July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Thatcher’s Offers

HUNGER STRIKE: MESSAGE TO BE SENT THROUGH THE CHANNEL 6 July 1981 with Thatcher’s handwritten notes



DOWNLOAD PDF:OFFER 81 JUL 6


The Smoking Gun

THE CHANNEL: “MOUNTAIN CLIMBER”/”SOON” BRENDAN DUDDY’S DIARY NOTES: REPLY FROM THE BRITISH, 6 July 1981

Reply 11:30 PM July 6
The British Gov. is preparing to issue a statement only if there is an immediate end to the hunger strike.
(A) Prison reg. in Armagh would become general in NI prison ie civian clothing
B Visits as for conforming prisons
C Re. as stated on June 30 by Sec of State




DOWNLOAD PDF: STATEMENT IMPORTANT

LETTER DATED 8 JULY 1981 FROM 10 DOWNING STREET TO THE NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE

The Prime Minister met your Secretary of State at 0015 this morning to discuss the latest developments in the efforts to bring the hunger strike in the Maze to an end. Philip Woodfield was also present.

Your Secretary of State said that the message which the Prime Minister had approved the previous evening had been communicated to the PIRA.

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 the 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 had concluded that we should communicate with the PIRA over night a draft statement enlarging upon the substance 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.

If they did not, this statement would not be put out but instead an alternative statement reiterating the Government’s position as he had set it out in his statement of 30 June and responding to the discussions with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace would be issued.

If there was any leak about the process of communication with the PIRA, his office would deny it.

NAME REDACTED said it was thought that the revised statement based upon the previous night’s message would be enough to get the PIRA to instruct the prisoners to call off the hunger strike. He then outlined the procedures that would be followed, if the PIRA said that they would call off the hunger strike.

The meeting then considered the revised draft statement which was to be communicated to the PIRA. A number of amendments were made, primarily with a view to removing any suggestion at all the Government was in a negotiation. A copy of the agreed version of the statement is attached.

The Prime Minister, summing up the discussion, said that the statement should now be communicated to the PIRA as your Secretary of State proposed. If it did not produce a response leading to the end of the hunger strike, Mr Atkins should issue at once a statement reaffirming the Government’s existing position as he had set out on 30 June.

STATEMENT BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR NORTHERN IRELAND

1.In light of the recent discussions which Mr Michael Alison has had recently with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, during which a statement was issued on 4 July on behalf of the protesting prisoners in the Maze Prison, HMG have come to the following conclusions.

2. When the hunger strike and the protest is brought to an end (and not before), the Government will:

I. Extend to all male prisoners in Northern Ireland the clothing regime at present available to female prisoners in Armagh Prison (i.e. subject to the prison governor’s approval);

II. Make available to all prisoners in Northern Ireland the allowance of letters, parcels and visits at present available to conforming prisoners;

III. Allow the restoration of forfeited remission at the discretion of the responsible disciplinary authority, as indicated in my statement of 30 June, which hitherto has meant the restoration of up to one-fifth of remission lost subject to a satisfactory period of good behaviour;

IV. Ensure that a substantial part of the work will consist of domestic tasks inside and outside the wings necessary for servicing of the prison (such as cleaning and in the laundries and kitchens), constructive work, e.g. on building projects or making toys for charitable bodies, and study for Open University or other courses. The prison authorities will be responsible for supervision. The aim of the authorities will be that prisoners should do the kinds of work for which they are suited, but this will not always be possible and the authorities will retain responsibility for decisions about allocation.

3. Little advance is possible on association. It will be permitted within each wing, under supervision of the prison staff.

4. Protesting prisoners have been segregated from the rest. Other prisoners are not segregated by religious or any other affiliation. If there were no protest the only reason for segregating some prisoners from others would be the judgment of the prison authorities, not the prisoners, that this was the best way to avoid trouble between groups.

5. This statement is not a negotiating position. But it is further evidence of the Government’s desire to maintain and where possible to improve a humanitarian regime in the prisons. The Government earnestly hopes that the hunger strikers and the other protesters will cease their protest.


EXTRACT FROM A TELEGRAM FROM THE NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE TO THE CABINET OFFICE

PLEASE PASS FOLLOWING TO MR WOODFIELD
MIPT contains the text of a statement which SOSNI [Editorial addition: Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins: STATEMENT ABOVE] proposes to authorise should be released to the hunger-strikers/prisoners and publicly. The statement contains, except on clothing, nothing of substance which has not been said publicly, and the point on clothing was made privately to the provos on 5 July. The purpose of the statement is simply to give precise clarification to formulae which already exist. It also takes count of advice given to us over the last 12 hours on the kind of language which (while not a variance with any of our previous public statements) might make the statement acceptable to the provos.

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.



GERRY ADAMS, Before the Dawn, page 299

“Very early one morning I and another member of our committee were in mid-discussion with the British in a living room in a house in Andersonstown when, all of a sudden, they cut the conversation, which we thought was quite strange. Then, later, when we turned on the first news broadcast of the morning, we heard that Joe McDonnell was dead.”



UPDATED: National Archives 30 Year Papers – July, 1981

Note: This was originally published on Slugger O’Toole in 2011, when many of the documents now released individually via the Thatcher Foundation in 2013, were first released by the National Archives as part of the 30 year papers for 1981. New, additional comments have been added at the end of the post and are noted with an asterik***



National Archives 30 Year Papers – July, 1981
Rusty Nail
Slugger O’Toole
Fri 30 December 2011

The 30 year papers for 1981 are being released, and they include many documents covering the hunger strike. Here are some quick notes about file PREM/19/506, which covers the period of the early July offer.

Specifically, this is a quick sketch of pages 13-26 of the PDF, a telegram that comprehensively details the conversations the Mountain Climber/Brendan Duddy (referred to as “SOON”) had with the British Government, in which he was relaying messages from the Provisional IRA. This is the British Government’s notes of their negotiations with the Adams Committee.

The first thing it confirms is that Duddy’s notes were extremely accurate. The telegram detailing “Call No 8 – 0100-0117 6 July” reflects his recently released papers, where in paragraph 41 he relayed that “The Provisionals fully accept the position as stated by the Prisoners” – this sentence was underlined by a reader of the telegram for emphasis.

In Call No 7, 2300-2400, 5 July, paragraph 35, he describes the Provisionals as being extremely unhappy with what they called the “bully boy” tactics of the ICJP: “From an apparently enthusiastic position, SOON (Duddy) had been called into an angry and hostile meeting of the Provisionals almost verging on a complete breakdown. The Provisionals view of the situation is that the prisoners’ statement had been totally ignored by the ICJP”. The call goes onto describe what really seems as an attempt to muddy waters over the ICJP’s participation – in effect, to get the British to pressure the ICJP to back off – though it was delivered in a confused and ham-fisted way. It would also seem that the fact the hunger strikers were listening to the ICJP and that the prisoners had accepted the offer was rattling those doing the negotiating.

Another interesting thing is that the Provos wanted Adams and/or McGuinness to go in with Morrison to see the hunger strikers. When it was made clear that Adams and McGuinness were unacceptable, Ted Howell was then proposed. (paragraph 33, Call No 6, 1750-1817, 5 July)

The most interesting thing about this is the confirmation that the full Army Council was completely in the dark about the Mountain Climber negotiations and offer.

The first call, 2200-2312, 4 July, sets the scene in that regard:

Paragraph 4:

“…the timing of the release of the [prisoners’] statement had caught the Provisionals unaware. The senior members, and SOON claimed there were eight, were widely dispersed. Only Adams and O’Brady were readily available. They were regrouping and SOON’s Provisional contact had instructed him to stand by.”

Paragraph 6: “… secondly he stated that a meeting of the senior Provisionals had taken place on 28 June at which they considered realistic conditions for the ending of the hunger strike had been discussed.” (This was before the contact with the Mountain Climber/SOON was revived)

In Call No 2, 0230-0500, 5 July, paragraph 10: “SOON began by restating the Provisionals’ disorganised position. He pointed out that to take a decision of this magnitude required the presence of all 8 members. They would be unwilling to take any decision without a full complement.”

Was that a genuine position or a delaying tactic?

It is later that morning, during Call No 3, 1045-1125, 5 July, the fact that the full Army Council were unaware of what was being done is made clear:

Paragraph 15:

“He then returned to the subject of the prison visit. He said that the number of senior Provisionals with a full grasp of the situation including knowledge of the SOON channel and the status to enable them to act authoritatively was very limited. He said that if the key to accepting any agreement was persuation [sic], education and knowledge, then that is not available outside the very upper echelons of the Provisional Movement. It is not even available as of right to the entire PSF leadership. He said this poses a problem. In response to our request for suggestions of Provisionals who would fit this description, SOON produced Morrison, Adams and McGuinness as the only three candidates.”

Paragraph 16:

“SOON (Duddy) then proceeded to offer the Provisionals’ view of the ICJP. He said that determination still existed not to let the ICJP act as mediator. As a consequence, there was a body of opinion within the Provisional leadership, which was unaware of the SOON channel and, therefore, took a destructive view towards any current proposals since they believed they would involve the ICJP.”

One other aspect of this important document is amazing. It describes the ending of the first hunger strike:

Call No 2, 0230-0550 5 July, Paragraph 13:

“He said that one of the major difficulties over the implementation of the agreement at the end of the last hunger strike had been the attitude of some of the prison officers. He said that the Provisionals believed that HMG had been sincere in trying to implement their side of the agreement. The breakdown had occurred because some of the prisoners had been harassed by some of the prison officers. He, therefore, requested that in HMG’s proposals should be included an instruction to the Governor of the prison to encourage flexibility in the implementation of any agreement.” (emphasis mine)

Owen Bowcott, writing in today’s Guardian, has Danny Morrison’s reaction to the papers:

[Morrison] told the Guardian the documents vindicated the IRA’s decisions at the time. “I find these documents very refreshing,” he said. “At least they have published what was happening. These conversations were recorded by Michael Oatley [the MI6 officer] or his secretary. We never got the final [British] position [before hunger striker] Joe O’Donnell died.” [***SEE BELOW FOR FURTHER COMMENT, ADDED 2013]

Recall ‘it was not the content of the message which they had objected to but only its tone’:

“[…] As far as I remember the delay on that was actually getting final agreement to the text of what might be said, which was not easy, and in the event McDonnell died before that process could be completed and of course thereafter it collapsed.” – 1986 John Blelloch interview with author Padraig O’Malley

As Gerry Adams described in Before the Dawn, page 299:

“Very early one morning I and another member of our committee were in mid-discussion with the British in a living room in a house in Andersonstown when, all of a sudden, they cut the conversation, which we thought was quite strange. Then, later, when we turned on the first news broadcast of the morning, we heard that Joe McDonnell was dead. Obviously they had cut the conversation when they got the word. They had misjudged the timing of their negotiations, and Joe had died much earlier than they had anticipated.”


*** FURTHER COMMENT ADDED, SPRING 2013:

The release via the Thatcher Foundation of itemised archival documents contains material that starkly contradicts Morrison’s 2011 claim that “We never got the final [British] position [before hunger striker] Joe O’Donnell died.”

In 2009, journalist Liam Clarke gained access to documents via a Freedom of Information request. Part of what was released to Clarke was an “EXTRACT FROM A LETTER DATED 8 JULY 1981 FROM 10 DOWNING STREET TO THE NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE”, which also included an EXTRACT FROM A TELEGRAM sent from the NIO to the Cabinet. The significance of these extracts are fully understood with the release of the full documents, which now only has names redacted.




DOWNLOAD PDF: STATEMENT IMPORTANT


Comparing the 2009 release with the 2011 document, it is obvious this paragraph had been previously redacted:

NAME REDACTED said it was thought that the revised statement based upon the previous night’s message would be enough to get the PIRA to instruct the prisoners to call off the hunger strike. He then outlined the procedures that would be followed, if the PIRA said that they would call off the hunger strike. [emphasis added]

One can only speculate why that paragraph was censored in the 2009 FOI release. Was it too damning?

The statement referred to is included in this document and was released in 2009. It gives clothes; letters, parcels, and visits; restoration of remission; work and education, and allows for room on association and segregation. In other words, the hunger strikers had won their demands.

We know from the 2009 release of the extract of this telegram that, contrary to what Danny Morrison told Owen Bowcott in 2011, Adams did know “the final [British] position [before hunger striker] Joe O’Donnell died.”

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).

Why did Adams say no?


Abbreviated Timeline:

5th July

  • Morrison goes into prison, tells McFarlane of offer from Thatcher, which McFarlane and O’Rawe agree is enough to accept
  • Morrison does not tell hunger strikers details of the offer; he only tells them that they were in talks with the British and that the ICJP could mess things up (warns the hunger strikers off accepting anything the ICJP offers)

6 July

  • (afternoon) Adams comm tells McFarlane and O’Rawe that “more was needed” – offer rejected.
  • (late evening) Morrison tells ICJP that the Adams group contacts with the British were continuing through the night.
  • 11:30pm – “The British Gov. is preparing to issue a statement only if there is an immediate end to the hunger strike.
    (A) Prison reg. in Armagh would become general in NI prison ie civian clothing
    B Visits as for conforming prisons ” – Brendan Duddy notes

7 July

  • “On Tuesday afternoon, Gerry Adams rang [the ICJP] to say that the British had now made an offer but that it was not enough.” – Garret Fitzgerald 
  • “Your Secretary of State said that the message which the Prime Minister had approved the previous evening had been communicated to the PIRA. 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 the 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.”
  • 4pm: NIO tells ICJP that an official will be going in but that the document was still being drafted.” – Danny Morrison 
  • “At one point, David Wyatt, a senior NIO official who had sat in on most of the discussions, rang to explain the delay: a lot of redrafting was going on and it had to be cleared with London.” – Padraig O’Malley: Biting at the Grave, pg 97 
  • British send draft statement to Adams group enlarging on previous offer; if accepted by Adams, statement issued immediately
  • British believed this revised statement “would be enough to get the PIRA to instruct the prisoners to call off the hunger strike”
  • 10pm

    “…I don’t know if you’ve thought on this line, but I have been thinking that if we don’t pull this off and Joe dies then the RA are going to come under some bad stick from all quarters. Everyone is crying the place down that a settlement is there and those Commission chappies are convinced that they have breached Brit principles. Anyway we’ll sit tight and see what comes…” – Comm to Brownie (Adams) from Bik (McFarlane)

  • Confirmation via telegram from NIO that the statement had been read to Adams group, and that they were awaiting the reply

8 July 

  • “Very early one morning I and another member of our committee were in mid-discussion with the British in a living room in a house in Andersonstown when, all of a sudden, they cut the conversation, which we thought was quite strange. Then, later, when we turned on the first news broadcast of the morning, we heard that Joe McDonnell was dead.” – Gerry Adams, Before the Dawn, page 299

 



Click for Full timeline

See also: Prolonging the Hunger Strike: The Derailing of the ICJP


Margaret Thatcher was told ‘some’ IRA leaders wanted violence to stop in 1981

Margaret Thatcher was told ‘some’ IRA leaders wanted violence to stop in 1981
Thatcher papers raise questions about why it took until 1994 for IRA to declare its first major ceasefire
Gerry Moriarty
Irish Times
Sat, Apr 27, 2013

Official secret memos contained in the Thatcher Foundation papers on the 1981 hunger strikes point to a conviction in senior British government circles up to and including the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher that “some” in the IRA wanted its campaign to stop.

The chief reference is in the minute that the then Northern secretary Humphrey Atkins sent to Mrs Thatcher on July 6th when an intermediary, businessman Brendan Duddy from Derry, was exchanging messages between “Provisional” leaders and the British government.

According to the papers, this resulted in an offer from the British government to settle the hunger strikes at a stage in which just four people had died.

The status of this offer has led to a long-running dispute within republicanism.

Richard O’Rawe, an IRA prisoner during the strikes, has claimed that the prisoners’ leadership accepted a deal at that time to end the strike but that this was overruled by the IRA army council.

This has been consistently denied by senior Sinn Féin figures such as Gerry Adams and the then Sinn Féin publicity chief Danny Morrison.

Mr Atkins in a minute to Mrs Thatcher said there were “some” in the IRA leadership who wished “to consider an end of the current terrorist campaign”.The papers also disclose that the British government held this view for some time.

There is also a memo from the then British cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong to another senior official, the “gist” of which was conveyed to Mrs Thatcher, which also adverts to an IRA desire to end its campaign.

It was written on April 13th 1981 just four days after hunger striker Bobby Sands was elected as MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone. He died on May 5th.

“There is reason to believe that the PIRA have been thinking seriously about an end to the campaign of violence, but feel they need a success, an avenue to pursue their aims politically, and something more on the prison regime,” Sir Robert wrote.

“The Fermanagh by-election has given them the success, and a political opening, which there is reason to think they hope to follow up in the local government elections,” he added.

While the hunger strikes created the conditions for Sinn Fein to expand politically it wasn’t until 13 years later that the IRA called its first ceasefire in August 1994.

This new information is likely to lead to speculation about how the British government had this belief and whether it was gained through MI5, MI6, agents, informers or some other form of communication or contact. It also raises question about why the IRA did not end its violent campaign earlier.

The British government from these official papers carried the conviction that there were influential IRA leaders who were considering a ceasefire. This was at a time when republicans such as Daithi O Conaill and Ruairi O Bradaigh, viewed as being predominantly militarist, appeared to be in the ascendant within the broad movement although they were under pressure from Northern republicans led by Mr Adams, Mr Morrison and the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

It wasn’t until two years later that the Northern leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness fully took over the provisional republican movement. This month’s Sinn Fein ardfheis marked Mr Adams 30th year as Sinn Fein president.

These papers also reinforce the point that while the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was insisting there could be no dealings with Provisional republicans during the hunger strikes that she was in fact allowing official contact to take place through a mediator – and was prepared up to a point to allow a settlement.

 

SOURCED FROM THE IRISH TIMES

 


 

APRIL 13 1981

There is reason to believe that the PIRA have been thinking seriously about an end to the campaign of violence, but feel they need a success, an avenue to pursue their aims politically, and something more on the prison regime.
The Fermanagh by-election has given them the success, and a political opening, which there is reason to think they hope to follow up in the local government elections

 

DOWNLOAD PDF: APRIL POLITICAL REPORT

 

British believed elements of IRA wanted peace in 1981

British believed elements of IRA wanted peace in 1981
Papers disclose Thatcher was told of unnamed “Provisionals” prepared to consider stopping “terrorist campaign”
Gerry Moriarty
Irish Times
Sat, Apr 27, 2013

Northern secretary Humphrey Atkins sent a secret official minute to British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1981 saying elements of the provisional leadership were prepared to “consider an end of the current terrorist campaign”.

The British government as far back as 1981 believed there were elements in the leadership of the provisional republican movement who were prepared to countenance an end to the IRA campaign of violence.

Papers released this week by the Thatcher Foundation relating to the hunger strikes in which 10 republicans died disclose a “secret” official minute in July 1981 that the then northern secretary, Humphrey Atkins, sent to the British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

It referred to “Provisionals” who were prepared to “consider an end of the current terrorist campaign”.

The papers indicate that 13 years before the first 1994 IRA ceasefire there was an opportunity to end the violence.

The information about the IRA emerges from the minute Mr Atkins sent to Mrs Thatcher on July 6th, when efforts were being made to resolve the hunger strikes. This was two days before the death of the fifth hunger striker, Joe McDonnell.

Mr Atkins, in his 1981 minute, told Mrs Thatcher: “The Provisionals need to settle the prisons problem on terms they can represent as acceptable to them if they are to go on – as we know some of them wish to do – to consider an end of the current terrorist campaign. A leadership which has ‘lost’ on the prisons is in no position to do this.”

The typed phrase “an end of the current terrorist campaign” in the minute is underlined in ink in longhand.

 

SOURCED FROM: IRISH TIMES

See also: Margaret Thatcher was told ‘some’ IRA leaders wanted violence to stop in 1981
 


 

RELEVANT QUOTES FROM DOCUMENT:

(iv) The Provisionals need to settle the prisons problem on terms they can represent as acceptable to them if they are going to go on – as we know some of them wish to do – to consider an end of the current terrorist campaign. A leadership which has “lost” on the prisons is no position to do this.

IN PRESENTING DISADVANTAGES TO HIS RECOMMENDATION OF STAYING FIRM ON THE HUNGER STRIKE, ALISON NOTES THAT IT WOULD UNDERMINE A LARGER OBJECTIVE:

(v) We should be discouraging the Provisionals from switching from terrorist to political activity at the very moment when we know that they have begun to find political action attractive.

 

 

DOWNLOAD PDF: ATKINS MINUTES 81 JUL 6


ATKINS POSITION SUMMED UP AS DETAILED IN PREVIOUS MINUTES:

“In particular, he said if the hunger strike were to end on terms that were not acceptable to the Provisionals, an end to the current terrorist campaign would be unlikely.”

FROM THE MAIN POINTS RAISED IN DISCUSSION HELD 7:30PM 6 JULY 1981

(a) There was some evidence that some Provisionals favoured a ceasefire. There were practical difficulties for the PIRA in maintaining a terrorist campaign. The Provisionals had gained considerable success through political, rather than terrorist, activity, following the death of Sands. However, the Provisionals would never call a ceasefire from a position of weakness.

 

 

DOWNLOAD PDF: ALISON DEBRIEF 81 JUL 6

 

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SPRING 2013: 55 HOURS
A day-by-day account of the events of early July, 1981.


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