July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

UPDATED: Danny Morrison on the end of the 1980 hunger strike

Quotes from Danny Morrison, Brendan McFarlane, Laurence McKeown and Gerry Adams on the end of the 1980 hunger strike:

Although it is now well-known that Brendan Hughes ended the hunger strike unilaterally, without consulting his O/C Bobby Sands, we on the outside finessed the sequence of events for the sake of morale and at a midnight press conference merged the secret arrival of a British government document (promising a more enlightened prison regime: falsely, as it turned out) with the ending of the hunger strike.

It was either that or admit – which to the republican base was inconceivable – that Brendan had ended the strike without getting a thing.

Bobby – who turned out to be right – did not believe the British had any intention of working the unsecured promises contained in the document. But we begged him to put them to the test and that if the administration made things impossible then it could be claimed that the Brits were reneging.

Had the British taken the opportunity to resolve the prison crisis at that juncture history certainly would have been different. Instead, the British crowed victory in their briefings to the press and the prison administration felt smug, unbridled and under no obligation.

This bitter experience was to sear itself in the minds of the prisoners who were determined that there would never be a repeat of that scenario.

Tragically, the stage was set for 1981.
Danny Morrison, Andersonstown News, 2011


Previously:

The political responsibility for the hunger strike, and the deaths that resulted from it, both inside and outside the prison, lies with Margaret Thatcher, who reneged on the deal which ended the first hunger strike. This bad faith and duplicity lead directly to the deaths of our friends and comrades in 1981.
Brendan McFarlane, Andersonstown News, 2005


The 1981 hunger strike was a direct result of the 1980 hunger strike. The British government had said that it would not act under duress but would respond with a progressive and liberal prison regime once it ended. The prisoners called off the fast to save the life of Seán McKenna. However, the British immediately reneged on their promises. Because of this duplicity the hunger strikers of 1981 were adamant that any deal must be copperfastened.
Danny Morrison, Irish Times, 2005

The government had promised the same at Christmas 1980 when the first hunger strike ended, only to renege on its promises. Because of this duplicity the prisoners in the second hunger strike wanted any agreement to be copper fastened.
Danny Morrison, Daily Ireland, 2005


Yes, offers were made and discussed and clarified but when we tried to tie the British government down on a mechanism for ensuring they could not renege (as they had at the end of the first hunger strike) they procrastinated. The hunger strikers – as Laurence McKeown made clear the other day – “wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of ‘regime change’.”
Danny Morrison, Daily Ireland, 2005

Strangely, there was nothing new to me regarding what was on offer from the Brits back in 1981. Whether it was the ‘Mountain Climber’ or the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, we wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of ‘regime change’. We had all of that in December 1980.
Laurence McKeown, An Phoblacht, 2005


The 1981 hunger strike came out of the 1980 hunger strike. The British sent a document to the prisoners which they claimed could be the basis for a settlement. However, the prisoners had already ended the strike before they received the document. The British reneged on their assurances almost immediately. That was why the second hunger strikers were to demand verification of any deal to end their hunger strike.
Danny Morrison, Daily Ireland, 2006


In December 1980 the republican leadership on the outside was in contact with the British who claimed they were interested in a settlement. But before a document outlining a new regime arrived in the jail the hunger strike was called off by Brendan Hughes to save the life of the late Sean McKenna. The British, or sections of them, interpreted this as weakness. The prisoners ended their fast before a formal ‘signing off’. And the British then refused to implement the spirit of the document and reneged on the integrity of our exchanges. Their intransigence triggered a second hunger strike in which there was overwhelming suspicion of British motives among the hunger strikers, the other political prisoners, and their families and supporters on the outside.
Gerry Adams, Irish News, 2009

Brendan Hughes: Ending the 1980 Hunger Strike

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Risking the Lives of Volunteers is Not the IRA Way

Brendan Hughes • Irish News, 13 July 2006

In a recent BBC documentary Bernadette McAliskey stated that she would have let Sean McKenna die during the 1980 hunger strike in order to outmanoeuvre British brinkmanship. Implicit in her comments was a criticism of those senior republicans who decided against pursuing the option favoured by Bernadette. 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. Whatever the strategic merits of Bernadette’s favoured option, they are vastly outweighed by ethical considerations.
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Richard O’Rawe, PSF, and Events in 1981

Richard O’Rawe, PSF, and Events in 1981

“It only becomes the truth when it is officially denied.”

Gerard Foster, The Blanket • 8 July 2006

I imagine from the title of this article it would be natural to think I am writing about O’Rawes’ book, Blanketmen. Nothing could be further from the truth. I haven’t even read the book, though no doubt I will eventually get around to getting a copy of it.

I am more interested in the Provisional Movements’ Leadership’s (PML) reaction to the book and that of a few others, like Danny Morrison. I had, of course, heard about O’Rawes’ claims, but felt that they were only his opinions and he would have no way of backing them up. It was a non-starter and people would soon forget about his claims that the PML outside the prison let the last 6 Hunger Strikers, including 2 INLA Volunteers, die to promote their own political agenda. Let’s face it, this claim was so serious I did not believe it; I was wondering what agenda O’Rawe was working to, and the release of the book coming up to the 25th anniversary of the Hunger Strikers deaths smacked of commercialism.
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Salvaging History from Deceit

Salvaging History from Deceit

Some disguised falsehoods represent the truth so well, that it would be bad judgement not to be deceived by them
– Francois de La Rouchefoucauld

Forum Magazine Editorial • June/July 2006

Throughout February 2005 the airwaves and print columns were dominated by the gangland-style murder of Robert McCartney. Two months into Sinn Fein’s centenary celebrations, party spokespersons had hoped to be questioned about “the legacy of one-hundred years of resistance”. Instead they riggled like eels under a sustained media inquisition and were haunted by the ubiquitous image of the McCartney sisters, a group of articulate young women whose decency and courage could not be dismissed as hooey or yet another securocrat plot to undermine the peace.

Later that same February, UTV commissioned a report on a controversial new book written by Richard O’Rawe. Although few would have guessed it at the time, Blanketmen was about to radically alter the conventional republican perception of the 1981 hunger strike.
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O’Rawe refuted: Danny Morrison publishes H-Block comms (2006)

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June 8, 2006

An Phoblacht

Top Stories

O’Rawe refuted: Danny Morrison publishes H-Block comms
Claims fatally undermined

“At present the British are looking for what amounts to absolute surrender. They are offering us nothing that amounts to an honourable solution.”

Richard O’Rawe 1981

Unsupported claims made by a former republican prisoner Richard O’Rawe, and widely reported in the media in recent weeks and months, that the IRA leadership had allowed several republican Hunger Strikers to die in 1981 has been fatally undermined this week.

Former Sinn Féin Publicity Director Danny Morrison, who was a key liaison person with the Hunger Strikers during 1981, has produced secret communications written by O’Rawe during the period and which prove that the allegations are without foundation.
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Danny Morrison: Hunger strike deal didn’t exist + Timeline (2006)

* See also Expanded Timeline 29 June – 12 July 1981

Morrison: Hunger strike deal didn’t exist
Daily Ireland

Danny Morrison
07/06/2006

In a forthcoming BBC documentary Richard O’Rawe once again will be claiming that the republican leadership rejected a deal from the British government shortly before the death of Joe McDonnell on July 8th 1981. Richard is a former blanket man and PRO in the H-Blocks. Whilst in jail Richard never raised his claims with the leadership in prison or the leadership outside. After Richard’s release he worked with me in the Republican Press Centre for a year and never mentioned the allegations he now makes.
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Brendan Hughes: O’Rawe Told Me His Concerns (2006)

O’Rawe Told Me His Concerns

Brendan Hughes • Irish News, 19 May 2006

IT is not my intention to take sides in the ongoing debate over the claims made in the book Blanketmen by its author Richard O’Rawe.

I am not in a position to speak authoritatively on the matter.

I was in the same block as Richard O’Rawe at the time of the events he refers to but not on the same wing.

However, there has been some attempt to present O’Rawe as a person who made no effort to tell any former prisoner of his suspicions over a 24-year period. This is simply not so.
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Anthony McIntyre interviews Richard O’Rawe (2006)

‘The Blanket’ meets ‘Blanketmen’

All truth passes through three stages.
First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident
– Arthur Schopenhauer

Anthony McIntyre speaks with Richard O’Rawe • 16 May 2006

Q: This month marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, Frank Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara. How has it been for you emotionally?

A: Terrible. It has been terrible.

Q: Can you elaborate?

A: Bob has been in my thoughts all the time. He left from our wing. The others were in different blocks. And I just get this vision of him. I see him in the wing canteen for mass just before he went up to the prison hospital. He was smiling at me. He knew he was going up there to die. I knew it too. It was just so unbelievably heartrending and it has never left me. That smile has been with me for over a week; that smile of pathos. I went over to his grave and just looked around me. There was Joe and big Doc, Bryson and our Mundo, wee Paddy Mul, Todler and all the dead volunteers. It was just horrific.
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O’Rawe responds to Gibney (2006)

Former Blanketman Speaks Out Against ‘Vitriolic Attack’

Richard O’Rawe, Irish News • 15 May 2006

A fellow republican said to me last week that over the period of Bobby Sands’ anniversary, the republican movement had done everything except paint the Star of David on my windows and daub Juden Raus on my front door.

I laughed when he made that analogy but when I had time to think about it, I don’t think he was too wide off the mark.

The recent attempts to demonise me from on high, the vitriol, raw hatred and the ferocious endeavours to destroy my integrity have, in terms of sheer viciousness, been unprecedented within the republican family.

The same republican pointed out that Freddie Scappaticci had not received such a ‘battering.’

Sinn Fein’s silence on the question of this super-tout contrasted sharply with their crazed attacks on my character. An agent, it seems, is better thought of than a blanketman. Scap apparently had both the republican movement’s blessing and its promise of ‘omerta’ as he made haste from Dodge, his saddlebags full of Brit money.
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Jim Gibney (May, 2006)

Tragic period clouded by ‘set of proposals’

(Jim Gibney, Irish News)

The protest for political status in Armagh Women’s prison and the H-Blocks of Long Kesh lasted for five years between September 1976 and October 1981.

At no time before the first hunger strike in October 1980 did the British government try to end the protest by any means other than brutalising and degrading the prisoners.

The first hunger strike involved seven men in the H-Blocks and three women in Armagh jail.

It lasted 53 days.
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An Phoblacht: Interview with Bik McFarlane

An Phoblacht, Top Stories: “The Hunger Strike will never, ever leave me”
Remembering 1981: Former H-Block O/C Brendan McFarlane

Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane was Officer Commanding (O/C) the H-Block prisoners during the 1981 Hunger Strike. Last Friday, 5 May, on the 25th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, McFarlane spoke to An Phoblacht’s ELLA O’DWYER about the journey that brought him to undertake one of the most difficult challenges ever faced by an Irish republican.

A noticeable feature of Brendan McFarlane’s personality is the comprehensive way in which he looks at things. Observant and lateral thinking, he sees the bigger picture. In terms of awareness, he has an edge. This awareness carried him through his prison sentence and, no doubt, impacted on his selection as O/C during the 1981 Hunger Strike.
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Thatcher’s ‘offer to hunger strikers’

Thatcher’s ‘offer to hunger strikers’
Former priest reveals how IRA spurned PM’s compromise deal to save prisoners’ lives in 1981

Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
The Observer, Sunday 30 April 2006

Margaret Thatcher offered a compromise deal that would have ended the 1981 hunger strike early and saved six of the remaining prisoners who went on to die, according to the man who maintained a secret link between successive British governments and the Provisionals.

DenisBradley2Denis Bradley, the link in Derry for more than two decades between MI5 and the IRA, claims that the IRA leadership had been handed a deal in early July 1981 – which eventually the prisoners did accept, but only after six more of their comrades had starved to death. Bradley’s account contradicts claims by loyal supporters of Gerry Adams that there had been no offer on the table in July that could have ended the hunger strike after four prisoners died.
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SPRING 2013: 55 HOURS
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.