July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Underlying Slur in Morrison’s Hunger Strike Comments

Underlying Slur in Morrison’s Hunger Strike Comments
Irish News letters page
Terry Hughes

I read with interest Danny Morrison’s recent article in the Andersonstown News about the 1980 hunger strike, which was led by my brother, the late Brendan Hughes.

“Whether the republican leadership’s analysis and depiction of what was happening, was correct”, I do agree that the leadership was bereft of ideas on how to resolve the prison crisis.

Not only was there a dearth of ideas on how to bring the prison protest to a successful conclusion, but there was abject failure at leadership level to highlight to the outside world the conditions that the prisoners were enduring, and it was only when the first hunger strike was called that the world would see what was happening to the Blanketmen in the H Blocks.

During this time there were many rallies and meetings to highlight the demands of the prisoners.  On December 8th, 1980 — the eve of Charles Haughey’s summit meeting with Margaret Thatcher — I met with the then Taoiseach in a hotel in Kilkenny to impress upon him the urgency of trying to resolve the hunger strike.  While Mr Haughey told me that he was not pessimistic of the outcome, he certainly did not leave me with the feeling that he would stick his neck out to resolve it.

The hunger strike ended on December 18th, and, as Danny Morrison now admits, there was nothing on the table when Brendan called off the hunger strike after 52 days. 

Danny used the word ‘unilaterally’ to describe Brendan’s decision to end the hunger strike, saying that he did not consult his OC, Bobby Sands. 

There is an underlying slur there, whether or not Danny Morrison wishes to admit it. 

What Mr Morrison did not say – and should have said — was that Brendan had little choice other than to intervene to save Sean McKenna’s life.

I say this because Sean had indicated to Brendan early on in the hunger strike that he was not prepared to die, and had secured Brendan’s word of honour that he would not let him die.

As well as that, several other hunger strikers had informed my brother that they were not prepared to die either. 

So what was Brendan to do in those circumstances? Let Sean die? Brendan believed that that would be tantamount to him committing murder. 

Perhaps Danny Morrison thinks Brendan should not have kept his word to Sean and let him die. If he does think this, he should say so.

Brendan lived to see ten of his best friends and comrades die on the second hunger strike.

It affected him deeply and, I believe, was the primary contributing factor to his own early death.

Abandoned and demonised by his erstwhile comrades in the leadership, Brendan Hughes he died as he lived, a republican, and a man of honour.

First published in the Irish News

How Could Brits Renege if There Was No Offer?

How Could Brits Renege if There Was No Offer?
Letter in the Irish News and Andersonstown News
Gerard Foster

Danny Morrison in a recent article in another publication, un-prompted, wrote about the Hunger Strikes of 1980 and 81. He stated that he, and the Provisional leadership on the outside, was economical with the truth about the ending of the first Hunger Strike.

In fact, over the last 30 years they have stuck rigidly to the same story: Britain reneged on a deal when the Hunger Strikers ended the protest. Even when Richard O Rawe wrote that there was a deal/offer to end the second Hunger Strike, they, the Provisional leadership, said because the Brits reneged on the deal on the first Hunger Strike, they needed guarantees before the prisoners would end the second Hunger Strike.

Now Morrison is saying that there was no offer/deal during the ending of the first Hunger Strike. This does not add up. They could not end the second Hunger Strike because the Brits reneged on a deal they never made during the first Hunger Strike? What is it Danny, was there a deal or not during the first Strike?

I can only think that the Provisionals, in the run up to the next elections, are going to use the Hunger Strikers that died in 1981 as an election tool, it is on the 30th anniversary of Bobby Sands death, this is to try and increase their support. This might also be the reason they picked Pat Sheehan, a Hunger Striker, to replace Adams in West Belfast.

Before they do that, maybe there are some questions they need to answer around the lead up to Joe Mc Donnell’s death.

The one I have already asked: if the Brits didn’t make an offer in 1980, how did they renege?

Why has it taken 30 years for Morrison to tell the “truth”?

Where are the rest of the “Mountain climber” comms that were not to be seen in the book Ten Men Dead?

Adams was on the phone to his British contact when Joe died; where are the transcripts of these talks, who was he talking to (according to the Mountain climber, Brendan Duddy, he has never spoken to Adams), and what deal/offer was on the table from the British government?

None of the surviving Hunger Strikers who to spoke to Morrison or Adams during their visits to the prison hospital in July 1981 have said that either man had told them what was on offer from the British. In actual fact, Hunger Striker Lawrence Mc Keown, in his book Nor Meekly Serve My Time, wrote of the Adams visit, “he told the parents of Kieran Doherty and the Hunger Strikers that there was nothing on the table”*. It is obvious that Adams did not tell the Hunger strikers about his secret contact with the British government. Why not?

Danny Morrison, and others in the Provisional leadership, has been biggest critics of O Rawe and his claims that a Brit offer had been accepted by the prison leadership in the days before Joe Mc Donnell died. They ask repeatedly; why did it take him 25 years to say this? Well, I now ask Danny Morrison this question: why has it taken you 30 years to tell us that there was no offer/deal at the end of the first Hunger Strike?

First published in the letters page of the Irish News and the Andersonstown News

* Page 236, Nor Meekly Serve My Time, Laurence McKeown describes Gerry Adams’ 29 July visit to the hunger strikers:

“On their way out of his cell Doc’s parents met and spoke with Gerry, Bik and the others. They asked what the situation was and Gerry said he had just told all the stailceoiri, including Kieran, that there was no deal on the table from the Brits, no movement of any sort and if the stalic continued, Doc would most likely be dead within a few days. They just listened and nodded, more or less resigned to the fact that they would be watching their son die any day now.”

Did Hunger Strikers Believe Danny’s Spin?

Did Hunger Strikers Believe Danny’s Spin?
Republicans always insisted that the 1980 hunger strike ended because of British trickery. Now Danny Morrison has changed his story, says Liam Clarke
Belfast Telegraph
10 January 2011

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike and already Danny Morrison has enlivened the debate by puncturing one of the most enduring myths of the period.

For years, republican spokespersons — including Morrison himself — had maintained that the earlier hunger strike, led by Brendan Hughes, had ended in December 1980 because of British duplicity.

Only last year Gerry Adams wrote in the Irish News: “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.”

Adams added: “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.”

In July 1981, during the second hunger strike, this claim of earlier British duplicity proved crucial: it was used to resist proposals by the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), a Catholic Church body, which was attempting to broker an end to the protest after Bobby Sands and three other prisoners had died.

Hugh Logue, a member of ICJP who visited the hunger strikers, recalls: “Danny [Morrison] went in after the prisoners said that they should accept it and told them that they should demand that they [the British] send in somebody to read it out in light of what had happened before. Danny was peddling the myth that the Brits had reneged.”

Logue accepted the spin — but did the six more prisoners who died that year believe it too?

Now Morrison has come forward to put the record straight. He writes in the Andersonstown News that: “Brendan Hughes ended the hunger strike unilaterally . . . 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.”

Morrison explains that Sinn Fein made the incendiary claim of a broken agreement because “it was either that or admit — which to the republican base was inconceivable — that Brendan [Hughes] had ended the strike without getting a thing”.

Without evidence of bad faith, it is hard to understand why the second hunger strike continued past the first four deaths.

We now know that, besides the ICJP proposals, Margaret Thatcher had made a secret offer which met most of the prisoners’ five demands — including allowing them to wear civilian clothes. The existence of this initiative was first disclosed by Richard O’Rawe, the PRO for the prisoners.

In his 2005 book Blanketmen, O’Rawe said that he and Brendan McFarlane, the prisoners’ leader, discussed the offer and accepted it in the Maze, but were over ruled by an outside committee headed by Gerry Adams.

Initially, McFarlane denied the conversation. When other prisoners said that they had overheard it, it jogged his memory.

Now, he said that, although the proposals looked interesting, they were too vague. Later a text of the detailed offer was released to me under the Freedom of Information Act and Brendan Duddy, who passed messages between republicans and the British Government, confirmed that it had been dictated to him over the phone by a British official.

Later still, Martin McGuinness confirmed that he had received the note from Duddy and sent it to Adams. Other documents released under FoI showed that Thatcher personally authorised the officials to make the proposal “privately to the Provos on July 5th” 1981.

Thatcher stipulated that, if the IRA indicated privately that it was acceptable, then it would be made public and implemented. On July 8, the statement was tweaked by the British to meet republican criticisms of the language used in it. Nevertheless, the hunger strike continued. Logue can’t understand why, “Danny [Morrison] told the prisoners to request the offer in writing when Adams already had that via Brendan Duddy”.

O’Rawe suspects that the strike was prolonged until Owen Carron, a Sinn Fein member standing as a proxy prisoner, could be elected MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone.

At the time, Sinn Fein rules banned members from standing in elections, so Carron could not even have contested the seat if the prison protest had been over.

He won the seat on the very day that Michael Devine became the last hunger striker to die. Three months later, the anti-election policy was ditched at the Sinn Fein ard fheis after a rousing speech in which Morrison asked “Will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?”

A whole new republican strategy flowed from the hunger strike and the election. As Adams said in his 1985 Bobby Sands lecture, “The hunger strikes, at great cost to our H-Block martyrs and their families, smashed criminalisation and led to the success of the electoral strategy, plus revamping the IRA.”

High stakes, indeed. And it may have brought peace nearer. But did those who died know the full facts?

First published in the Belfast Telegraph

See also: Danny Morrison on the end of the 1980 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


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

The Tragedy of 1980

The Tragedy of 1980
Danny Morrison,
Andersonstown News
3 Jan 2011

A lot of the ‘state papers’ just issued in Dublin, Belfast and London under the 30-year rule relate to the 1980 hunger strike.

Some of the internal memos were, no doubt, sometimes written with caution and with an eye to history. But many were written with spontaneity and contemporaneous with events or after meetings or briefings with politicians and ambassadors, and were meant to be informative and accurate assessments for their superiors.

Thus, there are insights, little cameos and class indiscretions like that from Andrew Brown, a civil servant, wondering about possible tooth decay among the prisoners on no wash who had no tooth-brushes: “if the protestors are a typical cross-section of the population, half of them will already be on their way to full sets of dentures.”

Ho, ho, ho.

Those of most interest to me concern the build-up to the 1980 hunger strike, the communications within government and agencies during it, and whether the republican leadership’s analysis and depiction of what was happening has subsequently proved correct. Until December 19th, which was the last time I saw Bobby Sands alive, I liaised with Bobby who was the OC of the prisoners, and with Brendan Hughes, the leader of the hunger strike.

In going on hunger strike, the prisoners were taking huge risks with their own lives and that of their families. But the stakes were not just personal, they were political, because republican supporters looked up to the prisoners as iconic heroes, while the British recognised that they could damage the republican struggle (of whom the strikers were symbols) if they could break the hunger strike.

The republican leadership knew that the Brits had the luxury of sitting back and toying with the prisoners and their families. The leadership was opposed to the hunger strike but was bereft of ideas on how to resolve the prison crisis and could not and would not advocate surrender. So they supported the men in the Blocks and the women in Armagh one hundred per cent once the hunger strike began.

The British (and Irish) establishments could not afford the prisoners to win, because of the collateral boost a victory would give to republicanism. At the same time, the hunger strike uniquely focused international attention on the horrors of the prisons and on the conflict in a way that exposed Britain, so Britain was under some pressure to compromise.

The hunger strike also exposed the hollowness and hypocrisy of the rhetoric of the Irish government (especially Haughey), the amorality of most of the Catholic Hierarchy (able to explicitly condemn republicans but not British violence), with the SDLP (as always) running around like a headless chicken. To make sure you got something through, whether true or not, to the Dublin government and on to the British all you had to do was confide in some senior SDLP member ‘in total confidence’.

One prescient British intelligence report sent to Thatcher states that the hunger strike is “deeply disliked by the leadership for it confuses the issues, gives scope for division of views, and damaging disagreement, and is outside their control…

“The [hunger strike] campaign could fizzle out, to the shame of the movement. It could turn out also, to the movement’s shame, that no effective way is found to reinforce the prisoners’ efforts.”

Two months into the strike Thatcher was able to tell her cabinet that Haughey – despite his public stance – backed her position, though calling for ‘cosmetic changes in the prison’ and he “accepted that there was nothing more that British authorities could offer them [the prisoners]”. There was, however, a slight shift in her position – the offer of ‘civilian-type clothes’ and the motive, according to Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins, was “to deprive the protestors of a great deal of public sympathy.”

But the prisoners were only too well aware that for them to have accepted these ‘approved’ clothes (‘another type of uniform’), in the absence of movement on their other demands, would have been claimed by the British as, and generally perceived as, a major climb-down, incommensurate with four years of immense suffering.

Thatcher told Haughey that she would not make any further concessions beyond “dressing up what had already been offered”.

“We cannot make any concessions” appear in the margins of other cabinet papers in Thatcher’s blue felt pen.

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.

First published on the Danny Morrison website

Joe McDonnell’s Death: Expanded Timeline 29 June – 12 July 1981

UPDATED 25 Nov 2011 – Brendan Duddy’s Mountain Climber notes added; quote from John Blelloch
UPDATED 11 July 2009 – Excerpts from Biting at the Grave added

Merged Timeline – Joe McDonnell’s death

Please note this timeline is by no means definitive and is subject to revision as more sources are added and/or more evidence and information comes to light. This timeline is a verbatim compilation of various sources in a chronological order and is open to interpretation.

Sources: Danny Morrison, Garret Fitzgerald, Brendan Duddy, John Blelloch, British Government documents, Ten Men Dead, Before the Dawn, Biting at the Grave, INLA Deadly Divisions, Blanketmen, Irish News, Belfast Telegraph, eyewitness accounts.


DM = Danny Morrison

GF = Garret Fitzgerald

Other sources are noted in text.

29 June

DM: Four hunger strikers have already died – Bobby Sands on day 66, Francis Hughes on day 59, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara on day 61 of their hunger strike.

DM: Joe McDonnell is on day 52 without food. Secretary of State, Humphrey Atkins reaffirms that political status will not be granted and that implementing changes in the areas of work, clothing and association present ‘great difficulty’ and would only encourage the prisoners to believe that they could achieve status through “the so-called ‘five demands’”.

30 June

GF: “The IRA reaction, allegedly on behalf of the prisoners, had been to describe this response as ‘arrogant’. Nevertheless the Commission for Justice and Peace saw the British statement as encouraging – as did we – and sought further clarification. Our information from the prison was that, despite the IRA statement purporting to speak for them, the prisoners wanted the commission to continue its involvement. We were also aware that the relatives of the prisoners on hunger strike were becoming increasingly restive at the IRA’s intransigent approach.”

1 July

GF: “On 1 July Michael O’Leary and I communicated our view on these points to the British Ambassador and urged that the NIO meet the commission again and allow the commission to meet the prisoners. We also warned against any policy of brinkmanship, which – especially in the view of the nearness to death of one hunger striker, Joe McDonnell – could harden attitudes, including in particular the attitudes of the relatives, who had the power to influence developments. That night I rang Margaret Thatcher to make these points directly to her.”

3 July

DM: Irish Commission for Justice and Peace [ICJP] has eight-hour meeting with Michael Alison, prisons minister.

GF: Garret Fitzgerald meets with relatives of the prisoners/hunger strikers:

“This meeting on 3 July was, as I had expected, intensely distressing, but it enabled me to see for myself that while there were those among them who took a straight IRA line, most of them were indeed primarily concerned to end the hunger strike.”

4 July

DM: ICJP again meets Alison who gives its representatives permission to meet the eight hunger strikers in prison hospital. They are shocked at the condition of Joe McDonnell. Prisoners later issue statement saying British government could settle the hunger strike without any departure from ‘principle’ by extending prison reforms to the entire prison population. ICJP tells prisoners’ families that they are ‘hopeful’ but that prisoners deeply distrust the authorities.

DM: British government representative (codenamed ‘Mountain Climber’) secretly contacts republican leadership by ‘back channel’. Insists on strict confidentiality.

GF: “The Minister of State at the NIO, Michael Allison, met the commission again. He gave the impression that he wanted to be more conciliatory, but referred to ‘the lady behind the veil’, namely the Prime Minister. As we had proposed, he cleared a visit by the Commission for Justice and Peace to the prisoners, who then issued a statement that, as we had thought likely, was much more conciliatory than the one published by the IRA on their behalf three days earlier. They said they were not looking for any special privileges as against other prisoners, and that the British government could meet their requirements without any sacrifice of principle. It looked as if the commission would now be able to resolve the dispute with Michael Allison, who seemed close to accepting their proposals.”

GF: “Following the conciliatory statement by the prisoners, direct contact had been made with the IRA by an agent of the British government, through an intermediary. Disastrously, his proposals, while close to what the prisoners and Allison, through the commission, were near to agreeing, went further in one respect. Not unnaturally the IRA preferred this somewhat wider offer, and above all the opportunity to be directly involved in discussions with the British government.”

Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, pg 90-92: “Both sides met again on 4 July for what the Commission members felt was a pro-forma exercise. Within minutes of the meeting’s beginning, however, Alison did a complete about-face. If the hunger strikes were to end, he told the Commission, the government would not appear to be acting under duress, in which case all prisoners would be allowed to wear their own clothes. Own clothing as a right, not a privilege, Hugh Logue asked. Own clothing as a right, Alison replied.”

“After the meeting with Alison the Commission was given permission to go immediately to the Maze/Long Kesh prison. When they arrived, they were brought to the hospital wing […] The eight hunger strikers sat on one side of a table on which jugs of water had been placed; the five commissioners sat opposite them.”

“For the next two hours the two sides went over the proposals the Commission had hammered out with Alison and which it now thought were on offer. Prisoners would be allowed to wear their own clothes at all times as a matter of right, not privilege; association would be improved by allowing movement by all prisoners during daily exercise time between the yard blocks of every two adjacent wings within each block and between the recreation rooms of the two adjacent wings in each block during the daily recreational period; the definition of work would be expanded to ensure every prisoner the widest choice of activities – for example, prisoners with levels of expertise in crafts of the arts could teach these skills to other prisoners as part of their work schedules, prisoners would be allowed to perform work for a range of charitable or voluntary bodies, and such work could even include the building of a church “or equivalent facilities for religious worship within the prison”.”

5 July

Brendan Duddy’s Mountain Climber notes:

Send on 5 of July
Clothes = after lunch
and before the the afternoon visit
as a man is given his clothes
He clears out his own cell pending the resolution of the work issue which will be worked out [garbled] as soon as the clothes are and no later than 1 month.
Visits = [garbled] on Tuesday. Hunger strikers + some others
H.S. to end 4 hrs after clothes + work has been resolved.

Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, pg 96:

“…Danny Morrison was allowed to go into the Maze/Long Kesh to see the hunger strikers on the morning of 5 July…to apprise them of what was going on, although he did not go into detail. Morrison says that he relayed information about the contact and impressed upon them the fact the ICJP could “make a mess of it, that they could be settling for less than what they had the potential for achieving.”

GF: “They were then allowed by the British authorities to send Danny Morrison secretly into the prison for discussions with the hunger strikers and with the IRA leader there, Brendan McFarlane. This visit was later described by the IRA as a test of the authority of the British government representative in touch with them to bypass the NIO.”

DM: After exchanges, Mountain Climber’s offer (concessions in relation to aspects of the five demands) goes further than ICJP’s understanding of government position. Sinn Fein’s Danny Morrison secretly visits hunger strikers. Separately, he meets prison OC Brendan McFarlane, explains what Mountain Climber is offering should hunger strike be terminated. McFarlane meets hunger strikers.

DM: Morrison is allowed to phone out from the doctor’s surgery. Tells Adams that prisoners will not take anything on trust, and prisoners want offers confirmed and seek to improve them. While waiting for McFarlane to return Morrison is ordered out of the prison by a governor [John Pepper].

Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, pg 92: On Sunday, 5 July, Bishop O’Mahony, Hugh Logue and Father Crilly went back to the Maze/Long Kesh to talk with McFarlane. They spent about four hours with him.

Sources various: McFarlane returns to block; sends O’Rawe a run-down of the offer from the Mountain Climber. McFarlane, as told to Brian Rowan: “And I said to Richard (O’Rawe) this is amazing, this is a huge opportunity and I feel there’s a potential here (in the Mountain Climber process) to end this.” O’Rawe and McFarlane agreed there was enough there to accept the offer: “We spoke in Irish so the screws could not understand,” Mr O’Rawe told the Irish News.“I said, ‘Ta go leor ann’ – There’s enough there. He said, ‘Aontaim leat, scriobhfaidh me chun taoibh amiugh agus cuirfidh me fhois orthu’ – I agree with you, I will write to the outside and let them know.” Conversation confirmed by prisoners on the wing.

DM: ICJP visits hunger strikers and offers themselves as mediators. Hunger strikers say they want NIO rep to talk directly to them. Request by hunger strikers to meet McFarlane with ICJP is refused by NIO. Mountain Climber is told that prisoners want any offer verified.

Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, pg 93: “That evening the commissioners met with the prisoners again for about two and a half hours. This time the conversation centred on the question of guarantees – although the hunger strikers had not indicated that they regarded what was being proposed as being fully acceptable. They would, they said, have to consult their colleagues. […] They wanted a senior official from the NIO to come into the prison and spell out to them what was on offer – they would have to hear it from the British themselves rather than take the Commission’s word for it. Nevertheless the focus on the question of guarantees led the commissioners to believe that what had been put on offer the day before had not been repudiated, even after overnight consideration.”

““On the last night,” says Logue, “they [the hunger strikers] were all saying that we had to square any settlement we had, even if it was acceptable to them, with Bik.” In short, what the prisoners appeared to be saying was that if the terms were acceptable to McFarlane, they were acceptable to them. McFarlane was down the corridor in his bed – he had been brought into the hospital wing that evening and provided with a bed there so he could stay over and be available for consultation with the commissioners if the need arose. O’Mahony and Logue went down to talk to him. “He listened to us for about two minutes,” says Logue, “and turned around and went back to sleep and Joe McDonnell was going to be dead within thirty-six hours and I never forgave him for that. He was not in the business of trying to get a solution.” Nevertheless, the commissioners left in a hopeful state. Before they left, Kieran Doherty spoke briefly in Gaelic to Oliver Crilly. Doherty, Crilly told Logue, had told him that if somebody came in and read the terms out to the hunger strikers, they would accept them.”

Comm to Brownie from Bik (6.7.81 11pm – referring to events of the 5th):

“….Anyway Pennies will have filled you in on main pointers. The Bean Uasal has a time table of meetings, OK. At them all the same line was pushed by the Commission. You should have the main points from Pennies. They have maintained to myself and hunger strikers that principle of five demands is contained within the stuff they are pushing and that Brits won’t come with anything else.”
“I spent yy [yesterday] outlining our position and pushing our Saturday document as the basis for a solution. I said parts of their offer were vague and much more clarification and confirmation was needed to establish exactly what the Brits were on about. I told them the only concrete aspect seemed to be clothes and no way was this good enough to satisfy us. I saw all the hunger strikers yesterday and briefed them on the situation. They seemed strong enough and can hold the line alright. They did so last night when Commission met them. There was nothing extra on offer – they just pushed their line and themselves as guarantors over any settlement. The hunger strikers pushed to have me present, but NIO refused this and Commission wouldn’t lean hard enough on NIO. The lads also asked for NIO representative to talk directly to them, but the Commission say this is not on at all as NIO won’t wear. During the session H. Logue suggested drafting a statement on behalf of the hunger strikers asking for Brits to come in and talk direct, but lads knocked him back. A couple of them went out and made a phone call to NIO on getting me access to meeting and on getting NIO rep. They didn’t really try for me, according to Lorny, because when asked they said they didn’t want to push too hard and had been put off by the Brit’s firm refusal. Meeting terminated about midnight and Bishop O’Mahoney and J. Connolly paid me a short visit just to let me know the crack. Since then I haven’t been to see anyone except Lorny and Mick Devine on the way back to the block this morning. Requests to see hunger strikers and O/Cs have not been answered at all…I’m instructing Lorny to tell hunger strikers (if they are called together) not to talk to anyone till they get their hands on me. OK? By the way Joe was unable to attend last night’s session.”

Jack Holland & Henry McDonald, INLA, Deadly Divisions, page 179:

“Shortly before Joe McDonnell’s death, Councillor Flynn received a telephone call from a man in the Northern Ireland Office, who told him to go to Long Kesh. “There are developments,” was all he said. Even though it was late at night, Flynn went, accompanied by Seamus Ruddy. The NIO official, who refused to give his name, met him, and revealed that there had been discussions between Sinn Fein and the government and that it looked like they might settle. Flynn was given permission to go into the jail and speak to Lynch and Devine, who corroborated the NIO man’s assertion but said that the five demands were not being met, so whatever the Provisionals did, the INLA hunger strikers would not budge. Flynn could not get the official to reveal what was being offered. Later, when he confronted the Provisionals, they denied that they were engaged in any secret talks with the NIO.”

6 July

Brendan Duddy’s Mountain Climber notes:

The S.S. [Shop Stewards/Adams Committee] fully accept the posal — as stated by the Union MemBship [The Workers/Prison Leadership]
And that is the only Basis for a successful draft proposal by the Management. [British/Thatcher]
It is essential that a copy of the draft be in the S.S. hands Before it is made public.
To enable the S.S. to apr – up
or to point out any difficulty before publication
If it is pub. without prior sight and agreement the S.S. would have to disapprove it.
Monday Morning
July 6th.

Richard O’Rawe, Blanketmen, page 184:

“On the afternoon of 6 July, a comm came in from the Army Council saying that it did not think the Mountain Climber’s proposals provided the basis for a resolution and that more was needed. The message said that the right to free association was vital to an overall settlement and that its exclusion from the proposals, along with ambiguity on the issue of what constituted prison work, made the deal unacceptable. The Council was hopeful, though, that the Mountain Climber could be pushed into making further concessions. As usual, the comm had come from Gerry Adams, who had taken on the unenviable role of transmitting the Army Council’s views to the prison leadership.”

DM: Gerry Adams confides in ICJP about secret contact and the difference in the offers. Commission is stunned by disclosure. It confronts Alison and demands that a guarantor goes into the jail and confirm what is on offer. Alison checks with his superiors and states that a guarantor will go in at 9am the following morning, Tuesday, 7 July. Hunger strikers are told to expect an official from the NIO.

GF: “On Monday, 6 July at 3:30pm, according to the account given to me shortly after these events, Gerry Adams phoned the commission seeking a meeting, revealing that the British government had made contact with him. An hour and a half later two members of the commission met Adams and Morrison, who told them that this contact was ‘London based’ and had been in touch with them ‘last time round’, i.e. during the 1980 hunger strike. Adams demanded that the commission phone the NIO to cancel their meeting.”

GF: “Members of the commission, furious at this development, then met Allison and four of his officials. They asked him if he had been in communication with the hunger strikers or with those with authority over them. He said that no member of his office had been in contact, and, when pressed, repeated this line. They then discussed the Commission’s own proposals.”

GF: “When the commission contacted us immediately after this meeting, they told us nothing about the London contact with Adams and Morrison – understandably, given that this was a telephone call – which in any event still did not loom large in their eyes at that point beside the agreement they believed they had reached, which indeed seemed to them to have settled the dispute and to be about to end the hunger strike.”

GF: “The commission had produced to Allison the statement on which they had been working, which they described as ‘a true summary of the essential points of prison reform that had emerged.’ They told Allison that this statement was considered by the hunger strikers to be ‘the formation [sic] of a resolution of the hunger strike,’ provided that they received ‘satisfactory clarification of detail and confirmation by an NIO official to the prisoners personally of the commitment of the British Government to act according to the spirit and the letter’ of the statement.”

GF: “Although there was a difference of opinion on whether certain of the concessions were ‘illustrative’ or not, this does not seem to have been a problem for the British at the time, since Allison went out to make a phone call and then came back to say that he had approval. He proposed that an NIO official would see the prisoners with the governor by mid-morning the following day, Tuesday. When we received this information Demot Nally phoned the British Ambassador to urge that this confirmatory visit take place as soon as possible.”

GF: “Late that night, however, the commission was phoned by Danny Morrison seeking a meeting, which they refused; but half an hour later he arrived at the hotel, saying that the Sinn Fein-IRA contacts with the British were continuing through the night and that he needed to see the actual commission proposals. This request was refused, although he was given the general gist of them.”

Brendan Duddy’s Mountain Climber notes:

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

7 July

DM: Republican monitors await response from Mountain Climber.

DM: 11.40am: Bishop O’Mahoney [ICJP] telephones Alison asking where the guarantor is. Alison suggests he and the ICJP have another meeting. O’Mahoney tells him he is shocked, dismayed and amazed that the government should be continuing with its game of brinkmanship. He says: “I beg you to get someone into prison and get things started.”

DM: 12.18pm: ICJP decides to hold 1pm press conference outlining what had been agreed by the government and explain how the British had failed to honour it.

DM: 12.55pm: NIO phones ICJP and says that an official would meet the hunger strikers that afternoon.

DM: 1pm: ICJP calls off its press conference.

GF: “On Tuesday afternoon, Gerry Adams rang to say that the British had now made an offer but that it was not enough. Three members of the commission then met Adams and Morrison, who produced their version of the offer that they said had been made to them. The commission saw this as almost a replica of their own proposals but with an additional provision about access to Open University courses.”

Brendan Duddy’s Mountain Climber notes:

Freedom of Movement would be permitted within each wing. Prison officer would maintain the total control of supervision during these periods:

Prison work will vary between Cell and Block maintenance, educational, cultural subjects ie Open University, toy making for charities. Building projects, ie New Church.

FOI Document 1: “Extract from a letter dated 8 July 1981 from 10 Downing Street to the Northern Ireland Office”

“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.”

DM: “Late afternoon: Statement from PRO, H-Blocks, Richard O’Rawe: “We are very depressed at the fact that our comrade, Joe McDonnell, is virtually on the brink of death, especially when the solution to the issue is there for the taking. The urgency of the situation dictates that the British act on our statement of July 4 now.””

FOI Document 1: “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.”

GF: “Meanwhile the commission had spent an agonising day, for while London had been negotiating with the IRA, Allison and the NIO had prevaricated about the prison visit, repeatedly promising that the official was about to go to the prison.”

DM: 4pm: NIO tells ICJP that an official will be going in but that the document was still being drafted.

Padraig O’Malley: Biting at the Grave, pg 97: “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.”

DM: 5.55pm: ICJP phones Alison and expresses concern that no official has gone in.

DM: 7.15pm: ICJP phones Alison and again expresses concern.

FOI Document 1: “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.”

GF: “At 8:30pm, however, Morrison and a companion had come without warning to the hotel where the commission had its base. Their attitude was threatening. Morrison said their contact had been put in jeopardy as a result of the commission revealing its existence at its meeting with Allison; the officials present with Allison had not known of the contact. Despite this onslaught the commission refused to keep Morrison informed of their actions.”

DM: 8.50pm: NIO tells ICJP that the official will be going in shortly.

DM: 10pm: Alison tells ICJP that no one would be going in that night but would at 7.30 the next morning and claims that the delay would be to the benefit of the prisoners. Republican monitors still waiting confirmation from Mountain Climber that an NIO representative will meet the hunger strikers. The call does not come.

GF: “At ten o’clock that night Allison phoned to say that the official would not now be going to the prison until the following morning – adding, however, that this delay would be to the prisoners’ benefit.”

Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, pg 97: “Asked by Logue why no representative had been sent into the prison that morning, Logue says that Alison replied, “Frankly, I was not a sufficient plenipotentiary.””

FOI Document 2: “Extract from a Telegram from the Northern Ireland Office to the Cabinet Office”

MIPT contains the text of a statement which SOSNI 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.”

FOI Document 1: “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.”

10pm Comm to Brownie from Bik:

“…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…”

8 July

DM: 4.50am Joe McDonnell dies on the 61st day of his hunger strike.

GF: “Just before 5:00am that night Joe McDonnell died. At 6:30 the governor, in the presence of an NIO official, read a statement to the prisoners that differed markedly from the one prepared by the commission, and, in their view, approved by Allison thirty-six hours earlier. Fifteen minutes later Adams rang the commission to say that at 5:30am the contact with London had been terminated without explanation.”

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. 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.”

DM: 9am: An NIO official visits each hunger striker in his cell and reads out a statement which says that nothing has changed since Humphrey Atkins’ policy statement of 29 June, thus suggesting that there was no new document being drafted as claimed by the NIO at 4pm on 7 July.

John Blelloch: “[…] the problem as always was seeing whether we could find some fresh statement of the government’s position which respected all our, which abided by our principal objectives which we adhered to throughout the hunger strike but nevertheless constituted some sort of opportunity for the prisoners to come off it. 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 interview with author Padraig O’Malley

GF: “When we heard the news of Joe McDonnell’s death and of the last-minute hardening of the British position, we were shattered. We had been quite unprepared for this volte-face, for we, of course, had known nothing whatever of the disastrous British approach to Adams and Morrison. Nor had we known of the IRA’s attempts – regardless of the threat this posed to the lives of the prisoners, and especially to that of Joe McDonnell – to raise the ante by seeking concessions beyond what the prisoners had said they could accept. We had believed that the IRA had been in effect bypassed by the commission’s direct contact with the prisoners at the weekend, which we had helped to arrange.”

DM: ICJP holds press conference and condemns British government and NIO for failing to honour undertaking and for “clawing back” concessions.

GF: “That afternoon the Commission for Justice and Peace issued a statement setting out the discussions they had had with Allison leading to the agreement reached on Monday evening. I then issued a statement recalling that I had repeatedly said that a solution could be reached through a flexibility of approach that need not sacrifice any principle. While the onus to show this flexibility rested with both sides, the greater responsibility must, as always, rest on those with the greater power.”

10 July

DM: ICJP leaves Belfast.

10pm comm to Brownie from Bik:

“…No one will be talking to them [ICJP] unless I am present and then it will only be to tell them to skit OK. More than likely you lot have already done a fair job on them this evening. Sincerely hope so anyway. If we can render them ineffective now, then we leave the way clear for a direct approach without all the ballsing about. The reason we didn’t skite them in the first instance was because I was afraid of coming across as inflexible or even intransigent. Our softly softly approach with them has left the impression that we were taking their proposals as a settlement. I’m sorry not I didn’t tell them to go and get stuffed.”

Comm to An Bean Uasal from Bik, Fri. 10.7.81

“Comrade, got your comm today alright. Find here a statement attacking ICJP as requested.”

12 July

Comm to Brownie from Bik

“…Talking to Pat [McGeown] this morning and he reckons we should not have cut out the Commission. I explained the crack in full, but he’s one for covering all exits no matter what the score is. Just thought I’d mention that, OK?…”

GF: “I have given a full account of these events (some of them unknown to us at the time they took place) because in retrospect I think that the shock of learning that a solution seemed to have been sabotaged by yet another and, as it seemed to us, astonishingly ham-fisted approach on behalf of the British government to the IRA influenced the extent and intensity of the efforts I deployed in the weeks that followed, in the hope – vain, as it turned out – of bringing that government back to the point it had apparently reached on Monday 6 July.”

Sourced from:
Danny Morrison, Timeline: 2006 & 2009
Garret Fitzgerald, Excerpt from autobiography, All in a Life, 1991, pages 367-371
Brendan Duddy, Mountain Climber notes
Freedom of Information documents, Sunday Times website
Gerry Adams, Excerpt from autobiograpy, Before the Dawn, 1996, page 299
Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, 1990, page 90-98; interview with John Blelloch, 1986
Jack Holland & Henry McDonald, INLA, Deadly Divisions, 1994, page 179
Richard O’Rawe, Blanketmen, 2005, page 284
David Beresford, comms from Ten Men Dead
Brian Rowan, interview with Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, 4 June, 2009
Steven McCaffrey, Irish News, Former comrades’ war of words over hunger strike, 12 March 2005

Discussion between ‘Blanketmanh3’ and “Rusty Nail”

Discussion at Slugger O’Toole website between Danny Morrison (‘blanketmanh3’) and Rusty Nail.

Comment 14, page 2 of discussion:

Surely Richard O’Rawe and Brendan McFarlane couldn’t have called off the hunger strike without asking the hunger strikers? If the republican leadership on the outside rejected what Richard O’Rawe alleges as his and McFarlane’s acceptance, then what happened to the ICJP mediation efforts? Why didn’t the British deal through them which one would presume would be their preferred choice so as not to give any kudos tothe Provos?
This is what Richard O’Rawe actually wrote on the day that Joe McDonnell died: “The British government’s hypocrisy and their refusal to act in a responsible manner are completely to blame for the death of Joe McDonnell. The only definite response forthcoming from the British government is the death of Joe McDonnell. This morning Mr Atkins has issued us with yet another ambiguous and self-gratifying statement. That statement, even given its most optimistic reading, is far removed from our July 4 statement. At face value it amounts to nothing.”
This is what prisons minister Michael Allison said after Joe McDonnell died about the ICJP:he blamed the breakdown on the ICJP’s “over-eagerness” and said they had misrepresented what he had said, inflating his “privately expressed sentiments” to suggest that a solution was near. Its proposals to HMG were “wildly euphoric and wildly out of perspective.” He compared talking to hunger strikers as like talking to hijackers: “you continued talking while you figured out a way to defeat them, while allowing them to save face.”
Primary and contemporary sources. You mightn’t like them but they’re usually the best!

Posted by blanketmanH3 on May 27, 2009 @ 11:36 AM
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Bobby Sands Trust: Sunday Times Refuses to Publish Answers

Sunday Times Refuses to Publish Answers
April 19, 2009 · Bobby Sands Trust

On Sunday 12th April last the Sunday Times printed an allegation from Sean Flynn (IRSP) that he had visited INLA hunger striker Kevin Lynch on Sunday 5th July in 1981 and that Kevin Lynch “knew nothing” about behind-the-scenes attempts to resolve the prison crisis. Flynn, according to Liam Clarke, also claimed that he “went into the prison with him [Morrison] on the second of his [Morrison’s] two visits that day.”

Danny Morrison challenged Clarke’s report and Flynn’s account. Clarke had been in regular contact with Morrison in the days before he wrote his report yet never put the allegation to Morrison.
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Statement: Danny Morrison

An Phoblacht, Top Stories: British Government holds back documents on 1981 Hunger Strike‘Sunday Times’ H-Blocks story backfires

AN attempt by The Sunday Times last weekend (5 April) to call into question the republican leadership’s handling of the 1981 H-Blocks Hunger Strike by publishing British Government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act has actually boomeranged on the reporter who wrote the story, Liam Clarke. [Liam Clarke, after being challenged by the Bobby Sands Trust, had to admit last month that a quote he attributed to Bobby Sands and used in a lurid headline – “Sinn Féin is turning into Sands’s dodo” – wasn’t said by Bobby Sands.]

The British Government documents themselves, far from being incriminating, actually corroborate the account of what happened at the time by Sinn Féin, surviving Hunger Strikers, O/C Brendan McFarlane, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace and detailed research by authors David Beresford, Padraig O’Malley and Denis O’Hearn.
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Bobby Sands Trust: Documents Still Withheld

Documents Still Withheld
April 7, 2009 · Bobby Sands Trust

An attempt by the ‘Sunday Times’ [5th April] to call into question the republican leadership’s handling of the 1981 hunger strike by publishing British government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act has actually boomeranged on the reporter who wrote the story, Liam Clarke. [Liam Clarke, after being challenged by the Bobby Sands Trust, had to admit last month that a quote he attributed to Bobby Sands and used in a lurid headline – “Sinn Fein is turning into Sands’s dodo” – wasn’t said by Bobby Sands.]
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O’Rawe refuted: Danny Morrison publishes H-Block comms (2006)


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

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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Danny Morrison: O’Rawe’s Attacks Untrue

O’Rawe’s Attacks Untrue
Danny Morrison
From Daily Ireland, 9 March 2005
Also An Phoblacht

Having quickly run out of argument, having found his account rebuffed by former hunger strikers and blanket men, Richard O’Rawe has resorted to personal, untrue and hurtful attacks. His claim that in 1981 the army council of the IRA turned down a deal from ‘Mountain Climber’ (a British representative) which could have saved six hunger strikers lives in order to gain a sympathy vote for Owen Carron in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election has been demolished.

Few believe his plea that he wrote the book for the families of the hunger strikers (but forgot to tell them). Instead of conceding that his memory might be false, or that being only partly privy to the talks in 1981 led him to misinterpret events, he persists with his myths because his book and its sales are his primary concern.

The fact that during all the propaganda wars successive British governments have never in the intervening 24 years claimed the IRA squandered a deal in 1981 speaks for itself. It would certainly have been in British interests to level such a charge – after all, the allegation is of such a magnitude that were it true it had the potential for stopping the struggle in its tracks.

In this paper last Saturday Richard wrote: “Danny [Morrison] has accused me of being oblivious to the feelings of the families. Let me say that’s rich.

“This man went into a meeting with the families on July 28th with the Mountain Climber offer in his back pocket and yet he didn’t think the families should be made aware of the offer. Why did he do that?”

On July 10th at Joe McDonnell’s funeral I collapsed in Milltown Cemetery. I was taken into hospital in Dublin with hepatitis, which is an infectious disease, and kept in an isolation ward at Cherry Orchard hospital in Ballyfermott. That’s where I was on July 28th. In hospital I was humbled to receive a message from the hunger strikers asking about my condition. A month after Joe McDonnell’s death I returned to the North to speak at the funeral of IRA hunger striker Tom McElwee in Bellaghy. My point is that Richard’s memory isn’t as sharp as he claims.

Interestingly, in his ‘Daily Ireland’ right of reply Richard also had the opportunity to rebut criticism of him the day before from Laurence McKeown but chose not to. Laurence was one of those on hunger strike at the time in 1981 when Richard alleges that the IRA refused ‘a deal’ to end the fast. Richard seems incapable of grasping the distinction between an offer and a confirmed deal. 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’.”

Richard was a blanket man and a PRO for the prisoners in 1981. He was not a negotiator and was never in the prison hospital with the hunger strikers, though he elevates his importance in his book. He was a good PRO and upon his release from prison he worked for a year in the Republican Press Centre in Belfast at the time when I was Sinn Fein’s Director of Publicity. So, we saw each other at briefings every day for a year until he decided to go into business for himself.

Since then there have been a dozen occasions when we’ve discussed politics late into the night. During and after the hunger strike, and in all the time I have known and spoken to him, Richard never made this allegation.

He says that in 1991 he privately criticised the role of the IRA Army Council in the hunger strike but was told that he could be shot and so he kept quiet. He explains that because of the new atmosphere following the ceasefire and that because he believes there will be no return to armed struggle he now feels free to say these things. Even if for the sake of argument we accept that Richard felt threatened in 1991 that doesn’t explain why in the interests of accuracy he would not now have consulted Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, his former OC, whom throughout the book he has recruited to his position, other hunger strikers who survived, Gerry Adams or myself. Bik, like Laurence McKeown, repudiates Richard’s allegation.

Richard deceived many people into believing that he was writing a book about growing up in West Belfast. When the book was published last week any merit it had for former comrades, as one blanket man’s grim experience of jail, was destroyed by his implicit insult to the intelligence of the hunger strikers and his scurrilous attack on the IRA leadership and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

As a result of his attacks Richard has been feted by the ‘Sunday Times’ and lauded by revisionists, anti-republican journalists and the usual suspects. Had his book been called ‘Blanketmen – Thatcher kills hunger strikers’ I think we can guess at how little media coverage he could have expected.

Richard’s book has helped no one but the enemies of the struggle. Not the hunger strikers’ families, not the blanket men, not the republican cause, not his friends and comrades, and, certainly, not himself. What Richard O’Rawe has written is repugnant but it has exposed him as a minor figure against the inviolable memory of the hunger strikers, their sacrifices and their greatness.

First published in Daily Ireland and An Phoblacht

Morrison: Hunger strikers wanted more than vague promises (2005)

Hunger strikers wanted more than vague promises

(by Danny Morrison, Irish Times)

The claim that the IRA’s army council was responsible for prolonging the hunger strikes is wrong, writes Danny Morrison.

Your columnist Fintan O’Toole (March 1st) readily accepts Richard O’Rawe’s claim in his new book Blanketmen that the IRA army council was to blame for six of the 10 hunger-strike deaths by refusing a deal from the British government.

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.
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Hunger Strikers Story Brought to Book (2005)

Hunger Strikers Story Brought to Book

From Daily Ireland, 2 March 2005
Danny Morrison

I got a phone call from the ‘Sunday Times’ last Saturday.

“Do you know Richard O’Rawe,” the journalist asked. “He mentions you in a new book he has brought out.”

That surprised me because I had waved to Richard a few days earlier when I crossed the road just below his house and would have thought he would have given me the good news – and a free copy. About four years ago he came to me and told me he was writing a book about growing up in West Belfast and could I give him advice. We met twice, once in each other’s homes. What I read was quite funny and reminiscent of my own youth. Richard said that an agent had offered to publish his book for several thousand pounds. I told him not to go down that road – which is called vanity publishing – and I gave him the names of some literary scouts and publishers. But I don’t think he had any luck. It is a tough circle to break into.

The journalist told me that his paper was serialising Richard’s book, ‘Blanketmen’, and proceeded to read out to me an accompanying feature: ‘Ireland: The men who died for nothing. Former Maze inmate Richard O’Rawe was at the heart of the 1980s hunger strike drama. His new book lays the blame for six of the 10 deaths firmly on his IRA army council masters.’

I was astonished. Richard was saying that there was a deal offered to the hunger strikers by the British before Joe McDonnell died but that the army council rejected it. The journalist quoted from the book: “No matter which way one views it, the outside leadership alone, not the prison leadership, took the decision to play brinkmanship with Joe McDonnell’s life. If Bik and I had had our way, Joe and the five comrades who followed him to the grave would be alive today.”
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Danny Morrison: The Visit

The Visit
Danny Morrison
Undated, circa 2001 (visit also described by Jim Gibney)

The minibus dropped us off at the hospital. Among our delegation were a mix of ex-prisoners, Sinn Fein representatives, and a former member of the Relatives Action Committee. Gerry Adams, as an MP, had organised the visit. On the road up to the hospital, all the gates were lying open, there were no checks, and I noticed a plaque on the side of the road in memory of those prison officers killed by republicans.

The hospital is divided into two wings: one, to the left where the cells are; the other, to the right, has surgeries for the doctor, the dentist, the optician’s and an X-ray room. An administrative section divides the two wings. I had been down the right side of the block on several occasions since 1981 as a prisoner. But this was the first time in twenty years that Jim Gibney and I had come back to the place where the ten hunger strikers had spent their agonising last days.

There was a chill about the wing. The two prison officials stayed away and allowed us to enter the cells, one by one. Jim Gibney pointed out Bobby’s cell. We huddled in and closed the door. It was terrible. This is where his great spirit left the earth. It was a tomb. Surrender or die had been the only option open to he and his comrades. We stood for a minute’s silence in honour of Bobby, Frank, Raymond, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Tom and Mickey. I bit my tongue and I could see that Marie Moore – ‘an bean uasal’ [literally, honoured lady] to the prisoners whom she visited throughout the blanket protest and hunger strike – was visibly upset.

We went into the room where, separately, Gerry Adams and I had met groups of hunger strikers. We told our stories. We were amazed at how small the room was. In my memory it had been like a big canteen. Here, I had met Tom McElwee, Kieran Doherty TD, Kevin Lynch and Mickey Devine, among others. Joe McDonnell, who had two days to live, was brought in in a wheelchair and kept joking throughout the visit. He smoked several cigarettes in between sipping water. I had been there to bring them up to date with our contacts with the British and the ultimately forlorn attempts to resolve the political status issue.

I can see their faces still. They had been through too many beatings, had witnessed too much British deceit and treachery, to allow false hope undermine their resolve.

I pointed out the cell in which I visited Sean McKenna on the eve of the ending of the 1980 hunger strike. Then I pointed out Brendan Hughes’ cell. Jim Gibney said that that was where Raymond McCreesh died and I felt a fresh rush of emotion knowing that this is exactly where it had happened, where his mother and father and family members had stood and suffered with their son and brother.

We also visited H-5, which along with H-3 and H-4 is still maintained. We went down its wings and into clean, newly painted cells. I looked out the slatted windows and noticed a total absence of those black crows which use to wheel in the sky over the camp and which Bobby wrote so often about in his prose and poems.

We also visited the ‘old’ Kesh and stood in the ruins of the internees’ cages, some completely gone but for their slightly raised concrete bases. Rabbits were running about everywhere, terrified, as if this was their first sight of human beings. Jim Gibney could only find the collapsed fencing around Cage 3 where he had lived for two years. Looking from here towards the wall which hides the M1 in the distance, with Cages 4 and 5 having vanished, you can see the shape of the old RAF runway begin to re-emerge from the past.

Cage 2, where I spent a year, still had its Nissan huts, with the odd, bedraggled curtain blowing in the winds that swept through its cold interior. I took a ‘boul’ around the Cage on my own and closed my eyes to take in the sensations of the past. Walking a winter’s night underneath the copper tones of security lights. The irony of fond memories of the place, of chucking water around each other on a hut summer’s day. But I was overwhelmed with the sense of loss, of those who suffered most. Who died trying to escape, or died of medical neglect or from suicide.

I pointed out the spot in Hut 17 where John Stone’s bunk and mine was. After he was released, John was killed in January 1975 on active service with Bap Kelly. The next bed to ours belonged to John Davey, from Bellaghy, a ‘ninth of August man’, who had been picked up in the original internment swoop. John, a Sinn Fein councillor, was assassinated in February 1989.

Looking up the hut I could imagine the aisle of lockers, beds and tables, the overhead lights dulled by hanging wet towels, the boiler bubbling away at one end of the hut, the backs of thirty or forty heads watching M.A.S.H. on the black and white TV at the other end.

And this scene repeated wherever republicans were jailed: in the other Cages of Long Kesh, in Magilligan, in Armagh, in Crumlin Road, on the Maidstone, in England and Scotland and the Free State. All those jails, all those prisoners, all the personal suffering, all those years, which never stopped the march of republicanism, only temporarily hindered it.

Sourced from dannymorrison.com


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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.