July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Irish News letters page: The Facts of the Hunger Strike Have Already Been Established

The facts of the hunger strikes have already been established
Irish News letters page
Carrie Twomey

Brendan Hughes’s second anniversary is coming up in February. Manus McDaid (October 26) seems to think that because he is not long dead, no one can know his reasons for ending the first hunger strike – “we can only surmise”, he writes.

Actually, we can, and do know his reasons. They are documented in numerous books and interviews. As well, many former prisoners of the time know the truth.

It is not a matter of guessing, as Brendan was very forthright about the issue, even within the pages of The Irish News, where he wrote:

“As the IRA leader in charge of that hunger strike I had given Sean McKenna a guarantee that were he to lapse into a coma I would not permit him to die.

“When the awful moment arrived I kept my word to him.

“Having made that promise, to renege on it once Sean had reached a point where he was no longer capable of making a decision for himself, I would have been guilty of his murder.

“Twenty-five years on, I have no reason to change my mind that the decision I made to save the life of Sean McKenna was the proper one.

“Faced with similar circumstances I would do the same again.

“History may judge my actions differently but preventing Sean McKenna from becoming history rather than my own place in history was my prevailing concern.” (July 13 2006)

And yes, I also heard it from Brendan personally, having spoken with him about this on a number of occasions. It was a time that weighed heavily on his heart until his dying day. I do personally know how much he suffered.

The facts of the second hunger strike have also been established: in early July there was a substantial offer from Thatcher that contained four of the five demands, the prison leadership accepted that offer, they were over-ruled by their representatives on the outside and the hunger strike was prolonged a further four months, with six young men dying needlessly.

The British had their offer in writing ready to go into the prison and to the press – this is now a matter of historical record, thanks to FOI (Freedom of Information) release of documents.

“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)” – Extract from a Telegram from the Northern Ireland Office to the Cabinet Office.

This internal document is very clear about the sequence of events the British were going to follow.

All they were waiting for was the word of Gerry Adams, to tell them the prisoners would accept the offer.

The distrust was mutual; the British would not move without knowing the answer would be yes ahead of time. This choreography, as we have come to know so well from the machinations of the peace process, is typical of the British and their relationship with Sinn Fein.

The prisoners would not have been left without recourse had Adams given the British the indication they needed to seal the deal, if the offer was dubious. But they were never given the chance. They were told nothing.

According to Laurence McKeown’s own account, Adams went in to the hunger strikers and said nothing was on the table, there was no movement from the British. He said this to Kieran Doherty’s parents as their son lay dying in the next room.

Only a few days prior Thatcher was sending Adams drafts of a speech she was prepared to give announcing the ending of the hunger strike, yet we are to believe that Adams was holding out because it was “wanted in writing the response of the British to their five demands”.

If Thatcher sending a draft copy of her speech on the ending of the Hunger Strike, for the purpose of taking suggestions from Adams, does not qualify as bona fides indicating the commitment of the British to the offer they had made, what would?

It is ridiculous to hold on to the lie that the ending of the first hunger strike is the reason those managing the Hunger Strike on the outside would not accept Thatcher’s offers. The historical record shows that plainly to be complete nonsense. It will only become more evidentially nonsense as time goes on and more information is made available.

Sourced from the Irish News

Category: 2009, Irish News, Letters, Media


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

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