Nov 7, 2010 3
Nov 6, 2010 Comments Off on The Public and the Private
The Public and the Private
The Pensive Quill
Richard O’Rawe has just published a new book. Its title is Afterlives and was launched in Belfast on Thursday evening. Due to last minute ‘ambushes’ I was dragged elsewhere and had to cancel my planned journey north. Much to my regret, because O’Rawe is a battler who has done much to protect free inquiry from book burners and censors. Each time I have tried to phone him since his line has been engaged. I somehow doubt if it was with callers telling him how upset they were at his new work. They would rather paint on walls.
I have still to get a copy but it is being said that Afterlives is a forensic destruction of the argument that that the then republican leadership has no case to answer over its management of the 1981 hunger strike. O’Rawe sets out his stall in relation to the heated debate generated in the wake of his first book Blanketmen. It was there over five years ago that he first publicly vented grave misgivings about the longevity of the strike, expressing the view that with better management six lives need not have been lost. What he said in Blanketmen he had already been saying in private for years. In fact it was through such claims that I ended up meeting him again after a gap of many years. Our paths for long enough simply had not crossed.
Brendan McFarlane the leader of the IRA prisoners during the 1981 hunger strike has reentered the fray against O’Rawe. McFarlane, while not silent on the issue previously, has not been to the fore of the debate to the extent that some might have expected. The prolix of others who have rejected the O’Rawe claims seems not to have done the trick. Turning up the volume and drowning all else out might have made things loud but certainly not clear. So McFarlane has stepped in to the breach to make up the deficit. No easy task given that O’Rawe in the public mind has taken on the persona of writer in residence in the hunger strike debate, his account the incumbent narrative which others must dislodge if they are to make progress of their own. The once dominant Sinn Fein perspective has been rocked and now struggles to stay on its feet and avoid the telling blows that have so far penetrated its guard.
In literary terms O’Rawe’s reversal of fortunes is akin to the Soviet obliteration of the German Operation Barbarossa. Hit by a seemingly unstoppable Blitzkrieg of ill will and hate salvoes from the minute it emerged out of its birth canal, O’Rawe’s challenging account had to withstand a battle a day. But gradually and against the odds, the besieged author carefully pulled his critics onto the punch and delivered body blows that pushed them back well behind their own lines.
It is with much regret that I have followed Brendan McFarlane’s recent contributions including that in today’s Irish News. He does not seem comfortable in the role. Earlier in the week in the Derry Journal he was adding new detail to the narrative which to have any bearing should have seen the light of day much earlier in the debate. Unlike O’Rawe’s revelations, they seem awkward and grafted on, constructed from the perspective of the present rather than as an accurate history of the past.
I have long regarded Brendan McFarlane as a person of immense integrity who led from the front in the violent crucible of the H-Blocks. His task was onerous and unenviable. I feel distinctly uncomfortable about the position this outpouring of critique has placed him in and have said as much to O’Rawe. Yet the chips fall where they do and the evidence lends itself to no conclusion other than that a deal was offered which was accepted by the prisoners. This acceptance was subsequently subverted by the leadership for whatever reason and the hunger strike carried on with the resulting loss of six more lives.
Today Brendan McFarlane revealed communications written by Richard O’Rawe in his capacity as jail PRO. McFarlane claims these show that O’Rawe while in the prison was not of the view that the British had made any substantive offer. But this is old hat, a repeat of the Danny Morrison venture to Dublin a few years ago to search archives for similar communications. Morrison returned to Belfast and revealed that what he had discovered in Dublin was … Dublin. Few took the Morrison ‘comms’ disclosure seriously, intuitively knowing that the public positions of the day were not what people believed privately. How otherwise could the ‘victory’ parade presumably organised by Morrison and others in the wake of the vanquished 1980 hunger strike have gone ahead? The organisers knew privately that no victory had been achieved but publicly ran with the victory parade anyway.
Brendan McFarlane is an important witness to history. He could do worse than take stock of his situation and render a version of events that, even if at odds with the interpretation of Richard O’Rawe, at least sounds credible. The current narrative he is defending is, as William Sydney Porter might have said, ‘beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.’
Nov 6, 2010 4
Former IRA prison leader releases O’Rawe ‘comms’
by Barry McCaffrey
Nov 6 2010
Former IRA prison leader Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane yesterday produced secret ‘comms’ (communications) which he claimed prove that republicans did not reject a British government deal to end the 1981 Hunger Strike.
Earlier this week Richard O’Rawe, who was the IRA press officer in the H-Blocks during the Hunger Strike, published his second book Afterlives: The Hunger Strike and the Secret Offer that Changed Irish History.
In it he argues that prisoners had been willing to accept an offer to end the protest but this was rejected by the IRA leadership outside the Maze.
He claims that as a result six hunger strikers died needlessly.
Mr McFarlane said yesterday he would break five years of silence by producing secret IRA comms written by Mr O’Rawe during the Hunger Strike in which he accused the British government of trying to prolong it.
In them he writes: “It is vital also that everyone realises that the ICJP [Irish Commission for Peace and Justice] have been victims of British perfidity and that the ambiguity which accompanies all British government statements is deliberate, so that at a later stage they can abdicate their responsibility.”
In another part of the communications sent between republicans in and outside of the jail, Mr O’Rawe comments on a Northern Ireland Office decision to send officials into the prison to speak to hunger strikers.
“Understand this development for it is an extension of the cunningness that has marked the Brits’ role in this issue, he writes.
“The Brits know our stand in relation to their July 8 statement but they saw the possibility of gaining in the propaganda field, so they sent two NIO men in on their publicity mission to explain a totally rejected statement.”
In another section he refers to the British government’s refusal to allow Mr McFarlane to attend a meeting between the NIO and hunger strikers.
“Again the British are engaged in a propaganda exercise… The fact is that if the Brits were genuinely disposed to seeking a solution such a meeting would be of benefit and we would welcome it as long as the strikers are adequately represented in the person of Brendan McFarlane,” Mr O’Rawe writes.
Mr McFarlane said he rejected Mr O’Rawe’s claims that the IRA had allowed six of the 10 hunger strikers to die needlessly.
“I have deliberately resisted engaging in personal attacks on Richard for the last five years,” he said.
“But I feel it is not time, once and for all, to show beyond doubt that what he is saying is totally untrue.
“These comms are written in Richard’s own handwriting and show quite clearly that he believed that the British had no interest in a deal.
“The idea that a deal came from Thatcher and was rejected by the outside leadership for political expediency is a total fallacy.
“His claims of an alleged conversation with me in which I said we’d agreed to a deal is a complete myth.
“Richard’s own comms show that the Brits were never serious about a deal.”
Mr McFarlane said his former comrade’s claims had cause major distress to hunger strikers’ families.
“I hope these comms will prove once and for all who is telling the truth,” Mr McFarlane said.
Responding to his former cellmate’s criticism, Mr O’Rawe said Mr McFarlane should “tell the truth about the Hunger Strike rather than regurgitate this nonsense once more.”
“Of necessity, these press statements had to be unyielding and hard-hitting in tone because they were being read not just by the man and woman on the street but by the British government.
“If they had contained the least hint of weakness, that would have been seen as a crack in our resolve and resulted in a corresponding steeling of the British government’s attitude.
“What is it about this that Bik doesn’t understand?
“Perhaps he should ask his colleagues in the Sinn Fein leadership what is the difference between public statements and private reality.
“After all, for years they told us that the IRA would never, ever decommission, yet in private preparations were being made to do just that.”
Sourced from the Irish News