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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

“Rusty Nail”: Adams and the Irish News

Friday, October 09, 2009

1981 Hunger Strike: Adams and the Irish News
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

UPDATE – This is the introduction to the Adams article as printed in this week’s An Phoblacht:

“Sinn Fein asked The Irish News for a full right of reply and the newspaper agreed.  When the response from Gerry Adams was harshly critical of the Irish News itself, the article was blocked.  An Phoblacht carries the article below.  We are waiting for the Irish News to do the same.”

Interesting that the Stormont Press Officer, who tweeted the same allegation, and the North Antrim MLA, who retweeted it, have both removed their tweets, and the An Phoblacht website no longer carries the Adams article.

It is understood The Irish News was quite keen to publish Adams’ piece, but Sinn Fein withdrew it.

The Irish News’ special investigation on the Hunger Strike has prompted Adams to break his silence on the issue. Unfortunately, he says nothing new, or informative. In fact he actually repeats verbatim points made previously by Danny Morrison, Sile Darragh, and Martin McGuinness – it must be on the hymn sheet passed around Connolly House. It’s understood the Irish News chased Adams for months prior to the publication of their special double issue, being very keen for a one-on-one interview (as they got with former Taoiseach Fitzgerald). Instead, they were eventually given an article from Martin McGuinness. Once the issue ran, it was rumoured that Adams wanted his spake in. Nothing has been published yet, but this piece, tweeted yesterday morning by SF’s Stormont Press Officer Niall Ó Donnghaile, has now appeared in An Phoblacht – and is mysteriously absent from their website (Previously linked live here; it’s currently showing up in Google searches). Ó Donnghaile tweets, “it’s worth noting that despite agreeing to take a right of reply from Gerry, once they got the article the Irish News refused to publish it”, but it is understood that Sinn Fein withdrew the article from the Irish News for revision and have not yet resubmitted it. Its on/off presence at the AP/RN website is puzzling.

UPDATE: Ó Donnghaile’s tweets, like Adams’ article, have now been removed from the web. The first tweet said: “reading an excellent article from Gerry Adams in this weeks AP/RN dealing with the Irish News’ recent ‘series’ on the 1981 Hunger Strikes11:25 AM Oct 8th from web”

Update, 10.09.09: North Antrim MLA Daithí McKay has removed his retweet of Ó Donnghaile’s tweet (see comment 3).

As to the content itself – basically, this is just a screed against the Irish News, playing to Republicans’ instinctual emotions – pure propaganda, no substance. It borders on the rant of a madman, taking a splatter approach Slugger readers following certain contributions in the comments section on this subject will recognise. This ‘splatter’ approach desperately throws whatever comes to mind in the hopes that something will stick, even if its only more confusion. It’s an approach that rarely contains any facts or addresses the issue head on. What is remarkable about this piece is the hodge-podge nature of it, how it is cobbled together, literally in some instances, from previous screeds of others. Nothing in it is persuasive or even addresses the core issue: why did Adams and his committee of people overseeing the hunger strike over-rule the prisoners themselves and refuse Thatcher’s offer?

The first paragraph gives a brief history of the lead-up to the hunger strike, then attacks the Irish News over its coverage (The Irish News did give a historical context to the Hunger Strike in its special issue, though one suspects that Adams’ first salvo is more over-arching than focusing on specific complaints about the content of the double issue).

The second paragraph has a go at Garret Fitzgerald, as the previous issue of AP/RN did, throwing in a quote from his 1991 memoirs for good measure. What is funny about this is the position, as if Fitzgerald’s Irish News article was radically different from what he had previously written. It wasn’t. The only thing new in his article was the revelation of a mole in the prison, and the agreement to participate in an inquiry should one take place. His 1991 memoirs are incredibly direct and clear as to what his position was, and his description of what happened in the crucial days of early July – written over a decade before O’Rawe wrote his memoir – starkly shows where O’Rawe was right, and was filling in the story from his own position inside the prison. What O’Rawe added to our knowledge of what happened was the prisoners’ acceptance of the deal. Each viewpoint adds more detail to the picture – most by what they say but some by what they do not. Adams just goes on a rant against Fitzgerald, using the “Everyone’s a bastard except for me” defence.

But he really ups the ranty-ness with his attack on the Irish News in the next section of his article. Playing fast and loose with facts – which the Irish News should be more than able of correcting – Adams again pulls the emotional strings, propping up the bravery of IRA (and, remarkably for him, INLA) volunteers against the Irish News ‘player’. “You must believe me,” he seems to be saying, “because I am standing on these volunteer’s wounds right now!”

Next, he moves onto the claim that the ending of the first hunger strike is why they didn’t accept Thatcher’s offer in early July. Only he doesn’t say, “During the first hunger strike, I was one of the people who were negotiating with the British,” nor does he say that he himself, and those who were working with him in those negotiations, were deeply distrustful of the British – and nor does he support Laurence McKeown’s theory of screw and civil servant rebellion being ‘the’ factor. He also doesn’t support the previous assertion that claims Morrison went into great detail when he visited the hunger strikers. This is key, as what he has written shows that Morrison was very general in his visit, which is what has been the understanding all along:

This was the prisoners’ mindset on 5 July, 1981, after four of their comrades had already died and when Danny Morrison visited the IRA and INLA Hunger Strikers to tell them that contact had been re-established and that the British were making an offer.
While this verbal message fell well short of their demands, they nevertheless wanted an accredited British official to come in and explain this position to them, which is entirely understandable given the British Government’s record.

So we have confirmation, such that it is, that the hunger strikers themselves were told nothing of substance in regards to Thatcher’s offer. They didn’t know.

Here also, in the next section, Adams sings from the Morrison hymn sheet, going into the song and dance about the ICJP waiting for the NIO to send someone in to explain the offer to the hunger strikers:

“Six times before the death of Joe McDonnell, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which was engaged in parallel discussions with the British, asked the British to send an official into the jail to explain what it was offering, and six times the British refused.”

Previously:

Furthermore, if the NIO had really wanted to do a deal, even one based on the ICJP’s proposals, then all it had to do was send in the guarantor to the hunger strikers. Fr Crilly (ICJP) confirmed this on Thursday on BBC Radio Ulster. Six times the ICJP phoned Allison about the guarantor going in, but none ever appeared and Joe McDonnell died on July 8th, followed by five others. – Danny Morrison, March 5, 2005

However, the British would not verify to the hunger strikers their various ‘offers’. Six times they were asked by the ICJP to explain their position to the prisoners and six times they refused before Joe McDonnell died. – Danny Morrison, 2006

Jim Gibney also picked up that baton in 2006: “On the eve of Joe McDonnell’s death the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace six times asked the Northern Ireland Office to put to the hunger strikers what the NIO was claiming to be offering. Six times it refused. Joe McDonnell died and the ICJP left in disgust.”

And Martin McGuinness had it in last month’s Irish News: “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.”

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

Adams then again waxes Morrisonesque, in an impressive double steal:

Ex-prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who never left his cell, never met the Hunger Strikers in the prison hospital, never met the governor, never met the ICJP or Danny Morrison during the Hunger Strike, and who never raised this issue before serialising his book in that well-known Irish republican propaganda organ, The Sunday Times, said, in a statement in 1981:

“The British Government’s hypocrisy and their refusal to act in a responsible manner are completely to blame for the death of Joe McDonnell.”

This refrain of what O’Rawe never did, in comparison to all that Morrison did do, surfaces in a number of places, notably in Greg Harkin’s April 2008 piece: “Richard O’Rawe never met with the hunger strikers in the prison hospital, never met with the ICJP and nor was he dealing with the republican leadership outside the prison.” (Harkin’s piece also has the ‘six times’ refrain: “According to the ICJP, whilst Joe McDonnell was dying, the NIO promised the ICJP that it would send someone into the prison to discuss the offer and six times over this two-day critical period the NIO failed to do so.”)

It also appears in the Sile Darragh letter: “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.”

And most recently, Martin McGuinness was joining in the chorus: “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).”

The 1981 nugget first surfaced in An Phoblacht, 2006, with Danny Morrison producing “secret comms” purporting to show that O’Rawe believed there was no deal. These ‘secret comms’ were actually public press statements and in no way indicative of anything other than the propaganda war being waged at the time.

That President Adams is using them today in his first public statement addressing the issue of the Thatcher hunger strike deal is, frankly, pathetic. He should be better than that, his statement should be made up of more than regurgitated half-truths and bollocksology. This is a statement that, rather than showing the confidence of a man who can stand over the decisions he made at the time and is comfortable accounting for his leadership, is the emotional rantings of a madman, desperately cobbling together discredited statements in the hopes that something sticks. He is so desperate that he goes for the emotional jugular as his conclusion, and hides behind the skirts of the families of the hunger strikers who were so cravenly manipulated at Gulladuff.

Gulladuff was a masterclass in emotional censorship, politicians blatantly using families’ emotions to call for a cover-up of history. And this is President Adams’ conclusion – to once again use the families of the hunger strikers’ for his own gain. “The families blame the British,” is the logic, “Not me! And so should you….if my lies are good enough for them, they are good enough for the rest of you”.

It may buy him some time among the most faithful of his flock, but it won’t cut any ice with history and his place in it.

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Category: "Rusty Nail", 2009, Commentary, Gerry Adams, Media, Slugger O'Toole

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


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