate of Intelligence, was set up to provide operational intelligence and security to help the Republic’s forces internationally and maintain security at home.

As with most such agencies, staff actively monitor “relevant” political, economic, social and military situations to support military operations.

A relatively small service, G2 does work with foreign governments and intelligence agencies.

The Irish Defence Forces as a whole include intelligence as part of officer training, although those in G2 receive further specialist training.

It came to public notice during the Second World War when it was prominent in the detection and arrest of 13 German spies in Ireland. During this period the IRA was also a target of G2 and remained so in the decades following.

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Duddy ‘never given written statement’

Duddy ‘never given written statement’
By Staff Reporter

THE go-between working with the republican leadership during the Hunger Strike has revealed that he was never given a written copy of the statement which the British were prepared to release to the hunger strikers.

Brendan Duddy, who acted as go-between between Sinn Fein and the British government since the early 1970s, said information was always given by telephone because then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher had vowed never to talk to republicans.

Known to both sides by the code name ‘The Mountain Climber,’ he continued his work right through to the ongoing peace process.

Mr Duddy, a former member of the Policing Board, spoke about taking part at a meeting in Derry earlier this year where the families of hunger strikers had gathered.

At that meeting at the Gasyard Centre he was questioned at length by members of the audience – which included Richard O’Rawe and leading figures from the time.

The Derry man told the meeting the information he received from the British was always by telephone and never in written form.

He said this was because Mrs Thatcher had vowed never to talk to republicans.

Mr Duddy stressed that it was never his role to interpret or advise on the content of the information he received.

He told the meeting: “What I cannot do is speak for what the past or current leadership of the IRA, Sinn Fein or Provisionals did.”

Mr Duddy said negotiations about the prisoners’ demands continued from the end of the first hunger strike in December 1980 right up until they reached a climax in the days before Joe McDonnell died.

He was asked why he only gave details of the negotiations and possible deal to the IRA and did not pass them on to the INLA. He said his contact work had always been with the IRA.

“It was not a matter of not making the approach to the INLA. My contact was as a result of working with Ruairi O Bradaigh, Daithi O’Connell and Sean Keenan among others,” Mr Duddy said.

He confirmed to the meeting that the documents detailing the British statement as received through a Freedom of Information request was an accurate version apart from “one or two minor points”  of the statement he was given by the British. But he stressed no written form was given to him at the time.

He also confirmed that he supplied the response from the IRA to the British government that the statement was not enough and had to be “added to”. Mr Duddy said he could not recall anyone talking about the “tone” of the statement at any time.

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Documents say Thatcher ‘would not risk initiative’

Documents say Thatcher ‘would not risk initiative’
By Staff Reporter

SUPPORT for Richard O’Rawe’s claim that a British government deal was on offer to the hunger strikers in July 1981 came through documents which emerged earlier this year.

The documents were obtained by The Sunday Times under a Freedom of Information request.

They include a letter from 10 Downing Street on July 8 to the Northern Ireland Office, an undated telegram, a further letter from Downing Street to the NIO on July 18, a letter from the NIO to Downing Street on July 21 and a British government document regarding the hunger strike.

The July 8 letter from Downing Street was issued during the last hours of hunger striker Joe McDonnell’s life.

In that letter details of a possible British government deal with the IRA were outlined.

“Your secretary of state said that the message which the prime minister had approved the previous evening had been communicated to the PIRA,” the letter stated.

“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 had 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 question now for decision was whether we should respond on our side. He [the secretary of state] had concluded that we should communicate with the PIRA overnight a draft statement enlarging upon the message of the previous evening but in no way whatever departing from its substance. If the PIRA accepted the draft statement and ordered the hunger strikers to end their protest the statement would be issued immediately.”

The letter dated July 18 further emphasised a possible deal with the IRA. The letter provided a discussion on whether or not a government official should be sent into the prison to tell prisoners what would be on offer if they came off hunger strike.

It said: “The official would set out to the hunger strikers what would be on offer if they abandoned their protest. He would do so along the lines discussed with the prime minister last week.

“He would say that the prisoners would be allowed to wear their own clothes, as was already the case in Armagh prison, provided these clothes were approved by the prison authorities.

“He would set out the position on association; on parcels and letters; on remission and on work. On the last point he would make it clear that the prisoners would, as before, have to do the basic work necessary to keep the prison going.”

It said the official would not be empowered to negotiate.

“He would simply be making a statement about what was on offer to the hunger strikers if they abandoned the hunger strike,” it said.

The letter further said “there could be no guarantee that acting in this way would end the hunger strike”.

“However, there had been one or two indications that the hunger strikers were hoping to come off their strike,” the letter said.

But, apparently persuaded by the secretary of state, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher decided against this course of action.

The letter stated: “The prime minister decided that the dangers in taking an initiative would be so great in Northern Ireland that she was not prepared to risk them. The official who went into the prison could repeat the government’s public position but could go no further. The secretary of state agreed.”

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Sinn Fein leaders didn’t want protest to end says ex-minister

Sinn Fein leaders didn’t want protest to end says ex-minister
By Bimpe Archer

SINN Fein’s leadership didn’t want the Hunger Strike to end, such was the political advantage from the deaths, a former SDLP government minister has claimed.

The comment comes following claims by former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald about a deal proposed by the British after the death of the fourth hunger striker which the prisoners, he says, “were keen to accept”.

There was no comment yesterday from Sinn Fein, which has always denied that an offer was accepted by the prisoners.

However, veteran politicians who watched the events unfold have spoken of their dismay at the new revelations.

Former SDLP agriculture minister Brid Rodgers said there was no reason for anyone to die after Bobby Sands.

“The leaders in Sinn Fein didn’t want the hunger strikes to end,” she claimed.

“It’s dreadful. You have to think what did all those people die for after Bobby Sands?

“A lot of people in the present younger generation probably don’t realise what it was for a young life to be snuffed out for nothing. Those people died and they can’t say what they would have said or done.

“I don’t think it will have an effect on the younger generation because the hunger strikes are being put up there as part of the myth of Sinn Fein and the wonderful things they did.

“I don’t think after Bobby Sands died anyone else should have died. They had all proved they were willing to give up their lives for what they believed.

“One has to ask now, what did they die for? It makes me sad every time I think about it.”

Mrs Rodgers said that only the Sinn Fein leadership emerged with anything positive from the period.

“It elevated Sinn Fein into a new plain of support because of public sympathy and public admiration,” she said.

“They gave their lives and a lot of people are benefiting now.”

Her view was echoed by DUP peer Maurice Morrow, who described Dr FitzGerald’s contentions as “a startling revelation”.

“Garret FitzGerald has told us that a number of lives could have been saved. This is quite horrendous that the republican leadership on the outside demanded that those people stay on hunger strike,” Lord Morrow said.

“The republican leadership – Adams, McGuinness and co – have some explaining to do, not only to the world at large, but to the families of those who died on hunger strike.

“It seems that the lust driving the political and republican agenda at that particular time was so forthright and determined that the message sent about that was: ‘You will have to die’.

“They didn’t need to die. There was an offer there that would have saved lives.”

UUP peer Ken Maginnis said he had been aware at the time that Sinn Fein leadership had thwarted attempts to call off the hunger strikes.

“It’s totally in line with what I would have gathered from my good friend Denis Faul, who gave me an impression that there was a battle between himself and those on the outside,” he said.

“He was shunned by Sinn Fein because he had tried to work with the parents of the various hunger strikers to get them to call the hunger strikes off. Everything that Garret says rings a bell with me.

“I was friendly with Denis Faul as a teacher before we ever got into the Troubles in the late sixties and right up until his death we would have been good friends.”

But Lord Maginnis said he did not expect there to be repercussions for Sinn Fein at this remove.

“I think that by and large we’re past that,” he said.

“The leaders at that time have moved away from violence and have in many ways pointed the way to others within that tradition.

“I don’t think it will suddenly mean a boost for dissidents.

“There’s no depth of support for dissident republicans.”

Danny McBrearty, speaking on behalf of the Republican Network for Unity (RNU), joined calls for an independent inquiry into the events.

“Few events in Irish history were as inspirational, as emotional, and as politically consequential for republicans as was the Hunger Strike in 1981,” he said.

Mr McBrearty said the families of hunger strikers Patsy O’Hara and Michael Devine had demanded an “independent republican inquiry” and were supported by a “growing number of former blanketmen, including at least one former hunger striker, Gerard Hodgins”.

“The questions first raised by Richard O’Rawe and now corroborated are too important to too many to be ignored or buried or relegated to alternative one-sided meetings,” he said.

“The facts and history of the Hunger Strike go well beyond any party interests or politics.

“Indeed many of those who now call for a full and open debate were themselves IRA prisoners and Richard O’Rawe was part of their trusted leadership in the H-blocks.

“The truth belongs to all republicans.”

Sourced from The Irish News

“Rusty Nail”: Deconstructing McGuinness

Monday, September 28, 2009
1981 Hunger Strike: Deconstructing McGuinness
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

A couple of analogies to start. And then an extended deconstruction of McGuinness’ article from the Irish News.

Picture Gerry Adams as manager of the team, Danny Morrison as Captain. Bik McFarlane is a star player. Gibney is a coach. Imagine the Irish News special as the Cup final. The manager, who never gave public interviews all season, has disappeared. The Captain has absented himself from the field, and taken his star player with him (probably after consulting with Coach Gibney). Reserve player Laurence McKeown, who has performed well in the past, and heretofore unseen on the field McGuinness are the main defence. And that is where they spend the game – stuck in their own box, not even able to contemplate scoring a goal of their own, and barely able to keep the other team from repeatedly netting the ball. Now, knowing they were going into a losing game, it may have been sound strategy to absent the key players from the field at the crucial moment, in order have a ready-made excuse for the coming disaster, but it will do nothing to mitigate what is bound to be a resounding defeat. At the start of the season they were the favourites – but anyone who still has money on them now has woefully misread the underdog.

Where are Morrison and McFarlane? At this point, if we were to believe what they have been saying all along, they should be easily sinking it into the net now, shouldn’t they? Instead, their absence hands a victory to their opposition. “Your silence will not protect you,” the saying goes. Speaking of silence, President-For-Life Adams is still staying schtum on the whole thing. A mixed blessing, given his increasing predilection for inappropriate flights of fancy – but an indictment of the worst aspects of his leadership. The buck stops with him, yet he is quite content to pass it until some loyal dimwit falls on his sword for him. (Any takers on who it will be first?)

The strategy of the Adams cadre has been to bury the story at all costs. But, like the Disappeared risen from the bogs and beaches, this issue will not go away. Bits of bone and matter continue to surface, grisly bits at a time. Their presence and significance cannot be denied. With forensic examination, the bodies are being reassembled and identified. And so too the finger of culpability will find its mark. Those who pay attention to the details, however seemingly mundane or trite, know the significance of each find and can read where the evidence is taking them. The full body of the truth will not appear all at the once; it may never appear 100% conclusively. It’s a slow, sometimes plodding process. It’s been 5 years since the publication of Blanketmen, which was little more than a marking on a map of a remembered grave. Those expecting the full skeleton to sit up and point a bony finger will be forever disappointed. Those who have the ability to use logic and reason, however, understand how far the excavation has come, and how close it is to its conclusion.

We’ll turn our attention now to Martin McGuinness’ piece in the Irish News. The current Deputy First Minister, famous for being one of the Chuckle Brothers alongside former arch-nemesis Ian Paisley, and infamous in certain circles for denouncing Republicans as traitors from the steps of Stormont alongside the Chief Constable of the PSNI, was at the time of the hunger strikes, as referenced in Ed Moloney’s Secret History, the Chief of Staff of the IRA.

So it would be reasonable to expect an insight to what went on in July 1981 with some heft to it. After all, a person in such a position would be more than a mere runner between players in Derry and Belfast. In fact such a person might be able to shed light on more than just the events of July and perhaps – staying within the hunger strike framework – beyond. For example, he might be in a position to shed light on how exactly the contact between Thatcher’s spooks and the IRA was revived during the second hunger strike. Denis Bradley has previously hinted at this, claiming variously that this contact began in a room in Derry as far back as early May.

“I was actually in the room with Robert McLarnon [senior MI5 officer] and IRA leaders when a phone call came from a European summit during the hunger strike. Thatcher was at a European summit but kept in contact with us by phone. An offer was made to republicans to end the hunger strike; it was actually a better deal than the one they eventually settled for. At the time the republican movement was not in control, it was the prisoners who were in control and the leadership could not take on the prisoners. As far as I remember the offer was made after the second hunger striker, Francis Hughes, died. What we were being told was that this was the Prime Minister’s last offer on the hunger strike.” – Denis Bradley, quoted in The Guardian, 17 October 1999

“John Devereux, who died later in the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash, was meant to have accompanied Robert McLarnon to Derry for the meeting. Instead Robert came on his own. I was in the room when Martin McGuinness said ‘Was this authorised by the British Prime Minister?’ To which McLarnon said ‘Yes’ .” – Denis Bradley, quoted in The Guardian, 17 October 1999

Francis Hughes died on the 12th of May – 2 months before the July offer that preceded Joe McDonnell’s death.

Was a substantial offer made to the IRA leadership as represented by Martin McGuinness before the July offer? Why were the prisoners never told of the Derry meetings between McGuinness and the spooks?

This was after the election and death of Bobby Sands; the British were under enormous pressure; archive material makes clear that Thatcher wanted above all else an end to the hunger strike. This is borne out by the lengths she went to with the back channel negotiations. Even Adams says of her during this time, “she was no stranger to expediency”. Politically, if they were going to make a substantial offer, that would have been an opportune time.

Denis Bradley fleshes out the background behind the negotiations and the private positions of the IRA and Thatcher in this quote from Liam Clarke’s biography of Martin McGuinness:

“My other partners in the Link got very annoyed because they thought a deal was on the table long before it was on the table and the reason it didn’t happen was because the Provos gave away their authority to the hunger strikers themselves – they were far too emotionally involved and in no position to make any judgements because the Provos appeared to hand the whole thing over to them. As far as I can make out from our guys, Thatcher would have made a deal quite early on despite what she said in public.” Denis Bradley, quoted in From Guns to Government, page 130

This makes sense taken in conjunction with Bradley’s comments in 2006,

“but [Thatcher] made an offer of doing the settlement basically on the grounds of what was ultimately settled for, and the person who was on the phone, involved in this linkage, said to the person from the republican movement: “I think you have to take this offer. You should take this offer.” And I think the answer was, no, I think it has to be the prisoners who have to make that up and it didn’t happen and it [the hunger strike] went on.” – Denis Bradley, quoted in The Observer, 30 April 2006

Except, as we know, if the account of an offer being made after the death of Francis Hughes is correct, the hunger strikers, just as it would be two months later in July, were told nothing. The IRA leadership, McGuinness in May and Adams in July, gave the appearance that the prisoners were in control, yet kept them out of the loop, and later over-ruled them when the prison leadership did accept a British offer they were told about.

Martin McGuinness, here for the first time publicly addressing the hunger strike controversy, has about 800 words to make his case. Instead of expanding on any of the above points, he uses the first 260 to give a history lesson – one covered in the main by other background pieces in the same issue. He uses the next 100 to hide behind the skirts of the families of the hunger strikers. When he finally gets to the meat of the matter, he re-hashes old points of Danny Morrison’s – the incredulous idea that the hunger strikers were to rely on word of mouth negotiations before making any decisions! The duplicity of the British reneging on the deal of first hunger strike leading to the hunger strikers’ hard-line! The anti-Republican agenda driven ICJP whose own deal could not be finalised due to dastardly Brits!

Given the nature of the Mountain Climber ‘link’, the idea that it would operate via word of mouth, and, in the pre-mobile phone, pre-email days of 1981, the archaic form of the telephone, should not be shocking. The idea, too, that the British would seek private assurances or confirmation of acceptance before documentation, should come as no surprise. What did come as a surprise was the documentation that detailed Thatcher’s directives to her subordinates upon acceptance from those Provisional leaders she was dealing with.

“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

We know, too, that the idea that the hunger strikers would not bend due to the British reneging on a deal over the first hunger strike is a complete chimera. There was no deal at the time to renege upon, given that Brendan Hughes called an end to the hunger strike before anything could be completed.

We also now know the reason why the NIO did not send in a representative to stand over the ICJP deal at the crucial moment: Thatcher’s representatives were negotiating with Adams et al and put the ICJP initiative on hold.

So far, McGuinness has used almost 600 of the 800 words he has to make his case by repeating known history and points that have been previously discredited. He sheds no new light on events, or his role in them, apart from a weak admission that it was he who Brendan Duddy gave the details of the early July offer to, and in turn he delivered the details to the Adams committee in Belfast.

He then complains that while people are heralding the release of FOI documents, they aren’t paying attention to the content. Yet he does not illuminate as to what part of the content of the documents he thinks people should be aware of.

This is likely because the content of those documents do not support the narrative he is clinging to. As evidenced by the extract from the telegram quoted above, we see how it confirms the deal sent to the Provos, and that Thatcher issued a directive for it to be released to the prisoners and the press upon acceptance – which we know she never got.

We also see from the content of the documents, which have been verified by Brendan Duddy, the Mountain Climber link who gave the details to McGuinness, that the deal on offer met 4 of the 5 demands.

McGuinness urges readers read the documents and Ten Men Dead – a side by side reading of the offer can be found here: http://www.longkesh.info/category/ten-men-dead/ – and then lifts, almost verbatim, the same point made by Sile Darragh in her letters to the Irish News and Irish Times earlier this year:

“I would encourage people to read this book and the documents released in 2009 and compare it to the allegations of those who never visited the hunger strikers in the prison hospital, never dealt with the prison administration and the British government or liaised with the ICJP (which, on its terms, to be fair, was attempting to resolve the situation)”. – Martin McGuinness, 28 Sept 2009

“Mr O’Rawe didn’t speak to the hunger strikers, didn’t visit the prison hospital or meet the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace.” – Sile Darragh, 21 April 2009

Discerning the original source of these sorts of articles, whom some suspect is none other than Danny Morrison, is akin to ascertaining whether Barrack Obama’s Dreams of My Father was ghostwritten by Bill Ayers. Whether it was actually written by Ayers or not, his fingerprints are all over it, as are Morrison’s on McGuinness’ article.

So we come to the conclusion of McGuinness’s article – are we any wiser as to what happened during that fateful time? Will we be left with any resolution to the controversy? Sadly, no. McGuinness squanders the last of his word count to have a last kick at Thatcher, and to thank the hunger strikers obliquely for their sacrifice which has led to his seat at Stormont today.

The irony being that the oft repeated thanks supports the claims that they were sacrificed for Sinn Fein’s political gain, which delivered McGuinness to that Big House on the Hill as a Minister of the British Crown.

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Garret had mole among H-Block hunger strikers

Garret had mole among H-Block hunger strikers
By Ian Graham, Evening Herald
Monday September 28 2009

The Government had a mole inside the Maze Prison during the IRA hunger strike of 1981, former Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald revealed today.

Dr FitzGerald said he was convinced a deal between the prisoners and the British government could have been struck to halt the last six of 10 deaths.

But that it was vetoed by the IRA leadership, said the 83-year-old, who revealed the behind-the-scenes activity during a brief window of opportunity which could have saved the hunger strikers’ lives.

There has been deep division within republicanism about the hunger strike since the publication of a book, Blanketmen, by former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe, in which he said the Sinn Fein leadership blocked a deal for political purposes.

Sinn Fein always denied the claim, but Dr FitzGerald said: “O’Rawe’s account seems to me to be, within his framework of knowledge, honest and accurate.”

The North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who has admitted having being in the IRA, also revealed for the first time that he was one of the conduits for the offer from the British government, but he disputes there was a deal acceptable to the prisoners.

He accused Sinn Fein’s opponents of trying to portray the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as someone anxious to solve the hunger strike when she was what he called “a ruthless, hypocritical enemy”.

Dr FitzGerald, who started the first of his two terms as Taoiseach during the hunger strike, said Maze prisoners were ready to accept a deal if they had been allowed to by Sinn Fein.

“We knew that. We had our sources in the prison,” he said, but refused to say if the mole was a warder or a prisoner.

When Dr FitzGerald came to power, the Catholic Church’s Irish Justice and Peace Commission (IJPC) was working to resolve the stand-off between republicans prisoners in the Maze and the British government over the concession of ‘prisoner-of -war’ status.

The IJPC was granted a meeting with Northern Ireland Office minister Michael Allison, who cleared the way for the IJPC to visit the prisoners. The inmates later issued a statement which was more conciliatory than the messages issued from outside the jail by Sinn Fein.

At that same time Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was contacted by MI6 and a deal parallel to that of the IJPC was created, said Dr FitzGerald.

“He was delighted the British were running to him and he did get an additional offer to the IJPC offer. It is my recollection that he got an offer [prisoner access] to the Open University which was not in the IJPC offer,” said the former Taoiseach.

Eventually the whole deal collapsed and another six men died before an end was brought to the hunger strike.

Dr FitzGerald added: “If the British had not intervened and brought the IRA back in, a deal could have been done.”

Sourced from The Evening Herald

Irish News: The Other Players


IN compiling this special edition extensive efforts were made to contact most of the main players from the hunger strike era.

Attempts were made to get the views and recollections of British government and Northern Ireland Office officials from that period.

However due to ill-health, the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Secretary of State Jim Prior, who took over the role towards the end of the Hunger Strike, were not available.

Humphrey Atkins, who was secretary of state from 1979 to September 1981, and Prisons Minster Michael Allison, have both since died.

Others including Lord Gowrie who followed Mr Allison, were not available for interview, while former senior prison officials in the Maze have since died or were unavailable for comment.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams was asked for his views on the hunger strike but was not available.

Danny Morrison, Sinn Fein publicity director during the hunger strikes, declined to take part as did Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, IRA ‘Officer Commanding’ in the jail at the time of the strike.

•  A letter in the Irish News on April 7, 2009, by Richard O’Rawe, discussing the 1981 hunger strike, claimed that documents newly released under the FoI Act stated that ‘republican negotiators, Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison, changed their minds when the British warned that they were going to pull the plug on the process’. We have been asked by Mr Morrison to make clear that he was not named in the documents.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Hugh Logue, ICJP

Honour of those who died needs explanation
By Hugh Logue of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace

The image of those eight hunger strikers for me has never dimmed. Clothed predominantly in the white attire of hospital, the weakest sitting at a table, water jugs and mugs in hand, the strongest seated on higher tables, or standing behind.

That scene has stayed with me over the last 28 years and will remain imprinted in my brain as long as I live. They had been brought together as a group from their hospital beds to meet us in the canteen of Long Kesh.

Bright articulate young men, some reserved and quiet spoken, others defiant and inquisitive, eyes accentuated, all in various stages of physical decline, eager to live, ready to die. Like their image, respect for them has never dimmed.

I met them as part of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP) as we sought to explore the possibility of squaring their five demands by stretching the British prison regime to a more enlightened, humane, innovative and educationally positive system. The Irish government gave us their full support.

After much coming and going, a best offer was finalised involving new rights on clothes, work, recreation/education, remission and association.

The hunger strikers were positive but cautious, wanting the wider view of their comrades. The prisoners on July 4 issued a statement indicating that a settlement along such lines should be considered.

We were meeting with the relatives and some H-block committee members when the prisoners’ statement reached us. With good reason, the meeting finished with the view that the choreography of concluding the Hunger Strike without further loss of life was being set in place.

Next day we met again with the relatives and on this occasion Sinn Fein representatives were present. The relatives made clear their wish to go for the ICJP-brokered offer.

A senior IRA representative left the meeting early, without saying where he was going, and went in to see the hunger strikers.

When we later visited the hunger strikers that night, their mood had hardened but a number of them clearly indicated that what was on offer was acceptable.

Eventually all agreed that if the British government sent a delegate into the prison and read out the offer it would be accepted.

This condition, we were told, had been demanded as a minimum by the IRA representative who had visited them. Double dealing on the earlier botched hunger strike was given as the reason for this demand.

We went back to the British and it was agreed that an envoy would visit the hunger strikers to read out the offer. As we all know, the British prevaricated and Joe Mc Donnell tragically died before any visit was made, triggering a whole new scenario.

The ICJP next day railed against the British government for its unpardonable complacency and indicted its utterly callous conduct.

That indictment remains.

Four years ago – when I reviewed Blanketmen [by Richard O’Rawe] – I asked that a sane debate take place on its principal assertions, instead of the vilification of its author.

I also suggested that were the Mountain Climber, the British and the republican leadership to spell out what they knew, it would be possible to reach informed conclusions.

The British, via the Freedom of Information Act, have now put new material into the public domain. Mountain Climber has now stated that he passed the British offer to his IRA interlocutor. In what form did the offer come?

Was British secretary of state [Humphrey] Atkins able to sign off if he got an affirmative reply from the IRA? It now appears he was.

Did those in the republican leadership understand that? Parallel Republican writing that Margaret Thatcher wished a settlement suggests they did.

This exchange was at least a day before the hunger strikers were told to demand, via the ICJP, verification from the British authorities.

If the IRA had the British offer , why were the hunger strikers being put through a ritual? The hunger strikers, on the instruction of the IRA, were demanding that the ICJP deliver the British to deliver an offer statement. And the British, whilst agreeing to deliver the statement, apparently were waiting on the okay from the IRA before delivering the statement to the hunger strikers that they had already delivered to the IRA.

And all the while, a hunger striker was slipping in and out of consciousness, edging closer to death. Too grotesque to contemplate. But it happened. Why? Truly, in the name, honour and dignity of the hunger strikers, explanation and clarification is needed.

This is not said for any reason other than that I genuinely do not know for sure, to this day, where the motivation of others lay.

I do know that we in the ICJP had an honourable resolution that would have saved the lives of six hunger strikers and that it was acceptable to the hunger strikers.

It appears from the British statement, given to the IRA via the Mountain Climber, that the British were ready to stand over all that had been agreed with the ICJP.

But were they only ready to go public on it if they got thumbs up from the Republican leadership?

Was there procrastination on the IRA side where a clear affirmative response would have sealed the deal and saved those lives? Was there a rejection?

Did the IRA genuinely overplay their hand believing that once the British were into dialogue more could be extracted?

The high regard that many serious political leaders now have for the republican leadership relates to their focus on ‘the long game’. Did ‘the long game’ focus come into play on this occasion?

Republican leadership has been assiduous in having its tale of ‘the struggle’ committed to history, but the Hunger Strike has been given a wide berth.

Some years ago, as the 20th anniversary of the Hunger Strike approached, I was told by a senior republican that the reason for staying away from the Hunger Strike was ‘because of the range of views, feelings and passions it could arouse within the movement – not all of them positive.’

He was right about that, but whatever those views feelings and passions, it is time for truth to shine.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Richard O’Rawe

Search for truth a sacred duty
THE HUNGER STRIKE Was there a deal?
By Richard O’Rawe

Former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe caused huge controversy in republican circles when in his 2005 book Blanketmen he claimed that the British government had been ready to offer a deal which could have ended the hunger Strike after four deaths…

As one of the 300 Spartans who spent years on the blanket protest and as the prisoners’ PRO during the 1981 Hunger Strike, I have drawn great inspiration and strength from my 10 heroic comrades who died on hunger strike.

Some years ago I published a book entitled Blanketmen in which I recounted my first-hand experiences of that time.

It was instantly slated as ‘scurrilous’ and ‘slanderous’ by some republicans, who, instead of engaging in a respectable debate about the issues I had raised, demonised and vilified me. One leading republican said that I “should hang my head in shame” and that my book should have been called, ‘On another man’s hunger strike.’ It is not I who should hang my head in shame. I have told no lies.

In my book, I said that on July 5 1981 Danny Morrison came to the prison and made our OC, [Brendan] Bik McFarlane aware that someone called the ‘Mountain Climber’, a contact with the British government, had delivered an offer to the IRA leadership.

McFarlane denied this saying: “No offer existed.” I said that McFarlane and I were enthusiastic about the British offer, and had a conversation out our windows, during which we accepted it. McFarlane denied this saying: “That conversation did not take place.”

I offered that a communication came into the prison from Gerry Adams on July 6 1981 which said that the Mountain Climber offer did not validate the deaths of our four comrades and that more was needed.

McFarlane denied that this occurred. Matters stayed like that for about four years. Then in May 2009, at a Hunger Strike conference in Derry City, things changed dramatically.

The journalist Liam Clarke had obtained, under the Freedom of Information Act, a copy of the July 5 Mountain Climber offer.

For the first time in 28 years, I found out that the offer was, in fact, a statement from the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, which was to be released in the event of the Hunger Strike ending. Brendan Duddy (the Mountain Climber), who had been a panellist at the Derry City conference, confirmed that he had passed this statement on to the IRA leadership.

The importance of this cannot be overemphasised because here was the document which determined the fate of the last six hunger strikers. No evidence exists to say that the hunger strikers ever set eyes on this document. Certainly, it was never smuggled in to Bik McFarlane or me.

Who took the decision to withhold this decisive document from the prison leadership? Did they also keep it from the hunger strikers, and if so, why? Brendan Duddy also confirmed that the message the IRA sent back to the British was that “more had to be added”.

Former blanketman Gerard ‘Cleaky’ Clarke then affirmed that he had heard the crucial conversation between Bik McFarlane and me. These revelations prompted the collapse of Bik McFarlane’s position.

In a newspaper interview on June 4 2009 he admitted the British had made the approach I had written about but claimed that they had failed to “expand the offer”. He also said: “And I said to Richard this is amazing, this is a huge opportunity and I feel there’s a potential here [in the Mountain Climber process] to end this.”

So, in the space of a couple of sentences, Bik confirmed that what I had always said was true – there had been an offer after all, he and I had liked the look of it and we had a very positive conversation about it.

I had been looking forward to a healthy public debate with Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison and Bik McFarlane at the Derry conference in June but unfortunately they declined the offer to attend. Instead they chose to convene a closed meeting with some families in Gulladuff, south Derry in July and no-one with an alternate account to theirs was invited. A motion that Willie Gallagher of the IRSP and I stop any further probing into the Hunger Strike failed to get unanimous support.

Not to be outdone, however, the next day Sinn Fein members visited the families throughout the north and asked them to sign a pre-prepared statement which incorporated the failed motion from the night before. Some families did sign the statement and those who did not released their own statement publicly asking Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison, Bik McFarlane and myself to support an independent inquiry into the events of 1981. Having nothing to hide, I responded positively. The others have not.

Despite the viciousness of the attacks on me, and despite the intensity of the ongoing debate, nothing in my approach is intended to, or could ever detract from the heroic sacrifice of the Hunger Strike martyrs.

Regardless of what people may choose to say or think, I have no political agenda.

My intention has always been to seek the truth and nothing less – something which the hunger strikers and their legacy deserve as a matter of respect.

That, I suggest, is the sacred duty of all of us who bore witness to this momentous event in Irish history.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Laurence McKeown

Unionists in NIO scuppered deal
THE HUNGER STRIKE: Was there a deal?
By Laurence McKeown

Laurence McKeown is a former IRA prisoner who took part in the Hunger Strike. He joined the fast on June 29 1981 after the first four prisoners died. Following the deaths of six more hunger strikers his family authorised medical intervention to save his life on September 6, the 70th day of his hunger strike…

WHEN Richard O’Rawe first made the claim that the British had been prepared to reach a deal during the 1981 Hunger Strike but that it was rejected by the leadership of the republican movement, I believed the claim to be totally unfounded.

I still believe that.

In the intervening period it has been disproved by documentation from the period and by a broad spectrum of individuals involved at the time.

Nevertheless, the controversy has rumbled on, fuelled by an assortment of disaffected former members of the republican movement and political opponents of Sinn Fein.

The ‘debate’ has therefore more to do with contemporary political machinations and allegiances than it has to do with the Hunger Strike.

Trying to ‘answer’ the claim is a bit like trying to convince an alcoholic that they’d be much better off not taking that next drink.

There will never be an answer that will suffice, a response that will be adequate.

So why bother?

For the families of the six who died later that summer and for the thousands of ordinary people who did so much for us during that period.

The Tory government of Maggie Thatcher is infamous for the trail of suffering, death, social upheaval, destruction of communities, and removal of civil and workers’ rights that it wreaked not just in Ireland but in Britain itself.

But let’s just suppose for a moment that it wanted to end the Hunger Strike.

Britain acts only in Britain’s interest so if it was decided that it was in their best interest to concede some or all of our demands it would not have been out of some humanitarian sentiment but because not to do so would be damaging to Britain’s long-term interests.

So, this Tory cabinet of Maggie Thatcher, having decided that it was in Britain’s best interest to act to break the Hunger Strike, comes up with a list of concessions they are prepared to make, presents this to the leadership of the republican movement, who supposedly reject them and what do the Brits do?

They walk away with their tails between their legs.

Is this the same government that cold-bloodedly slaughtered the Argentinean sailors on the Belgrano?

That smashed the powerful National Union of Mine Workers and left whole mining villages and communities desolate?

If the British had thought it was in their interest to end the Hunger Strike then they would have done so regardless of what the republican movement did or did not do.

They would simply have gone to the media – having first confided with and secured the support of the SDLP, the Catholic hierarchy and the Dublin government – and announced concessions they were prepared to make.

We on hunger strike would then have been faced with either calling it off or trying to continue with a now deeply divided support base, not to mention internal and family divisions.

It’s not rocket science.

So why did the Brits not do that? If indeed they ever had any real intention of doing it.

A BBC Timewatch programme produced in 1994, a full 11 years before Richard O’Rawe’s claim, possibly holds the answer.

I did an interview for the programme and the producers got access to many senior British government officials from the time.

In casual conversation with the producer I asked if the civil servants, particularly in the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), had felt a bit like ‘piggy-in-the-middle’, forced to hold to Thatcher’s uncompromising line while having to deal with adverse publicity from around the world.

The producer replied that everything they had discovered indicated that Thatcher at one point was going to make concessions but that when the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) got wind of it top civil servants, including the governor of the prison, Stanley Hilditch, threatened to resign.

As soon as he said it I realised it made absolute sense. Of course the civil servants in the NIO (unionists) would be more opposed to any concessions to republican prisoners than the British would.

It was personal for them. They lived here. They ran the place. They were the ones who formulated policies and how they were implemented on the ground including the criminalisation and Ulsterisation policies.

Stanley Hilditch had actually cut short a holiday at Christmas 1980 to return to the prison and personally handle the aftermath of the first hunger strike.

So, the producer of the programme added, threatened with rebellion on their doorstep it appears the British government decided it best to weather the storm (of the Hunger Strike) rather than follow through with their ‘offer’.

That was his version of events. What we know for definite is that during the Hunger Strike there were always offers from the British but never a deal.

And given that four comrades had already died and the hunger strike of 1980 had ended with not the merest crumb of concession there was no way we were ending ours without a concrete, copper-fastened deal witnessed by guarantors who could stand over it.

And anyone who was on it or involved with it, including Richard, knows that to be the case. Such was our suspicion and distrust of the British.

In the peace and tranquillity of 2009 it’s easy to forget that. To de-contextualise events. To forget the power of the emotions then and the strength of convictions.

It’s also easy to wish it could somehow have been different. What is unforgiveable though is to attempt to make cheap political gain from those events and in the course of it to cause hurt.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Martin McGuinness

mcguinness)Stature of ten men unassailed
By Martin McGuinness

THROUGHOUT Irish history Britain attempted to legitimise its actions by criminalising those native forces who opposed them physically, or in conscience. At one time it was Catholicism which was penalised, later it was nationalism and republicanism.

After 1969 the prison population here multiplied, not from an outbreak of criminality but due to the failure of government, street resistance and, latterly, IRA activity.

The first British secretary of state, William Whitelaw, recognised this political reality within the rising prison population and granted special category status (that is, political status) as a result of a republican hunger strike in 1972 before any prisoner lost his life.

Although tensions remained and republicans continued to attempt to escape and thwart imprisonment, by and large a quid pro quo existed within the jails. No prison officer, in those days, lost his life.

All this changed when the British went for wholesale confrontation and picked on what they mistakenly thought was the most vulnerable section of the republican movement – our imprisoned comrades.

They arbitrarily ended political status on March 1 1976, declaring that anyone involved in physical force after that date was a criminal.

But they had several problems, not least that IRA volunteers were politically and community motivated and, unlike loyalists, would not accept the Orwellian dispensation.

Britain’s other ‘criminalisation’ difficulty was that their own laws recognised IRA activities as ‘the use of violence for political ends’.

As we know, emboldened by the sacrifices of the hunger strikers, the H-Block prisoners went on to establish full political status, eventually acknowledged in the early release of prisoners under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Some weeks ago Gerry Adams met with all but two of the families of the hunger strikers. Bridie Lynch, sister of Kevin, couldn’t make the meeting but telephoned her solidarity for the group.

The meeting was private though later misrepresented by others. It was the first time that many of the families had met since those heart-rending seven months in 1981.

The allegation that a ‘deal’ by the Sinn Fein leadership was squandered was given short shrift. The families appealed to those who were perpetuating their ongoing grief to cease, though they have persisted, motivated by a variety of reasons.

In 1981 we were dealing with a ruthless, hypocritical enemy, personified by Margaret Thatcher. I find it quite ironic that in their desire to get at Sinn Fein our opponents are attempting to portray Thatcher as someone anxious to resolve the Hunger Strike.

Nothing could be further from the truth. According to our critics, the hunger strikers, on whose behalf we were acting, should have accepted an ‘offer’ which came to the prisoners and us, via a phone-call from a British official in London, through the intermediary (since identified as Brendan Duddy – an honourable man), to myself, to a phone-call to Gerry Adams, and in a verbal message to Danny Morrison to the prisoners.

Clearly, they have chosen to forget of what mettle the hunger strikers were made, of their experiences of British deceit in December 1980.

Sinn Fein had political and ideological differences with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP).

We and the prisoners suspected that it would sell the prisoners short. Despite being a vehicle for the British government delivering a compromise and avoiding direct negotiations, even the ICJP’s expectations/demands that the British would send in someone to stand over what London was implying in messages was refused six times in the hours before Joe McDonnell died.

This year the British government selectively released documents about this period under the Freedom of Information Act and our critics have seized upon their release, but not their content, as some sort of proof.

That the republican leadership was in contact with the British was revealed long ago, not least in the 1987 book Ten Men Dead.

I would encourage people to read this book and the documents released in 2009 and compare it to the allegations of those who never visited the hunger strikers in the prison hospital, never dealt with the prison administration and the British government or liaised with the ICJP (which, on its terms, to be fair, was attempting to resolve the situation).

Out of the five demands the only thing the British were offering to the hunger strikers after four men had died was that they could wear ordinary clothes, “provided these clothes were approved by the prison authorities.”

The prisoners would have to do prison work or else they would be ‘punished by loss of remission, or some similar penalty’.

Ironically, Thatcher was without human compassion until her own son, Mark, was lost in the Sahara desert during a car rally in 1982 and as a mother begged God to deliver her son from hunger and thirst in the desert. Mark Thatcher was saved but not our 10 men dead. Nevertheless, their stature is unassailable and increases with every passing year, those men whose memory we will always honour, whose sacrifice triggered such a confidence in the nationalist community that things were changed utterly.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Deal with British government vetoed by IRA says FitzGerald

Deal with British government vetoed by IRA says FitzGerald
By Seamus McKinney

Dr Garrett FitzGerald is convinced that, if the IRA had allowed them, the 1981 hunger strikers would have accepted either of two deals on offer to them in the days and hours before Joe McDonnell became the fifth man to die.

The former taoiseach bases this belief on, among other things, intelligence supplied to him by a heretofore-undisclosed Irish government source in the Maze prison in 1981.

Now 83 years old, Dr FitzGerald admits the 1981 Hunger Strike changed his view of relations with Northern Ireland in a way that ultimately led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.

Elected to the Dail in 1969, the future taoiseach was already the intellectual driver of Fine Gael when he first took his seat.

His two major areas of expertise were the Irish economy and foreign affairs through which he had a special interest in the north.

He served two periods as taoiseach, leading coalition governments from July 1981 to February 1982 and later from December 1982 until March 1987.

On his first day as taoiseach he was thrown into the maelstrom of northern politics and one of the defining periods in Irish republicanism.

After receiving his seal of office from President Patrick Hillary on June 30 1981 Dr Fitzgerald and his Labour tanaiste Michael O’Leary were faced with the prospect of further hunger strike deaths.

At the time the Catholic Church’s Irish Justice and Peace Commission was working towards a possible solution to the standoff between republican prisoners in the Maze and the British government.

“Despite an IRA statement [describing a British response to an Irish government statement as arrogant] the prisoners wanted the commission to continue its involvement,” Dr FitzGerald said.

While there was contact between the British government and the republican movement, Dr FitzGerald is adamant that his government never spoke to the IRA.

“The only contact ever with the IRA was at the Europa hotel when one of the IRA stopped one of our officials and talked to him, looking for us to let them run free – they were having some negotiations about a ceasefire – to let them do what they want and not arrest them to which we paid no attention,” he said.

Dr FitzGerald believed it was a mistake by the British government to maintain contacts with the IRA.

He believed that any contact with government encouraged the IRA to believe that its campaign of violence would eventually lead to negotiations.

“Unless they were willing to have a settlement they should not have been involved,” he said.

On taking up the position of taoiseach Dr FitzGerald was briefed about the situation in the north.

He believed the efforts by the Irish Justice and Peace Commission (IJPC) would lead to a solution before the next death –  that of McDonnell.

At Dr FitzGerald’s request the IJPC was granted a meeting with NIO minister of state Michael Allison who gave the impression that he wished to be conciliatory.

Mr Allison cleared the way for the IJPC to visit the prisoners who afterwards issued a more conciliatory statement than the messages coming from Sinn Fein outside the prison.

The prisoners said they were not seeking special privileges over other inmates.

Dr FitzGerald said at this stage on July 3 he believed events were moving towards a solution to the Hunger Strike without any more loss of life.

Around this time Dr FitzGerald said Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was contacted by Britain’s MI6 and a deal parallel to the IJPC was worked out.

“He was delighted the British were running to him and he did get an additional offer to the IJPC offer. It is my recollection that he got an offer on [access for prisoners to] the Open University which wasn’t in the IJPC offer,” he said.

Mr Adams contacted the IJPC to notify it of his talks and urge that it contact the NIO to cancel a planned meeting, clearing the way for him to continue negotiations. The commission refused to do this, believing they could achieve a protest-ending deal, Dr FitzGerald said.

“I felt that the deal which had been worked out [by the IJPC] we were talking about finishing – and which the prisoners accepted – that should go ahead and I kept on to the British about that,” he said.

“But [the British] had interfered with that and I didn’t trust the IRA about it.

“The fact was once the prisoners had a separate position from the IRA and were not pressing for the fulfilment of all five demands there was clearly a chance of moving.

“If the British had not intervened and brought the IRA back in again a deal could have been done.”

Even after the IJPC pulled out, the former taoiseach believed the prisoners were ready to accept the new deal if they had been allowed to do so by Sinn Fein.

“They were keen to accept that. We knew that. We had our sources within the prison,” he said.

“As well as from the commission, we knew something was happening in the prison from other sources.”

Dr FitzGeral added: “[Richard] O’Rawe’s account seems to me to be, within his framework of knowledge, honest and accurate.”

Dr FitzGerald said he would co-operate with any official inquiry although he felt it was pointless as he believed the leadership of the IRA would not provide an accurate account of what happened.

Following the death of McDonnell, Dr FitzGerald still believed a solution could be found because the prisoners had indicated a willingness to accept the ICJP deal.

For 10 days he pursued the ICJP deal with Britain but no agreement was reached. All negotiations over a possible solution ended and in total 10 men died before the Hunger Strike was ended.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Eight families meet but not all back statement

Eight families meet but not all back statement
Families of the strikers are divided over O’Rawe claim
Seamus McKinney

The families of eight of the hunger strikers failed to reach agreement on the new claims when they met in June this year.

A meeting to discuss the Richard O’Rawe claims and the recent controversy was addressed by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, the party’s former publicity officer Danny Morrison and Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, OC of the IRA prisoners in 1981.

The Sands and Lynch families did not attend the meeting.

Michael Devine jnr – the son of INLA man Michael Devine, the last hunger striker to die – said he had walked out of the discussion.

Mr Devine told The Irish News following the meeting that he had walked out although he had made no protest at the meeting. He said he had left the discussion because he had been unable to put his point of view.

The organisers of the meeting – held at Gulladuff in Co Derry – refused to allow IRSP spokesman William Gallagher to attend.

People who attended the meeting said it had been “highly emotional”. Insiders said the discussion had brought back many painful memories for the families present.

At the close of the discussion an effort was made to have the families issue a joint statement demanding an end to the controversy but this failed.

A counter-call for an independent inquiry into the controversy also failed to get full support.

Days after the meeting, some of the families issued a statement calling on those making claims of a deal to stop.

“All of the family members who spoke with the exception of Tony O’Hara (brother of Patsy) expressed deep anger and frustration at the ongoing allegations created by O’Rawe,” the statement said.

It was claimed the statement was supported by all of the hunger strikers’ families present with the exception of the O’Hara family.

This was later disputed when Michael Devine’s son Michael jnr told The Irish News he had neither seen nor given his support to the statement.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: INLA man’s son calls for inquiry

INLA man’s son calls for inquiry
Families of the strikers are divided over O’Rawe claim
By Seamus McKinney

MICHAEL Og Devine was just eight years old when his father, also Michael, became the final hunger striker to die on August 20 1981 after 60 days without food.

The INLA prisoner told Tommy McCourt, a friend who visited him just days before his death, that he could not come off the Hunger Strike.

Mr McCourt has recalled how the two men discussed Devine’s funeral arrangements.

His dying friend told him if he came off the Hunger Strike and thereby ended the protest his life would not be worth living in the H-blocks.

His son, Michael Og, recalls that although very young he was fully aware he was seeing his father for the final time during their last visit days before his death.

Had the British government’s offer to make a statement conceding some of the hunger strikers’ five demands been accepted by the Provisional IRA leadership and had the protest ended, Devine (26) would not even have gone on hunger strike.

He commenced the protest on June 22. But like his fellow INLA prisoner Kevin Lynch and the INLA leadership, he was never made aware of the negotiations prior to the death of Joe McDonnell on July 8.

Michael Og believes the version of the deal and events put forward by Willie Gallagher of the IRSP.

“I believe Willie would not tell me lies. He has been working on this for three years,” Mr Devine said.

As to whether his father would have declined to go on hunger strike if he had known a deal was offered and rejected, the Derry man says that is too difficult a question to answer.

“If there was a deal there, I don’t know how he would have reacted,” he said.

Following a private meeting between Hunger Strike families and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in Gulladuff a statement was issued saying most of the families, including the Devines, accepted the Sinn Fein version of events.

But the statement was signed on behalf of the Devine family by members of the hunger striker’s extended family.

However, Michael Og is adamant that he did not and does not support the statement.

He said he is not angry at present about the controversy but he believes all the facts should be revealed and that this can be done only through an independent inquiry.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Provos ‘kept rivals in dark’

Provos ‘kept rivals in dark’
Families of the strikers are divided over O’Rawe claim
By Seamus McKinney

Top from left, Michael Devine’s children Michael Og and Louise, former blanketman Dixie Elliott, Patsy O’Hara’s mother Peggy O’Hara and the hunger striker’s brother Tony O’Hara, Willie Gallagher of the IRSP, Richard O’Rawe and former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins.

Top from left, Michael Devine’s children Michael Og and Louise, former blanketman Dixie Elliott, Patsy O’Hara’s mother Peggy O’Hara and the hunger striker’s brother Tony O’Hara, Willie Gallagher of the IRSP, Richard O’Rawe and former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins.

TONY O’Hara last saw his brother Patsy alive two days before the Derry man died on the 61st day of his hunger strike on May 21 1981.

At the time O’Hara was an INLA prisoner at the Maze serving a sentence for possession of arms.

He died on the same day as IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh from Camlough, Co Armagh.

“For the entire duration of the 61 days I got to spend two hours and 15 minutes with Patsy. Even though I was in jail I was brought in handcuffs from H5 to the prison hospital – a short trip,” Mr O’Hara said.

Two days after seeing his brother Mr O’Hara, whose first cell mate was Bobby Sands, heard of his younger brother’s death on a crystal radio set smuggled into the jail.

“Another prisoner came to his window and shouted but I sort of knew. I was waiting for it when news came,” he said.

Mr O’Hara was given 12 hours compassionate parole to attend his brother’s funeral and just two months later he was released.

“When Patsy died I just felt numb. I remembered what it was like when Bobby Sands died,” he said.

“On the night he was elected there was elation. We just, everyone just, celebrated and cheered.

“But on the night he died there was just silence. The whole of Long Kesh went silent.”

Although any deal, real or not, would not have saved O’Hara’s life, the INLA man’s family is one of those demanding an inquiry into the Provisionals’ management of the Hunger Strike.

Mr O’Hara’s concern is that the Sinn Fein version of events has changed too often since Richard O’Rawe published his account of a possible deal in 2005.

He is also concerned that the INLA leadership was never told of the possible deal despite the fact that two of its members  – Kevin Lynch and Michael Devine – died after it was alleged to have been made.

“It could have been a propaganda coup for the blanketmen and we could have said the Brits reneged on a deal,” Mr O’Hara said.

He believes the Provos tried to manipulate the Hunger Strike to exclude the INLA as much as possible.

“Patsy was to be the second to go on strike after Bobby Sands but Francie Hughes created such a rumpus that he went second,” Mr O’Hara said.

He accepts there could be a number of reasons for the Sinn Fein leadership deciding not to accept the deal.

“There is a lot of speculation and I don’t know the reason but that is one of the big questions that must be asked,” Mr O’Hara said.

He disputes the various statements put forward by the Sinn Fein leadership in recent months, not least a claim that all prisoners were told of the deal in 1981.

Mr O’Hara is adamant that only a full inquiry, chaired by an international human rights figure, will get to the truth.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Deal allegations hurtful to family

Deal allegations hurtful to family
Families of the strikers are divided over O’Rawe claim
By Allison Morris

Kieran Doherty’s parents Alfie and Margaret with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Kieran Doherty’s parents Alfie and Margaret with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Kieran Doherty, known as ‘Big Doc’, was on hunger strike for 73 days before his death on August 2 1981, the longest of any of the 10 men who died.

He was 25 years old.

Elected as a TD to Cavan Monaghan in June 1981, for the last 16 days of his life members of the Doherty family kept a round-the-clock vigil by his bedside in the hospital wing of the Maze prison.

His mother Margaret, now 82, said until the very end he remained adamant that he was not to be taken off the protest until the five demands were not only achieved but copper fastened.

A convert to Catholicism, Margaret Doherty had moved from the staunchly Protestant Shankill Road to Andersonstown after marrying her now late husband Alfie.

She says that her son’s belief in what he was doing left the family with no option other than to give him their support.

“Kieran knew he was likely to die. He told us that from the start,” Mrs Doherty said.

“He was a great son, he had a very strong faith, he never missed his Mass no matter what.

“When he knew he was near the end he told his father not to worry. ‘It’s only a wee step over to the other side’, he said.

“And he made us give our word he wouldn’t be taken off unless the demands were met.

“Up until then you should have seen the way they were being treated. As a mother it just tore at your heart.

“Before the Hunger Strike started he had spent a week in hospital, he had been beaten so badly during a search.

“Kieran knew the Hunger Strike wasn’t going to benefit him because he was going to die. He did it for the other lads because they couldn’t have survived much longer in conditions they were living in.

“I feel him all around me every day. God love him, he’s always been there.”

Representatives of the Doherty family attended a recent meeting in Co Derry with Gerry Adams and Bik McFarland to discuss the controversy surrounding the Hunger Strike.

In a statement, they told The Irish News: “These totally untrue allegations have caused untold hurt and anguish to our family and we feel sully the proud memory of Kieran and his comrades.

“What hurts more is that the nasty and spiteful allegations come from people who should really know better – former comrades and people who claim to be republicans.

“We were at Kieran’s side throughout what was a traumatic time for our family.

“Kieran was determined to see the protest through until the five demands had been achieved. ‘Set in concrete,’ were his very words.

“Due to the position of Margaret Thatcher and the British government a deal was not secured, we knew that at the time and we know it now.

“We would like to state this is hurting our family, especially our elderly mother, and call on those responsible to stop pushing this agenda for whatever personal reasons they may have and allow Kieran to rest in peace.”

The other families

The families of Francis Hughes and Thomas McElwee (who were cousins) from Bellaghy declined to take part in this investigation. Following individual family discussions, they said they believed the issue had been dealt with.

The families of the five other hunger strikers who died were approached by The Irish News but also declined to take part.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Hunger Strike freed us all from cycle of deadly ways

Hunger Strike freed us all from cycle of deadly ways
By Roy Garland 
The Monday Column

I once attended an evangelical meeting where a “hymn” written by a hunger striker was occasionally sung.

Thomas Ashe was a 1916 leader who died after force feeding went wrong in 1917.

His “hymn” was an amended version of one of his poems written in Lewes Gaol in England. It included the following lines: “Let me carry your cross for Ireland, Lord: the hour of her trial draws near. And the pangs and the pain of her sacrifice will be borne by comrades dear. But Lord, take me from the offering throng, there are many far less prepared, though ready and all as they are to die, that Ireland may be saved.”

Early last century Dublin-based evangelical Christians Eva and Clara Stuart Watt encouraged people to emulate the resolve of republicans in the service of Christ.

Self-sacrifice was not, however, to be taken literally. They found inspiration in Thomas Davis’s A Nation Once Again especially the words, “and righteous men must make our land a nation once again”. For a righteous person violence was not an option.

Killing for any earthly cause was repudiated. Yet the need for bloodshed was accepted but applied only to the “blood of Christ” whose suffering and death was the sacrifice to end all sacrifice.

The horror of human or animal sacrifice was rejected. The kind of “reasonable service” that evangelicals were called upon to make was, in the words of St Paul, a “living sacrifice”, meaning a life lived for God and one’s fellow man.

In contrast so many animal sacrifices took place in the Jerusalem temple before AD70 that blood spilt into the Jordan River was used by local farmers as fertiliser.

Hunger strikers fasting onto death were sacrificing their own lives. This act may be respected as courageous, revered as an example of dedication or perhaps deemed as wasteful.

On the day Bobby Sands died a deep hush pervaded the whole camp. Loyalists respected his courage. They had also wanted changes in prison conditions and led the way in support of political status in 1972 while some republicans were hesitant.

Loyalist aims were obscured somewhat by their demands for segregation.

The idea that prisoners deserve humane living conditions is of ancient vintage and perhaps derives from the Quaker emphasis on “that of God in everyone”.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) was a Quaker who dedicated her life to the welfare of prisoners.

Support for humane prison conditions even reached into the heart of the Orange Order.

A friend in my dad’s Orange Lodge was secretary of the Prisoners’ Aid Society who gave occasional talks at Orange functions about prisoners’ needs.

The idea that people might die for the right to wear certain clothes or for certain “privileges” was highly questionable.

The violence of the IRA campaign had caused revulsion while unhelpful rumours that Long Kesh was a home from home did not help. Some students were angry that prisoners should gain qualifications at the taxpayers’ expense while they lived with financial difficulties.

It was not fasting itself that was considered repugnant but fasting unto death that even some republicans baulked at.

Any hint of manipulating people’s deaths for private or political ends was regarded as repulsive.

When some loyalists participated in the early dirty protests and hunger strikes, this went against the grain. They were criticised for “lending support to republicans” and became pariahs, demonised by republicans while demeaned and ostracised by many of their own people. Progressive loyalists were sometimes damned as “rotten Prods”.

This was especially difficult given that it was the oratory of unionist leaders that led many of them to take up the gun in the first place. When militant clergy disowned their proteges, this fostered cynicism. Loyalists usually hailed from the most deprived sections of the community but they could see that hunger strikes to the death were extremely emotive events that could raise dark and deadly ancestral voices.

To associate the dying hunger striker with Christ was a form of dangerous idolatry. This might explain why even progressive loyalists remained uneasy about a museum associated with the hunger strikers’ deaths.

Yet those who died in this way could be seen as in some sense Christ-like. They were victims, even if it was at their own hands. However, to manipulate their deaths for party political ends, if this is what happened, was surely the ultimate abuse of human suffering.

Yet strangely the final outcome proved to be a political path which had the capacity to free us from the ways of death.


Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Conflict is over but the battle for truth goes on

Conflict is over but the battle for truth goes on
By Tom Kelly

Nineteen-eighty-one was a seminal year. It didn’t just radicalise northern nationalism – it radicalised much more.

I was in lower sixth preparing for summer exams and my family, like many others, were worried about keeping teenagers out of trouble and ‘The Troubles’.

Most succeeded.

It’s funny the things we remember from that year but Newpoint Players had a production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (insanity was not an inappropriate theme back then).

Also, long before we both worked for Seamus Mallon, the late John Fee and I were in an after-school project called the St Francis’s Youth Group.

Spurs won the FA Cup.

That was May, the same month Bobby Sands died.

Long before 1981 I decided the IRA and so-called republicans were doing nothing for Newry. Well let’s be honest; the remnants of Newry still standing.

In 1981 the scars of the conflict were all around. Hill Street and Monaghan Street were puckered with inexplicable architectural gaps courtesy of the IRA’s economic war. The town centre was a no-go area and the human cost was well evidenced by the thriving trade at the misnomer known as the Newry Labour Exchange, where thousands of people waited with their labour – with little in the way of any exchange going on.

But the Hunger Strike was not something to be ignored.

As a history buff, I knew of the most famous Irish hunger striker, Terence MacSwiney.

His memorial card was among the memorabilia of my grandfather who himself was a political prisoner in Crumlin Road Prison a mere nine months after MacSwiney died.

MacSwiney said that “victory is not won by those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most”. (He was subsequently invoked by Indian nationalists like Nehru).

But MacSwiney was no pacifist resistance fighter.

He had the messianic zeal of Pearse. He understood not only the principle of personal sacrifice but the impact too. MacSwiney’s death no doubt would have impacted on the emotions of my 17-year-old grandfather.

But just as the madness of the Great War milked the life blood of an entire generation who fought in a conflict neither of their making nor in their interests, the rhetoric of zealots held no truck with me in 1981 and notwithstanding my emotional ties to my grandfather – who as his subsequent election posters said “has in civic affairs and national rendered valuable services” (sic) – to me Provisional Sinn Fein were like monkeys on backs of the nationalist community; with one hand on their throats and the other in their pockets.

But then there was Bobby Sands.

And to be honest, I too, got swept up in the emotion. I had not reckoned on my almost genetic and primitive antipathy against the British.

I even agreed with the then reported comments of Provisional propagandist Danny Morrison that Thatcher was “the greatest bastard ever”. Like many others, I was motivated enough to attend the funeral of Raymond McCreesh.

Reflecting on that day, I reckon until the Good Friday Agreement that was, politically speaking, the closest I ever got to Sinn Fein.

Having been given the greatest propaganda coup of the century, the reach of IRA recruiters was never far away for attendees of that funeral.

The most active recruiter in the vicinity was referred to locally as having neither “chick nor child”. That saying stuck with me for it meant they would never know the loneliness of widowhood, the vacuum of lost sons or the rearing children without fathers.

Yet the Hunger Strike struck a raw nerve in the psyche of nationalists generally and teenagers in particular. That Provisional Sinn Fein was the main beneficiary of the sacrifice of those hunger strikers and their families, there is no doubt.

In fact it launched careers.

I agree too with Sands’s sister that Bobby most likely did not envisage dying for cross-border bodies and a devolved UK administration in the north.

Nonetheless as iconic a figure as he is to republicans, modern Sinn Fein could never live up to Bobby’s Irish utopia of 1981 by 2009.

The British/Irish war is most definitely over.

What is not over is the truth about that period as former Provisionals now question whether the sacrifice not only of the hunger strikers but the hundreds of other victims who died between 1981 and 1994 was worth it, for a political settlement which was always on the table.


Sourced from the Irish News

Irish News: Chain of events that led to deaths

Chain of events that led to deaths
By Seamus McKinney

Between May 5 and August 20 1981 10 men died on hunger strike at the Maze prison in a protest which attracted worldwide media attention.

On the surface the Hunger Strike, and its 1980 predecessor, was in pursuit of five demands by republican prisoners.

However, it is accepted it was about much more than that. It was about a refusal by republican prisoners to allow the British government to officially criminalise them.

Prisoners started their protest for ‘special category status’ when it was removed in 1976.

Refusing to wear prison clothes, they wore blankets and fashioned blankets into clothing, earning approximately 350 inmates the title ‘blanketmen’.

In 1978 the protest was escalated after some prisoners were attacked when they left their cells to slop out.

Prisoners subsequently refused to leave their cells to wash and spread excrement on the cell walls in a dirty protest.

The IRA and INLA prisoners made five demands which they considered vital to re-establish their political status.

These were:

– the right not to wear prison uniforms

– the right not to do prison work

– the right of free association with other prisoners and to organise educational and recreational pursuits

– the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

– full restoration of remission lost through the protest.

In 1980 seven prisoners went on hunger strike in pursuit of the demands.

The protest was called off after 53 days with Sean McKenna close to death.

The prisoners believed a British government document – which they had not seen – had conceded the essence of their demands.

However, when the 34-page document was studied the prisoners found it fell far short of their demands.

This was realised within days of the end of the hunger strike when prisoners were issued with civilian-style prison uniforms instead of their own clothes.

Some observers believe that the British government had genuinely thought it had dealt with the problem but that subsequent problem arose in its implementation by prison management and staff.

The second Hunger Strike began when former IRA prison OC Bobby Sands refused food on March 1 1981.

This time prisoners joined the Hunger Strike at staggered intervals.

In April 1981 Sands defeated Ulster Unionist candidate Harry West to win a seat as an MP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone following the death of sitting Independent MP Frank Maguire.

Despite Sands’s election causing a diplomatic crisis for Britain around the world then prime minister Margaret Thatcher refused to give in to the prisoners demands.

In a now famous speech, she said: “We are not prepared to consider special category status for certain groups of people serving sentences for crime. Crime is crime is crime. It is not political.”

Sands eventually died on May 5 after 66 days on hunger strike. In a huge protest by nationalist Ireland tens of thousands of people lined the route of his funeral.

In the next four months nine more men died while on hunger strike before the protest began to break down following interventions by hunger strikers’ families.

On October 3 1981 the Hunger Strike was officially ended.

Four days later, new Northern Ireland secretary of state Jim Prior conceded four of the five demands.

The final demand, the right not to do prison work, was conceded when the British government agreed to allow prisoners to undertake educational study during prison work time.

Blanketman’s deal claim

THE controversy over the 1981 Hunger Strike began in 2005 when former prisoner Richard O’Rawe, above right, published his book Blanketmen.

He alleged that a possible deal which could have ended the Hunger Strike was rejected by the Sinn Fein committee which was managing the protest outside the prison.

O’Rawe, a publicity officer for the prisoners, believed there could be a number of reasons for this, including a strategy to make political gain from the protest.

He said the deal was offered after the death of Patsy O’Hara and just two days before the death of Joe McDonnell.

He said then OC of the IRA prisoners, Brendan Bik McFarlane shouted “Tá go leor ann” (There’s enough there) to him when he heard the details.

Both McFarlane and the Sinn Fein leadership have denied this version of events. Former Sinn Fein publicity officer Danny Morrison initially denied that any deal at all was offered.

However, through Freedom of Information a number of documents have since emerged which appear to support a possible deal.

These documents indicate that then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was willing to give concessions on three and possibly four of the prisoners’ demands.

At the time the offer was released verbally to the IRA leadership by Derry businessman and go-between Brendan Duddy who was known by the code name The Mountain Climber. Nothing in writing was ever offered.

The offer was made after a statement by the prisoners in which they appeared willing drop the words ‘political status’ from their campaign while maintaining their five demands.

The Freedom of Information documents claim a draft statement was given to Sinn Fein to be released after the prisoners had called off thee Hunger Strike.

But Joe McDonnell died unexpectedly early and following serious rioting the Hunger Strike continued.

Sinn Fein claims a close reading of the documents shows the British were not willing to agree to a settlement favourable to the prisoners. The party says people should not confuse a deal with an offer.

Seamus McKinney

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Violence of the year left 118 people dead

Violence of the year left 118 people dead
Was there a deal?
By Suzanne McGonagle

THE explosive events of 1981 saw violence erupt on the streets of Northern Ireland on a scale not seen since the early 1970s.

The year was regarded as a Troubles watershed with the Hunger Strike inflaming tensions outside the Maze Prison. In that year 118 people lost their lives.

Of those killed, civilians accounted for 54 of the deaths, with 21 RUC officers, 11 soldiers and 13 UDR members among the dead.

Sixteen republicans and three loyalists also died during 1981.

According to the book Lost Lives, republican activity resulted in 75 deaths.

Loyalists were responsible for 14, the British army for 13, the RUC for three and the UDR for one.

When Bobby Sands became the first hunger striker to lose his life, news of his death quickly led to violence and further death.

Just a day after he died a policeman, Philip Ellis (33), was killed at Duncairn Gardens in Belfast as officers tried to prevent rival factions from clashing following Sands’s death.

School children accounted for many of those who lost their lives during the turbulent year.

One of the first to die was Protestant teenager Desmond Guiney.

The 14-year-old from Rathcoole died after a mob stoned his father’s milk lorry on the New Lodge Road in north Belfast.

Missiles were thrown at the vehicle causing it to crash into a lamp-post. His father Eric died almost a week later from his injuries.

In the aftermath of the death of hunger striker Francis Hughes, another child became a victim of the spiralling violence.

Julie Livingstone (14), who was a Catholic and from the Lenadoon area of west Belfast, was hit by plastic bullet fired by British soldiers on the Stewartstown Road.

Another Catholic schoolgirl to lose her life during 1981 was Carol Ann Kelly (11) who was also killed by a plastic bullet fired by soldiers as she walked home in the Twinbrook area of Belfast.

Father-of-seven Henry Duffy from the Creggan area of Derry was also killed after being hit by a plastic bullet fired by soldiers on May 22 1981.

His death came during serious rioting throughout the Bogside following the death of Derry hunger striker Patsy O’Hara.

That year also saw the death of the first Northern Ireland MP to be killed during the Troubles.

The Rev Robert Bradford (40) was shot by IRA gunmen at a community centre in the Finaghy area of Belfast on November 14.

The IRA claimed he was “one of the key people responsible for winding up the loyalist paramilitary sectarian machine”.

His death triggered a security crisis and was followed by the killings of a number of Catholics including Stephen Murphy, Thomas McNulty and Peadar Fagan, who were killed in separate gun attacks.

INLA member James Power was also killed during 1981 when a bomb exploded prematurely as he attempted to disarm it.

The bomb had been intended to kill members of the security forces.

He remains the only INLA member to have been killed while handling explosives.

And on May 16 Patrick Martin – a Catholic father-of-one – was shot six times by the UDA/UFF while lying in bed at his home off the Crumlin Road in Belfast.

The UDA/UFF claimed he had been at the funeral of Bobby Sands.

Later in July 1981 John Dempsey, a member of the IRA’s Fianna youth wing was shot by soldiers at the Falls Road bus depot during disturbances.

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: THE HUNGER STRIKE: Special Investigation

THE HUNGER STRIKE: Special Investigation
By Staff Reporters

THE LIVES of six of the 10 1981 hunger strikers could have been saved in a deal which was acceptable to the prisoners, according to former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, left.

In an interview in today’s Irish News, the architect of the Anglo-Irish Agreement also reveals for the first time that the Irish government had a mole within the Maze prison.

The then Fine Gael leader says he believes a deal proposed by the British after the death of the fourth hunger striker in 1981 was vetoed by the Sinn Fein leadership – a claim rejected by Martin McGuinness.

“[The prisoners] were keen to accept [the deal] – we had our sources within the prison,” Dr FitzGerald says.

However, he did not elaborate on the status of the mole and whether he/she was a prisoner or a member of staff.

In today’s special investigation, Mr McGuinness also reveals for the first time that he was the conduit for the offer from the British government which he says was passed to him from the intermediary Brendan Duddy.

Mr McGuinness, who has never previously confirmed if he played a role during the hunger Strike, reveals that the message was then passed to Gerry Adams in a phone call and on to Danny Morrison who took it to the prisoners.

However, Mr McGuinness disputes claims that there was a deal on the table that was acceptable to the prisoners and accuses Sinn Fein’s political opponents of attempting to portray Margaret Thatcher as being someone who was anxious to solve the dispute when she was “a ruthless, hypocritical enemy”.

A bitter divide has developed within republicanism since the publication of the book Blanketmen by former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe, in which he suggested that the Sinn

Fein leadership blocked the deal for political reasons.

The strike resulted in not only the death of 10 IRA and INLA prisoners, but led to serious street violence which caused dozens of deaths.


Sourced from The Irish News

“Rusty Nail”: A Case to Answer

Monday, September 28, 2009
1981 Hunger Strike: A Case to Answer
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

WAS THERE A DEAL? ask the Irish News in its two part special on the Hunger Strike. Today’s issue is damning, featuring commentary by Deputy First Minister and, according to the Ed Moloney’s Secret History, Chief of Staff of the IRA at the time of the hunger strikes Martin McGuinness, who admits to his role as the Derry messenger between Mountain Climber Brendan Duddy and the Belfast cadre of Adams, Morrison, Gibney and Hartley. Former Hunger Striker Laurence McKeown also weighs in, shedding little light on the details but muddying the waters on the rhetoric. More significant are the contributions from former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald, who believes the IRA vetoed the deal with the British despite the prisoners’ willingness to accept – which he reveals the Irish government was aware of at the time because of a mole they had inside the prison. Hugh Logue of the ICJP, who were at the time of Joe McDonnell’s death negotiating a parallel offer similar to the one between Thatcher and the Adams committee, also weighs in, asking why the outside leadership held out at the expense of the lives of the hunger strikers. Richard O’Rawe, whose book Blanketmen opened up this appalling vista, gives an overview of how the debate has progressed and supports the call for an independent inquiry into events, describing the seeking of truth as a “sacred duty”. The contributions that focus on the families of the hunger strikers are very emotional, as the anguish of their loss is palpable. The Dohertys are hurt by the allegations of the needless death of their son, and want the issue laid to rest, while the O’Haras and Devines, also upset by the issue, want to get to the bottom of things and know the truth of what happened. The late Brendan Hughes, who led the first hunger strike in 1980, touched on this when speaking to Spanish academic Rogelio Alonso: “I’ve spoken about this to people and I’ve always been advised by people like Jim Gibney, Danny Morrison and others that it would be too hurtful for the families of the dead hunger strikers to tell the truth. But that was the other attempt to bury the truth.”

As Sarah Brett concluded on Radio Foyle this morning, after interviewing Irish News Editor Noel Doran, “This isn’t going to go away.”

This special investigation by the Irish News contains a huge volume of material, which Slugger will be sifting through more in depth in the coming days.

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Irish News letters page: (S)he who paid the piper

(S)he who paid the piper
Irish News letters page
Manus McDaid, Derry

SAM Greer of Belfast asks ‘Who killed the hunger strikers?’ (August 28).

Mr Greer says: “It is common knowledge that six lives [of the hunger strikers] could have been spared in a deal offered by the British”.

I, as a life-long republican, never heard of this.

Britain double-crossed the first hunger strike, I know.

And, when Bobby Sands died on the second hunger strike, Britain’s premier said he was a terrorist convict and chose to take his own life.

The people of Cappagh know better now – you either accept the integrity of the hunger strikers or you don’t.

Mr Greer asks ‘What was it all about?’ – What planet has he been on for the last 50 years?

Sourced from the Irish News


Use this link to access all contents

New to Archive

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.