July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

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

 

Adams rejected chance of early end to hunger strike

Adams rejected chance of early end to hunger strike
Claims that the Sinn Fein president could have stopped the 1981 fast in July are vindicated by newly-released papers, says Carrie Twomey
Belfast Telegraph
Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The controversial claim that Gerry Adams and his committee controlling the 1981 hunger strike from outside the Maze prison refused a substantial offer from then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – an offer accepted by the prisoners – has been proven true.

The allegation is substantiated in the notes of Derry businessman Brendan Duddy. Duddy, the ‘Mountain Climber’, was the messenger between the British Government and IRA during the hunger strike.

Duddy previously confirmed he delivered an offer from Thatcher’s Government to Martin McGuinness. Along with Danny Morrison and Jim Gibney, McGuinness was a member of Adams’s clandestine hunger strike committee.

The content of that offer was the same as was revealed in FOI documents obtained by the Belfast Telegraph’s political editor, Liam Clarke. These documents show most of the five demands prisoners were hunger striking for would be met.

In his books Blanketmen and Afterlives, Richard O’Rawe, PRO of the IRA prisoners during the hunger strikes, wrote of the acceptance of that offer by himself and Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane (in charge of the hunger strike inside the prison).

This claim was vehemently denied by Morrison and Sinn Fein. O’Rawe faced vilification, threats and intimidation for revealing this information, as it meant six of the 10 hunger strikers need not have died had the offer been accepted.

Duddy’s notes of talks between Thatcher and Adams over the weekend of July 4-5, 1981 conclusively prove O’Rawe’s account was true.

After a conciliatory statement from the prisoners, Thatcher sent Duddy details of an offer with the potential to end the hunger strike.

Danny Morrison went into the prison to convey this offer to McFarlane, who discussed it with O’Rawe. McFarlane then sent word out that they would accept it.

Written in code on the morning of July 6, Duddy’s notes reflect this significant movement.

Adams and his committee were the ‘Shop Stewards’, the prisoners were the ‘Union Membership’ and the Government was ‘Management’.

The message Adams wanted conveyed to Thatcher was: “The S.S. fully accept the posal [sic] – as stated by the Union MemBship [sic]”. In other words, the prisoners had endorsed the proposal.

The rest of the message added conditions to the acceptance that gave the Adams committee, not the prisoners, a veto over the deal.

Crucially, the message added, if the British published the offer without Adams having prior sight, and agreeing to it, he would publicly ‘disapprove’ it.

In spite of the prisoners’ acceptance of the offer negotiations continued over the next two days, with Joe McDonnell close death.

The demands the prisoners were seeking via hunger strike had effectively been granted. Before implementing the agreed proposal, the British were waiting for word from Adams that the prisoners would end their hunger strike. Once that word was given, the proposal would be read to the prisoners by the NIO and released to the Press.

It was not to be. On July 7, the Adams’ committee sought to alter the ‘tone’ of the agreement, not the content. The substance had already been met. Adams and his team were concerned with presentation.

Negotiations continued throughout the night. At 4.50am on July 8, while Adams was in mid-discussion with the British, Joe McDonnell became the fifth hunger striker to die. Five more were to die before the hunger strike’s end in October 1981.

All the proposals made by Margaret Thatcher in early July were implemented immediately after the hunger strike ended.

Sourced from the Belfast Telegraph

Provo bosses let hunger-strikers die – they know who they are and so do I

Provo bosses let hunger-strikers die – they know who they are and so do I
Suzanne Breen
Sunday World

An ex-Provo prisoner who watched his comrades die on hunger-strike has blasted the IRA leadership for their “needless deaths”.

Richard O’Rawe says key IRA leaders should “hang their heads in shame” for rejecting a secret British offer which could have saved six hunger-strikers’ lives in the notorious H-Blocks.

The West Belfast republican, who was the prisoners’ public relations officer, claims “six men with hearts like lions were let die horrific deaths for nothing other than getting Sinn Féin votes”.

Four hunger-strikers were already dead when British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, capitulated and made her dramatic offer in July 1981 effectively granting most of the prisoners’ demands.

O’Rawe, who bravely lifted the lid in 2001 on the secret British proposal to end the hunger-strike, was speaking after his account was proven true by documents just lodged in an Irish university.

He’s now urging republicans all over Ireland to urgently revise their understanding of what happened during the H-Block death fast that made headlines across the world.

“The evidence is there for all to see. It’s the biggest cover-up in the history of Irish republicanism,” he told the Sunday World.

The hunger-strike was run on the outside by a clandestine committee set up by the Army Council. Its members included the North’s best known Provos who were also in Sinn Féin.

“These men should have the guts to finally come clean and tell how they let six republicans, whose boots they weren’t fit to lace, needlessly die horrific deaths in a H-block hell-hole.

“Let them explain how they rejected an offer which meant Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Tom McElwee, Kieran Doherty and Mickey Devine would all have lived.”

O’Rawe spoke of the threats and intimidation he and his family had suffered since he exposed the leadership’s lies. “‘Richard O’Rawe H-Block traitor’ was written on the wall opposite my home. Well, it’s now as clear as daylight who betrayed the hunger-strikers.”

Papers donated to the National University of Ireland in Galway by Derry businessman, Brendan Duddy, show how the IRA prison leadership accepted a substantial British offer to end the death fast.

Known as the ‘Mountain Climber’, Duddy was the messenger between the British and the IRA. His notes show – as O’Rawe claimed in his best-selling book Blanketmen – that the British made an offer on 5 July 1981 effectively granting the prisoners’ five demands except free association.

Joe McDonnell, the fifth hunger-striker, was hovering on the brink of death so urgent action was required. Duddy relayed the offer to Martin McGuinness who told Gerry Adams. Danny Morrison was then despatched to the H-Blocks to brief Bik McFarlane, the IRA commander in the jail.

When he returned to his cell, McFarlane told O’Rawe the good news. “We were both delighted. A few hours free movement every day wasn’t worth one more life,” says O’Rawe.

“The British were compromising on prison uniforms, work, visits, letters and segregation. Bik wrote to Gerry Adams, accepting the offer.”

However, the Army Council committee then sent word into the jail that the offer wasn’t enough. On 7 July, the IRA told the British that while the substance of the proposal was acceptable, the “tone” needed changing.

Joe McDonnell died the next day. “This fine republican died because an Army Council clique didn’t like the ‘tone’ of a document,” says O’Rawe. “Five other great men, the bravest of the brave, followed him. The hunger-strikers were Spartacuses.

“They gave everything they had to the republican movement. They believed to their death in a 32 county socialist republic. This Army Council committee between them didn’t have even an ounce of one hunger-striker’s courage. They were a bunch of immoral, unscrupulous b*****ds.”

It was later revealed that the Army Council committee never briefed the entire Army Council itself on the details of the offer.

The hunger-strike had become “a cynical PR exercise to gain votes”, O’Rawe claims. It had to continue at least until Owen Carron won the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Westminister by-election in August, holding Bobby Sands’ seat.

The official Provo line has always been that a callous, uncompromising British government let 10 men die. “That lie’s now exposed,” says O’Rawe. “The hunger-strikers broke Margaret Thatcher. She blinked first. She gave in but the men weren’t told

The ex-IRA man says he faced a campaign of vilification since he began exposing the truth about the hunger-strike: “I was told I could be shot. My children were harassed. ‘Your da’s a liar,’ people shouted at them.

“I was ostracised. Guys I’d operated with in the IRA, some of my best friends, snubbed me as the leadership spread their lies.”

O’Rawe (57) lives just across the road from Milltown Cemetery on the Falls where three hunger-strikers are buried.

He often visits the graves of Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell, and Kieran Doherty: “It’s heart-breaking but I don’t need to go there to remember them because they never leave my mind.” On the 30th anniversary of the 10 deaths, he still breaks down in tears thinking of his comrades.

________________
This article appeared in the December 11, 2011 edition of the Sunday World.
Sourced from Nuzhound

“Rusty Nail”: The Smoking Gun

See also: Mountain Climber Notes + Timeline

23 November, 2011

The Smoking Gun
“Rusty Nail” at Slugger O’Toole

Four documents – 2 double sided pages  – have been made available from NUI Galway’s Brendan Duddy archives that are relevant to the Mountain Climber/Thatcher offer of early July, 1981. They are Brendan Duddy’s notes of the messages he was ferrying between the Adams Committee and the British Government. The first two pages are dated the 5th and 6th of July; the last two pages are undated but relate to the ongoing negotiation; they detail the offer being discussed. The notes are supported byBritish Government documents obtained by journalist Liam Clarke under a Freedom of Information request. Interested readers can compare the information in all these documents against an expanded timeline of events that has been previously documented.

On the 4th of July, the prisoners released a statement that freed the British to make an offer, by suggesting that any prison reforms be extended to all prisoners. This resulted in the Mountain Climber, Brendan Duddy, contacting the Adams Committee. The British were making an offer that meant the prisoners would get their own clothes “after lunch tomorrow and before the afternoon visit”.

According to Duddy’s notes, this offer included:

Send on 5 of July Clothes = after lunch Tomorrow 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.

DOCUMENT 1:

Send on 5 of July
Clothes = after lunch
Tomorrow
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.

The morning of the 5th of July, Danny Morrison first visited the hunger strikers, telling them nothing of the Mountain Climber offer – only that there was contact, and that the ICJP must be resisted as they could “make a mess of it, that they could be settling for less than what they had the potential for achieving.” (Biting at the Grave, pg 96.)

The sequence is described by Morrison: “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.”

After Morrison privately relayed the British offer to Bik McFarlane, McFarlane discussed it with Richard O’Rawe. Both agreed there was enough there to accept. Bik McFarlane speaking to Brian Rowan said: “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 told the Irish News, “I said, ‘Ta go leor ann’ – There’s enough there. He (McFarlane) 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.”

DOCUMENT 2:
Key:
S.S. = Shop Steward – code for the Adams Committee which included Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, Jim Gibney and Martin McGuinness
Union Membership or The Workers = the prisoners, as represented by Bik McFarlane (OC) and Richard O’Rawe (PRO)
The Management = The British Government (Thatcher)

“The Mountain Climber messages were being sent in a crudely coded form, apparently because the Foreign Office was concerned that the phone line they were using into the north might be tapped by the local security forces: the negotiations were being couched in the form of exchanges over an industrial dispute, prisoners being referred to as ‘the workers’, the external leadership of the IRA as ‘the shop stewards’ and the British Government as ‘management’.”
– Ten Men Dead, pg 325

“The coded terminology used in the communications between the Army Council and the British reflected the class system. The British were called ‘the management’ and the Army Council were the ‘shop stewards’ and the prisoners were ‘the workers’. I didn’t know about this terminology until years later, but when I did, I couldn’t help but remember something my father used to say: “The workers always get shafted.””
– Blanketmen, pg 174; for Army Council see: Afterlives, pgs 78-82

The Smoking Gun

 

The S.S. fully accept the posal — as stated by the Union MemBship
And that is the only Basis for a successful draft proposal by the Management.
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.
————————————–
————————————–
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

“As the situation moved beyond our control, it became evident that the real power in the republican movement was asserting its authority. This time, the ‘shop stewards’, not the ‘management’ had consigned the prison leadership to the role of the ‘workers’ in the general scheme of things, and the ‘shop stewards’ and the ‘management’ were going to work things out – no matter what the ‘workers’ thought.”
– Blanketmen, pg 186.

This is the smoking gun; the proof that the prison leadership – McFarlane and O’Rawe – were told of Thatcher’s offer, they agreed to accept it, and sent word out of that acceptance. The proof their acceptance was over-ruled by those handling the negotiations on the outside, the Adams Committee, who claimed more was needed.

The notes show the prisoners got their clothes; they would have had them immediately. Their visits would have begun on the 7th of July, before Joe McDonnell died. Work was agreed to, and education recognised as work. Free association was rendered a moot point by obtaining segregation. Letters and parcels would resume, to start on the 13 of July – the day of Martin Hurson’s death. Remission was not going to be an insurmountable issue.

THIS WAS ACCEPTED BY THE PRISONERS. The acceptance by O’Rawe and McFarlane was overheard by other prisoners and it is reflected in Duddy’s notes. Duddy’s notes are also reinforced by the British Government’s record.

The British, according to their own contemporaneous documents, were genuine, and willing to comply with the “Shop Steward’s” demand to have access to a draft statement of the proposal before it was made public:

“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).”

All that was needed was for the Adams Committee to accept the proposal as the prison leadership had expressed. The hunger strike would have ended, with enough of the 5 demands granted, before the death of Joe McDonnell, before the deaths of six hunger strikers. The prisoners could have been wearing their own clothes the day before Joe McDonnell died.

The Adams Committee said, “No.” And the hunger strikers continued to die.

 

NOTES: Details of the proposal as noted by the Mountain Climber, Brendan Duddy, with documents from the British confirming the sequencing, and the draft statement that would have ended the hunger strike on terms agreed by the prison leadership had the Adams Committee not rejected it.

DOCUMENT 3
Details noted
5 demands

clothes work
assoc. visits
letters re – XX
————————————–
Clothes at 12
Visits on Tues. [Note: Tues, July 7, re Document 1]
Parcels Next Monday
Work over 1 month
Full remission
————————————–

clothes = letters = visits
Immediately
New Gov. Plus to be decider
Cunningham as Gov
Plus
Work = Each wing to decide a rota with prison staff
A good order
Association realistic with good prison discipline within each wing xxxx
————————————–
No Will
Strike goes on
[Note: Written in pen over ‘No Will Strike Goes On’]
Prison work will vary between cell and block maintenance, in the futherest of educational subjects, ie open university, toy making for charities and building projects: ove
[Note: this is clarified on the back of the page/Document 4]

————————————–
Sincere = YES
————————————–
If they work and conform
5/6 working
2 not working
H
Freedom of M
on the Each Wing P.O. would maint. the unrestricted control of supervision

DOCUMENT 4:
 

 

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. Prison officers would maintain

 

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 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.

 

[Note: As the extract is describing a meeting that took place shortly after midnight on the 8th of July, it refers to the negotiations described in Duddy’s notes – namely, the back and forth between the 5th and 7th of July]
EXTRACT FROM A 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.

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 the light of 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.

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

 

See also: Mountain Climber Notes + Timeline

 

 

 

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

Forget the myths, Adams didn’t trade lives for votes

Forget the myths, Adams didn’t trade lives for votes
Critics of the Sinn Fein president’s role in the hunger strike have failed to make their case. It lacks credibility, says Chris Donnelly
Belfast Telegraph
Wednesday, 5 January 2011

It is a historical feature of Irish republicanism that rival factions have vied for the status of legitimate claimants to the republican mantle, utilising republican icons both from the living and deceased in pursuit of that objective.

Mainstream republicans lost the support of War of Independence veteran Tom Maguire once abstentionism was settled within Sinn Fein; subsequently, Joe Cahill assumed the status of the senior living republican icon until his death.

The association of one prominent member of the Sands family with a dissident republican outfit in the early peace process era was regarded as a coup by the overly- optimistic dissidents who believed – prior to the Omagh bombing – that they were laying the foundations for a return to war.

But the 1981 hunger strikers have been afforded an iconic status amongst republicans of the present generation due to the enduring legacy of self-sacrifice associated with their actions.

It is, therefore, perhaps inevitable that allegations concerning Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams’ role during the hunger strike period should not only have surfaced, but have been so eagerly welcomed by disaffected – and dissident – republicans in recent times.

Richard O’Rawe’s narrative is constructed around the central theme that Gerry Adams wilfully dismissed the lives of fellow republicans simply to gain electoral support for Sinn Fein. It is a convenient narrative for dissident republicans and hence the decision of the more vocal amongst their numbers to adopt O’Rawe’s cause – nowhere more so than in the blogosphere, where arguments have raged on local political websites for years.

It is wholly unsurprising that the Sinn Fein president has spurned opportunities to respond publicly to Richard O’Rawe; Adams is sufficiently long in the political tooth to avoid falling into a trap from which only his antagonist would benefit from having his stature uplifted through such an encounter.

What is missing from O’Rawe’s narrative is a reasonable explanation for the alleged behaviour of Adams. Observing the plight of his comrades in prison, why would he so recklessly dismiss their lives? Suggestions that the motivation was the prospect of electoral advances are extremely dubious.

How could Gerry Adams have known what mileage there was in the electoral route for republicans?

All evidence points to the fact that, while republican leaders were keen on broadening their battlefield and maximising the potential to garner the legitimacy proffered by an electoral mandate, the same republican leaders clearly believed that the British Government would be forced from Ireland by military means and not by electoral victories. Brighton, the Libyan shipments, the European and England campaigns that followed Sinn Fein’s electoral foray through the 1980s, all indicate clearly that an Adams-led republican movement was nowhere near concluding that an electoral path would ultimately provide the only long-term future for the republican struggle. It stretches credibility to believe that Adams was willing to sacrifice the lives of of his colleagues to ensure the re-election of a republican candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone.

O’Rawe’s arguments have been countered repeatedly by Danny Morrison and others more centrally involved in the prison discussions at the time in what has become a seemingly endless bout of bickering which has led many families of the deceased hunger strikers to request an end to the dispute.

Alas, it would appear that their collective calls are destined to fall on deaf ears for some time to come.

First published in the Belfast Telegraph

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

Adams starved hunger strikers of the truth

Adams starved hunger strikers of the truth
Did the Sinn Fein president prolong the 1981 campaign to improve the party’s electoral prospects?
Richard O’Rawe outlines the case for the prosecution

Belfast Telegraph
Thursday, 30 December 2010

In a recent column in the Belfast Telegraph, Eamonn McCann said of my 1981 hunger strike book, Afterlives: “O’Rawe – perhaps like Ed Moloney – stretches his argument too far in suggesting that Gerry Adams personally drove the decision to keep the (hunger) strike going in order to build Sinn Fein’s support. Personalising the debate around the Sinn Fein president does little to advance understanding of the factors in play.”

This is a reference, I assume, to the suspicion the hunger strike had been kept going to ensure that the republican candidate, Owen Carron, would be elected to replace Bobby Sands as the MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone (an important step in Sinn Fein’s journey into electoral politics).

At the heart of the matter was a British Government offer to settle the hunger strike which had been made through secret contacts just weeks before the by-election for the Fermanagh-South Tyrone seat.

The fact that the offer was spurned determined the outcome of that election, because the on-going hunger strike motivated angry nationalist voters in the constituency to turn out for Carron and he won the seat.

Just weeks later, Sinn Fein adopted the ‘Armalite and ballot-box’ strategy.

Unfortunately, Eamonn does not say on what basis he reached the conclusion that it was going “too far” to suggest Gerry Adams personally drove the decision to keep the hunger strike going until the by-election.

But, clearly, he thinks I was too hard on the Sinn Fein president.

Was I? What did I write in Afterlives about Gerry Adams’ part in the hunger strike?

  • That Gerry Adams – and not Martin McGuinness, Danny Morrison or anyone else – had been tasked by the IRA Army Council to set up and manage a committee of senior republicans to help out with publicity and to advise the prisoners on a variety of matters.
  • That he was told by the army council that the prisoners were to be the final decision makers in regards to any approaches or offers from the British Government – yet he ignored that edict.
  • That he had been the main negotiator with the British Government when, on July 4 to July 5 1981, their representatives made an offer to settle the hunger strike.
  • That when the prisoners’ leadership accepted that offer, Adams wrote a communique to the prison leadership which effectively overruled their acceptance of the British offer (my then-cellmate confirmed the rejection of this offer “by the outside leadership” in an interview with Eamonn McCann which was published in the Belfast Telegraph on February 27, 2008).
  • That either in his role as the main negotiator, or as the senior republican on the committee, Adams did not tell the army council about this contact with the British Government.
  • That he did not tell the army council the British had made an offer considered to be good enough by the prisoners to end the hunger strike.
  • That he led the army council – and the republican community at large – to believe the opposite of what was actually the case, claiming the prisoners were implacable and would not settle for any less than their five demands, when he knew from the acceptance of the British offer that this was not true.
  • That he met Monsignor Denis Faul and members of hunger strikers’ families on the evening of July 28, 1981, but did not tell them about the British offer.
  • That he did not tell the families the prison leadership had accepted the offer.
  • That he did not tell the IRSP/INLA leadership about the offer (even though two of their members were among the last six hunger strikers to die). That he met the hunger strikers in the Long Kesh hospital on July 29, 1981 and told them “…there was no deal on the table, no movement of any sort…”.
  • That he did not tell the hunger strikers of the British offer at that visit and that, consequently, he deliberately misrepresented the situation to these dying men.

So, am I stretching my argument too far in suggesting Adams personally drove the decision to keep the strike going in order to build Sinn Fein’s support? I don’t think so.

Still, it would be easy enough for Adams to prove me wrong – he could follow my example and agree to participate in a republican inquiry into the hunger strike.

Or he could refute – point by point – what I have written in this article.

But I’d be surprised if he did either.

First published in the Belfast Telegraph

Read between the lines and shine Ghost Light on Gaza

Read between the lines and shine Ghost Light on Gaza
By Eamonn McCann, Belfast Telegraph
Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Nothing beats a book. Other presents might elicit a squeal of delight when the wrapping is removed, or spark an appreciative thought that this could come in handy over the year, maybe. But a good book is a joy to be savoured at leisure. Here, in my personal, eccentric opinion, are five to fit the bill.

Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light is a beautiful thing, eloquent, profound, affecting, told in the voice of Molly Allgood, a girl from the Dublin tenements of the early 20th century who becomes an accomplished actress and forms a passionate, unsatisfying attachment to playwright John Synge.

Molly has been virtually ignored in the many accounts of literary Dublin in the period. None of her hundreds of letters to Synge survives.

But O’Connor occupies her mind – or plausibly conveys the impression that he does. The last 10 pages – an imagined letter found after her death in dire poverty in London – is as touching as anything you’ll read.

Gideon Levy is a former Israeli army major whose columns in the Tel Aviv newspaper Ha’aretz I have been reading on the web for years.

He has a huge and heartfelt empathy with the beleaguered people of Palestine and is surely the only Israeli writer who can naturally use the phrase ‘Gaza, my beloved’.

His writing will do your heart good, and break it. The Punishment of Gaza is a collection of his columns.

You won’t find Larry Kirwan’s Rocking the Bronx easily. But ask around: it’s a blast of a book, well worth searching out.

It tells of Sean from Dublin, who travels to New York, “Clash LPs stuffed beneath my oxter, hair oiled back pre-army Elvis”, having divined that “all was not well with my love in America”.

It inhabits a dimension of Irish-America that we rarely hear of, because it doesn’t fit into any approved category.

None Of Us Were Like This Before, by Joshua Phillips, is a tour de force of investigative journalism, based on interviews with men who had tortured detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo and with the victims of the same torture, a journey into darkness at noon in America.

Phillips shows that Abu Ghraib was nothing out of the ordinary, that most torture was perpetrated as a matter of routine for reasons which arose not from any need to dig out information, but because soldiers were bored and angry, frustrated that they hadn’t experienced the sort of exhilarating action they had psyched themselves up for, and assumed – reasonably, Phillips shows – that savaging Iraqis they had in their power was their order of the day.

Dangerous a thought as it might be, what emerges is that, while the suffering of the victims was, of course, overwhelmingly out of proportion to the subsequent pain of some of the perpetrators, torture can inflict wounds on the torturer, too.

A remarkable percentage became addicted to drugs, were hospitalised for depression or committed suicide back home. This is a vivid account of the price of empire, paid for mainly by subjugated peoples, but also on occasion by the poor bloody infantry.

Richard O’Rawe’s Afterlives is the story of reaction to his first book, Blanketman, published in 2005. If you have ever wondered what the phrase ‘spitting nails’ looks like, stand alongside O’Rawe as he encounters a supporter of the Provisional leadership of the hunger-strike era.

His thesis is that the 1981 fast could have been ended on an honourable basis after four deaths, but was allowed by the Belfast IRA leadership, for political reasons, to continue through the deaths of six others.

O’Rawe was the prisoners’ PRO at the time. I interviewed his Long Kesh cellmate for the Telegraph after publication of the book.

Within hours of publication, men from Belfast descended on him to suggest that he deny that he’d said what I quoted him as saying. What they obtained fell far short of repudiation.

O’Rawe – perhaps like Ed Moloney – stretches his argument too far in suggesting that Gerry Adams personally drove the decision to keep the strike going in order to build Sinn Fein’s support. Personalising the debate around the Sinn Fein president does little to advance understanding of the factors in play.

Still, Afterlives sheds harsh light on a murky area and on the cold calculations of some who have since risen high in respectable society. O’Rawe’s story – and O’Rawe himself – are entitled to more serious attention than they have been accorded so far.

So, if there’s someone you have to buy for and can’t for the life of you think what, get them a book.

First published in the Belfast Telegraph


Other year end mentions for Afterlives:

Malachi O’Doherty (59) is writer-in-residence at Queen’s University. He says:

Afterlives by Richard O’ Rawe (Lilliput Press) is the history of the deal that could have ended the hunger strikes in 1981 and is the book no historian of the period will be able to ignore.

O’Rawe makes a contribution to history that is substantially greater than anything we’ve had to date. His style is both forensic and logical and also conversational. He would make a brilliant barrister but also a brilliant journalist.

O’Rawe faces a moral challenge to tell the truth as he sees it while going easy on the men with him in prison. What’s impressive is that generosity coupled with the ruthless pursuit of the argument.”

Martin Lynch (60) is a playwright. He says:

“Tim Parks’ Teach us to Sit Still: A Sceptic’s Search for Health and Healing (Harvill Secker) is a book he wrote about suffering very bad abdominal pain for 10 years that became an amazing bestseller. He’s normally a novelist and he writes it beautifully with literary and artistic references throughout. At one point he says he regards himself as the young boy taught by the senior water-carrier in a famous painting. It’s about vipassana meditation, a method that Parks found in holistic medicine rather than conventional medicine. And he got better, although it hasn’t helped my back yet.

The other book was Richard O’Rawe’s book Afterlives — he’s such a good writer.”

Excerpted from: Chapter and verse on all of those great reads

The Public and the Private

The Public and the Private
Anthony McIntyre
The Pensive Quill

Richard O’Rawe has just published a new book. Its title is Afterlives and was launched in Belfast on Thursday evening. Due to last minute ‘ambushes’ I was dragged elsewhere and had to cancel my planned journey north. Much to my regret, because O’Rawe is a battler who has done much to protect free inquiry from book burners and censors. Each time I have tried to phone him since his line has been engaged. I somehow doubt if it was with callers telling him how upset they were at his new work. They would rather paint on walls.

I have still to get a copy but it is being said that Afterlives is a forensic destruction of the argument that that the then republican leadership has no case to answer over its management of the 1981 hunger strike. O’Rawe sets out his stall in relation to the heated debate generated in the wake of his first book Blanketmen. It was there over five years ago that he first publicly vented grave misgivings about the longevity of the strike, expressing the view that with better management six lives need not have been lost. What he said in Blanketmen he had already been saying in private for years. In fact it was through such claims that I ended up meeting him again after a gap of many years. Our paths for long enough simply had not crossed.

Brendan McFarlane the leader of the IRA prisoners during the 1981 hunger strike has reentered the fray against O’Rawe. McFarlane, while not silent on the issue previously, has not been to the fore of the debate to the extent that some might have expected. The prolix of others who have rejected the O’Rawe claims seems not to have done the trick. Turning up the volume and drowning all else out might have made things loud but certainly not clear. So McFarlane has stepped in to the breach to make up the deficit. No easy task given that O’Rawe in the public mind has taken on the persona of writer in residence in the hunger strike debate, his account the incumbent narrative which others must dislodge if they are to make progress of their own. The once dominant Sinn Fein perspective has been rocked and now struggles to stay on its feet and avoid the telling blows that have so far penetrated its guard.

In literary terms O’Rawe’s reversal of fortunes is akin to the Soviet obliteration of the German Operation Barbarossa. Hit by a seemingly unstoppable Blitzkrieg of ill will and hate salvoes from the minute it emerged out of its birth canal, O’Rawe’s challenging account had to withstand a battle a day. But gradually and against the odds, the besieged author carefully pulled his critics onto the punch and delivered body blows that pushed them back well behind their own lines.

It is with much regret that I have followed Brendan McFarlane’s recent contributions including that in today’s Irish News. He does not seem comfortable in the role. Earlier in the week in the Derry Journal he was adding new detail to the narrative which to have any bearing should have seen the light of day much earlier in the debate. Unlike O’Rawe’s revelations, they seem awkward and grafted on, constructed from the perspective of the present rather than as an accurate history of the past.

I have long regarded Brendan McFarlane as a person of immense integrity who led from the front in the violent crucible of the H-Blocks. His task was onerous and unenviable. I feel distinctly uncomfortable about the position this outpouring of critique has placed him in and have said as much to O’Rawe. Yet the chips fall where they do and the evidence lends itself to no conclusion other than that a deal was offered which was accepted by the prisoners. This acceptance was subsequently subverted by the leadership for whatever reason and the hunger strike carried on with the resulting loss of six more lives.

Today Brendan McFarlane revealed communications written by Richard O’Rawe in his capacity as jail PRO. McFarlane claims these show that O’Rawe while in the prison was not of the view that the British had made any substantive offer. But this is old hat, a repeat of the Danny Morrison venture to Dublin a few years ago to search archives for similar communications. Morrison returned to Belfast and revealed that what he had discovered in Dublin was … Dublin. Few took the Morrison ‘comms’ disclosure seriously, intuitively knowing that the public positions of the day were not what people believed privately. How otherwise could the ‘victory’ parade presumably organised by Morrison and others in the wake of the vanquished 1980 hunger strike have gone ahead? The organisers knew privately that no victory had been achieved but publicly ran with the victory parade anyway.

Brendan McFarlane is an important witness to history. He could do worse than take stock of his situation and render a version of events that, even if at odds with the interpretation of Richard O’Rawe, at least sounds credible. The current narrative he is defending is, as William Sydney Porter might have said, ‘beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.’

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Former IRA prison leader releases O’Rawe ‘comms’

Brendan "Bik" McFarlane

Former IRA prison leader releases O’Rawe ‘comms’
by Barry McCaffrey
Irish News
Nov 6 2010

Former IRA prison leader Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane yesterday produced secret ‘comms’ (communications) which he claimed prove that republicans did not reject a British government deal to end the 1981 Hunger Strike.

Earlier this week Richard O’Rawe, who was the IRA press officer in the H-Blocks during the Hunger Strike, published his second book Afterlives: The Hunger Strike and the Secret Offer that Changed Irish History.

In it he argues that prisoners had been willing to accept an offer to end the protest but this was rejected by the IRA leadership outside the Maze.

He claims that as a result six hunger strikers died needlessly.

Mr McFarlane said yesterday he would break five years of silence by producing secret IRA comms written by Mr O’Rawe during the Hunger Strike in which he accused the British government of trying to prolong it.

In them he writes: “It is vital also that everyone realises that the ICJP [Irish Commission for Peace and Justice] have been victims of British perfidity and that the ambiguity which accompanies all British government statements is deliberate, so that at a later stage they can abdicate their responsibility.”

In another part of the communications sent between republicans in and outside of the jail, Mr O’Rawe comments on a Northern Ireland Office decision to send officials into the prison to speak to hunger strikers.

“Understand this development for it is an extension of the cunningness that has marked the Brits’ role in this issue, he writes.

“The Brits know our stand in relation to their July 8 statement but they saw the possibility of gaining in the propaganda field, so they sent two NIO men in on their publicity mission to explain a totally rejected statement.”

In another section he refers to the British government’s refusal to allow Mr McFarlane to attend a meeting between the NIO and hunger strikers.

“Again the British are engaged in a propaganda exercise… The fact is that if the Brits were genuinely disposed to seeking a solution such a meeting would be of benefit and we would welcome it as long as the strikers are adequately represented in the person of Brendan McFarlane,” Mr O’Rawe writes.

Mr McFarlane said he rejected Mr O’Rawe’s claims that the IRA had allowed six of the 10 hunger strikers to die needlessly.

“I have deliberately resisted engaging in personal attacks on Richard for the last five years,” he said.

“But I feel it is not time, once and for all, to show beyond doubt that what he is saying is totally untrue.

“These comms are written in Richard’s own handwriting and show quite clearly that he believed that the British had no interest in a deal.

“The idea that a deal came from Thatcher and was rejected by the outside leadership for political expediency is a total fallacy.

“His claims of an alleged conversation with me in which I said we’d agreed to a deal is a complete myth.

“Richard’s own comms show that the Brits were never serious about a deal.”

Mr McFarlane said his former comrade’s claims had cause major distress to hunger strikers’ families.

“I hope these comms will prove once and for all who is telling the truth,” Mr McFarlane said.

Responding to his former cellmate’s criticism, Mr O’Rawe said Mr McFarlane should “tell the truth about the Hunger Strike rather than regurgitate this nonsense once more.”

“Of necessity, these press statements had to be unyielding and hard-hitting in tone because they were being read not just by the man and woman on the street but by the British government.

“If they had contained the least hint of weakness, that would have been seen as a crack in our resolve and resulted in a corresponding steeling of the British government’s attitude.

“What is it about this that Bik doesn’t understand?

“Perhaps he should ask his colleagues in the Sinn Fein leadership what is the difference between public statements and private reality.

“After all, for years they told us that the IRA would never, ever decommission, yet in private preparations were being made to do just that.”

Sourced from the Irish News

Comms/Press Release

NOTE: These ‘comms’/press statements were previously referred to by Danny Morrison in 2006

Interview with Bik McFarlane, Derry Journal

Commemoration event in Sandinos tomorrow night
Derry Journal
Published Date: 26 October 2010
By Staff reporter

The 30th anniversary of the first Long Kesh hunger strike will be marked in Derry tomorrow night at an event involving one of the key participants and the man who led the 1981 protest.

Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney spent 53 days on hunger strike from October 1980 to January 1981 along with six other republican prisoners.

Bobby Sands began a second hunger strike in March 1981 and handed over command of the IRA prisoners to Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane.

Mr McFarlane, now a key figure in Sinn Féin in Belfast, will be speaking in Sandino’s Bar, Water Street, tomorrow night alongside Mr McCartney and Mary Doyle, who took part in the 1980 hunger strike in Armagh.

Speaking ahead of the event, Mr McFarlane described the hunger strike period as one of the most important in recent Irish history and compared its impact to the Easter Rising of 1916.

Brendan "Bik" McFarlane

“It was a watershed in our struggle,” he told the ‘Journal’. “It was hugely important and comparable to 1916. My ten comrades who died on hunger strike are comparable to the men who went into the GPO in terms of their influence and place in republican history,” he said.

The former H-Block OC said it was important to remember the period and to explain it to a new generation.

“The political ramifications of that are still being felt and have led us to where we are today. The foundation stone was laid for the development and enhancement of republican politics,” he said.

Mr McFarlane said he believes young people should learn more about the hunger strike period. “It is crucial that people focus on it. This was 30 years ago but, for many people, particularly the hunger strikers’ families, this is not history. It is as fresh in their memories as last week.

“When I look at it now, the age of those involved is remarkable. Joe McDonnell was the eldest by far and he was 30 years-old. The prisoners from Derry always seemed to me to be the youngest. I myself was in my 20s. But the common sense and selflessness of those hunger strikers was massive. They had fierce dedication and commitment,” he explained.

Mr McFarlane also rejected claims from some quarters that the lives of a number of the hunger strikers could have been saved and that a possible deal was rejected by the IRA leadership. “Quite frankly, it is absolute nonsense. There was no secret deal. I was there and it simply did not occur. There is not one shred of evidence,” he said.

Despite the importance of the hunger strikes, Mr McFarlane said his main memories of the period are of the loss of friends. “I remember all the lads but I have an abiding memory of Joe McDonnell at the time the back channel was opened through Derry. He grabbed my arms and told me there was not enough on offer and said, ‘don’t you sell us short.’ I think about that every day,” he said.

The hunger strike commemoration will take place upstairs in Sandino’s Cafe Bar, Water Street, tomorrow night at 8 pm.

Sourced from the Derry Journal

Sentinel: Never-before-seen 1981 hunger strike documents disclosed

Never-before-seen 1981 hunger strike documents disclosed
01 September 2010
By William Allen
Londonderry Sentinel

DOCUMENTS kept secret since 1981 have revealed a fascinating picture of how Margaret Thatcher’s Government dealt with the IRA hunger strike.

The documents released by the Northern Ireland Office show how the Government was determined to maintain a firm stance in public while trying to come to an arrangement that the IRA would agree to through secret contacts.

The request for the documents was made under the Freedom of Information Act by the Sentinel amid claims that several of the hunger strikers were sacrificed to boost the republican movement’s electoral strategy and that an acceptable offer was made but the hunger strikers were not told by the IRA.

The papers, released 15 months after being requested, show the Government was working on a number of levels, with organisations such as the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), while also using a secret conduit directly to the IRA – believed to be the Mountain Climber initiative.

Taken at face value, there is no evidence on whether protestors wanted to agree a deal but were over-ruled by IRA leaders. But the documents do show offers were made secretly to the IRA rather than directly to the hunger strikers, and illustrate the central role played by Brendan McFarlane, the Provisional IRA leader in the jail.

Chance to clarify

And they also show that, less than two weeks before the death of Dungiven INLA man, Kevin Lynch, the hunger strikers were offered a chance to clarify the latest position in front of relatives and clergy, but the prisoners’ insistence that they would only meet in McFarlane’s presence was rejected by the Northern Ireland Office officials, who saw him as intransigent.

The 32 newly released documents, combined with a number that were previously released, offer an amazing insight into the Government’s dealings with a range of agencies, including the Dublin Government, Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, the Vatican, and Catholic Church leaders in England as well as Ireland. They also show how the Government was involved in backdoor approaches and attempts to find a formula and form of words that would allow a solution to be choreographed – a forerunner to the way the Peace Process unfolded in the 1990s.

The documents show that the Government consistently believed the prisoners were acting under orders and that McFarlane would not consider anything short of negotiating the “five demands”.

These demands were: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits; the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week; full restoration of remission lost through the protest.

The documents show how the Government’s position shifted from its early belief that it was involved in a stand-off that there could be no compromise on, though it was consistent in demanding an end to the protest before any public moves would be made on its part. And it showed how the Government believed it was also fighting a propaganda battle.

Holy See

A telegram to the Holy See in April 1981 insists that the Government could not back down and regretted that the Pope’s personal plea to the hunger strikers to end the protest failed.

As the death of the first hunger striker, Bobby Sands drew near, a telegram to the NIO mentioned talks with an Irish government representative, saying that: “Nally agreed that while there was a concern in the south over the consequences of Sand’s death, support for the hunger strikers was very limited. However, Sand’s death, particularly if followed by Hughes, could change things.”

The documents show that a press release had been prepared before Sands died, with the time and date, and the number of days he had refused food to be inserted after his death.
But the hardline, public approach was not being followed through in private by July.

An extract from a letter – previously released to the Sunday Times – dated July 8, from 10 Downing Street to the NIO said the PM had met the Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins after the message that the PM had approved had been communicated to the Provisional IRA. It said the IRA originally did not regard it as satisfactory but when it was made clear that this ended the initiative, this “had produced a rapid reaction which suggested that it was not the content of the message which they had objected to but only its tone”.

The Secretary of State, “had concluded that we should communicate with the PIRA over night a draft statement enlarging upon the message 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 PIRA, his office would deny it.”

Documents show the Government took advice from experts on what way a statement could be worded so that the IRA would accept it.

A later telegram from the NIO said a statement had been read adding: “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.”

Communications between the Secretary of State’s office and the ICJP, including one on July 6, suggest the body believed a statement “together with clarifications received” encouraged it to continue its efforts, with the NIO saying it did not want the public to know yet about a letter to the ICJP, as “public knowledge of the fact that they have had a letter will bring immediate pressure on us and them to disclose the contents – just now this might not be helpful”. It added the ICJP had been told it would have to become public at some point, otherwise the Government would be accused of “secret deals” but that the timing and terms of the release would need to be agreed.

The clarifications included issues like association, prison work, remission and clothing.

Another document records a statement read to prisoners from the Secretary of State, who said no moves could be made under the duress of a hunger strike but “making sure that the protestors were aware of what was available”.

It said: “Little expansion of association was contemplated but the suggestion of association of adjacent wings (made by the ICJP) was taken on board. On clothing the ‘possibility of further development’ had not been ruled out. On work, no-one would be excluded but the commitment was given to add to the range of activities, including examination of the ICJP’s suggestions. No more than the existing 1/5 restoration of lost remission to ex-protestors was promised.”

It says there was no reaction shown from the prisoners though Michael Devine and Thomas McElwee asked if officials could come and discuss the document after they had read it.
It added: “The prisoners were given an opportunity to discuss the document among themselves and also saw McFarlane for a time. Lynch and Doherty – the 2 most determined strikers – said afterwards that there was nothing in it for them.”

The undated document carries details of an IRA statement said to have been smuggled from the prison on July 8, saying that Joe McDonnell need not have died and describing Mr Atkins’ statement that day as “ambiguous and self-gratifying”.

A telegram sent by Lord Carrington on July 15 said that Mr Atkins had given instructions that a NIO official should go to the Maze to explain the Government’s “ICRC” (International Committee of the Red Cross) initiative to the hunger-strikers, and answer any questions about Mr Atkins’ statement of July 8.

A note dated July 16, says that Mr (John) Blelloch had been in to see the hunger strikers on July 15: “All 8 were there. Doherty could not read but appeared to comprehend generally. The Governor delivered the statement. The strikers listened closely…

“The prisoners then asked to see McFarlane. The Governor agreed to a limited session. Mr Blelloch asked the prisoners if they had reflected on the SoS’s statement of 8 July. They said they had and had one or two points; but they didn’t pursue this and seemed much more interested in ICRC.

“The Governor and Mr Blelloch then left and McFarlane was fetched. The Governor’s ‘feel’ was that the atmosphere was one of ‘deathly calm’. They realized the seriousness of their situation but were unlikely to act without PSF orders. They would probably decide nothing that night but want to hear the radio and possibly receive “messages” via visitors.

“At 8.45pm Mr Blelloch phoned to say that McFarlane had returned to his cell and the hunger-strikers had dispersed without requesting a further meeting.”

Secret channel

Another (previously released) document shows that Margaret Thatcher wanted to make another approach to the IRA through the secret channel but changed her mind after it was put to her that there was a risk of the offer becoming public.

A letter dated July 18 from Downing Street to the NIO said that Philip Woodfield had come to brief the PM on the situation and that after the latest IRA statement Mr Atkins felt the need to respond either with a statement or by sending in an official to clarify the position again.

“The official would set out to the hunger strikers what would be on offer if they abandoned their protest. He would do so along the lines discussed with the Prime Minister last week. He would say that the prisoners would be allowed their own clothes, as was already the case in Armagh prison, provided these clothes were approved by the prison authorities. (This would apply in all prisons in Northern Ireland).

“He would set out the position on association; on parcels and letters; on remission; and on work. On this last point he would make it clear that the prisoners would, as before, have to do the basic work necessary to keep the prison going: there were tasks which the prison staff could in no circumstances be expected to do. But insofar as work in the prison shops was concerned, it would be implicit that the prisoners would be expected to do this but that if they refused to do it they would be punished by loss of remission, or some similar penalty, rather than more severely…

“The statement would be spelling out what had been implicit in the Government’s public statement and explicit in earlier communications.”

It said the PM agreed that one more effort should be made to explain the situation to the hunger strikers, but then, following further discussions “it was drawn to the Prime Minister’s attention that any approach of the kind outlined above to the hunger strikers would inevitably become public whether or not it succeeded, the Prime Minister reviewed the proposal on the telephone with the Secretary of State and decided the dangers in taking an initiative would be so great that she was not prepared to risk them.

“The official who went in to the prison could repeat the Government’s public position but could go no futher.”

Further documents show the “network of contacts” was being followed up.

There are two documents recording details of a visit by Mr Belloch and Mr Blackwell to the prison on July 20, a week after the death of Martin Hurson, the sixth of ten men to die.
Both said the visit was prompted by a call from Kevin Lynch’s priest who said Lynch and relatives of Kieran Doherty wanted an NIO official to visit the Maze to clarify the Government statement of July 19. Both hunger strikers denied asking for a visit but “were content for an official to see the group of hunger strikers”.

Mr Blelloch gave relatives an outline of the Government’s position. The assistant governor visited each of the hunger strikers to tell them of the presence of an NIO official but all said they would only meet him as a group and “all but Lynch had said that McFarlane must be present”.

It added: “Mr Blelloch first spoke to the families and explained the position with regard to McFarlane. He made clear that he would speak to the hunger strikers as individuals or as a group and in front of relatives or priests if they wished…We then visited each hunger striker in turn and Mr Blelloch explained that he was an official from the NIO and he was there to see if he could help. In each case the hunger striker’s response was the same – they would only see him in a group and McFarlane must be present. Even Lynch who had not previously mentioned McFarlane now did so…It was decided not to approach the other three hunger strikers in H.3 since that was McFarlane’s block and they were most unlikely to agree to a meeting without his presence.”

The other document on the visit backs this up, saying: “Lynch had said he would like an official to see him and the group and Doherty had said he would like an official to see him and the group and McFarlane.”

Mr Blelloch and Mr Blackwell arrived: “The prison officer said that all five hunger strikers in the prison hospital (except Lynch) were insisting on McFarlane being present.” However it said that when they spoke to Lynch, he now also insisted that McFarlane be present so no-one took up the offer of a meeting. Officials were told he and others were too weak and needed a spokesman.

It adds under the heading “Background briefing”: “The reason they did not wish to take up the offer was because they wished to insist on the presence of McFarlane who had made clear that all he was interested in was tearing up the Government’s statements and negotiating the ‘5 demands’.”

All 32 of the newly released documents will be published on the Sentinel’s website, www.londonderrysentinel.co.uk, as well as a number of those supplied to the Sentinel which had previously been disclosed.

Sourced from the Londonderry Sentinel

NIO documents released to Sentinel

Never-before-seen 1981 hunger strike documents disclosed
Published Date: 31 August 2010
Londonderry Sentinel

A FASCINATING insight into one of the most contentious periods of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ has been revealed by documents obtained by the Sentinel under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

The hunger strike of 1981 in the Maze prison saw ten republican protestors die and caused mayhem on the streets of the country claiming the lives of civilians, Army, police and prison personnel.

Now after a 15 month tussle with the Northern Ireland Office the Sentinel has obtained 32 never before seen documents in relation to the era.

The FOI request was made by the Sentinel amid claims that the lives of several hunger strikers were sacrificed to boost the republican movement’s electoral strategy and that an acceptable offer was made to the hunger strikers but they were not informed by the IRA. INLA prisoners were also among those who died.

The papers now in the possession of the Sentinel cast new light on events and on moves to bring the hunger strike to an end.

Taken in conjunction with a small number of previously released documents, the papers, kept secret for almost 30 years, show the Government was working on a number of levels with many and varied organisations and reflects the differences in its public and private moves.

Tomorrow’s edition of the Londonderry Sentinel will reveal our analysis of some of the documents.

The documents will also be made available on the Sentinel’s website later in the week as will previously released documents that were also supplied by the NIO.

Sourced from the Londonderry Sentinel

Finding a way through a maze of missed chances

Finding a way through a maze of missed chances
Where better to examine the lessons of the Troubles and the peace process than a conflict resolution centre on the site of the Maze prison, says Liam Clarke
Belfast Telegraph
Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Why are unionists so afraid of the big, bad Maze? Peter Robinson would be foolish to listen to those in his party who want to block any re-examination of the 1981 hunger strike.

Instead, he should be demanding, if possible with the support of Martin McGuinness, that the British and Irish governments release all the papers on the period.

These should be housed in a Conflict Resolution Centre, where they can be examined by public and scholars alike.

Economically, the delay in getting the redevelopment plan underway has been like burning money.

Inaction was opposed – to his credit – by Edwin Poots the former DUP minister responsible, but his party remained paralysed in an agony of indecision which has cost the province tens of millions in lost opportunity.

It is not just the £12m spent on maintenance since the 360-acre site was first gifted by the Ministry of Defence; that is chicken feed.

This was prime development land handed to the Executive while the property boom was still in full swing.

As Sammy Wilson looks for cuts, the DUP must answer questions about why it did not strike when the iron was hot and the price was right. Dithering has lost us the multi-sports stadium that would have given Northern Ireland a slice of the action from the London Olympics.

These squandered opportunities are now gone, so it’s doubly important for the unionist leadership to get a grip on its fears and get the most from the project.

This means building the Conflict Resolution Centre which will incorporate the remaining H-Blocks and the prison hospital.

Visiting such a facility, if it is developed properly, would be a must-see tourist draw for Lisburn. You only have to look at Alcatraz to realise what an important part the Maze could play in attracting visitors to Lisburn. Yet confidence seems to drain away from the DUP and UUP leaderships every time the subject is mentioned.

Even Tom Robinson of EPIC, the loyalist ex-prisoners’ group, who you would think might have an interest in the history of the H-Blocks, is demanding that the remaining blocks be demolished. The fear is that it could become a “shrine to terrorism”.

That need not happen – especially if there was a truly representative group steering the project.

The fact is that the 1981 hunger strike and the protests which preceded it were a formative moment in both the Troubles and the peace process. It was called on the issue of prison rights, but its more lasting impact was in moving Sinn Fein into the electoral process, which in turn led to the ending of hostilities and IRA disarmament.

What went on between the British Government and Sinn Fein at the time?

The standard republican narrative is that Margaret Thatcher was, from beginning to end, determined to starve the prisoners to death in the hope of imposing a strategic defeat on the IRA. That has never entirely held water.

“Margaret Thatcher presented a public face as the ‘Iron Lady’ who was ‘not for turning’, yet she was no stranger to expediency,” Gerry Adams wrote in his autobiography.

He described how, before a G7 meeting in Canada in July 1981, British officials told him she wanted to end the hunger strike. “They fed us a draft speech,” that she wished to make on the subject and, Adams added, “there was no doubt that they were prepared to take amendments to her text from us if it had been possible to come to some sort of resolution at that time.”

Brendan Duddy, the Derry businessman who acted as a link between Adams and the British, says in Beauty and Atrocity, a recent book by Joshua Levine, that “basically everything that sorted it out was on the table”.

Richard O’Rawe, PRO for republican prisoners during the strike, says that he and some of the prison leadership were prepared to accept a British offer after the death of the first four of the 10 hunger strikers, but were overruled by the outside leadership.

His account is denied by Brendan ‘Bic’ McFarlane with whom he says he had the conversation, but it is confirmed by Gerard Clarke, another prisoner who was listening in the next cell.

O’Rawe’s suspicion is that the hunger strike may have been kept going for political reasons until Owen Carron was elected as an MP on a Support the Prisoners ticket. Certainly the hunger strike helped undermine the Sinn Fein policy of not taking part in elections. Since 2006, I have been trying, through the Freedom of Information Act, to gain access to the British papers recoding their communications with the IRA. A few have been released, memos between Downing Street and the NIO, which suggest Thatcher did make an offer which was turned down, but which was implemented once the hunger strike was ended. The rest are still being refused on the grounds that they could undermine relations with the Irish Republic, compromise the operation of an intelligence agency or even undermine the devolution of policing and justice.

There are lessons here, not only for us but for other societies seeking to learn from our peace process. Where better to tease out the answers than in a Conflict Resolution Centre on the site of the Maze prison?

While Robinson’s at it, he should consider making an imaginative appointment to the project’s steering group: Richard O’Rawe.

Sourced from the Belfast Telegraph

Jim Gibney: Hunger Striker Helped Others Through Toughest Times

Note: There are two versions of this article: the one published in the Irish News, and a slightly different one on the Bobby Sands website. Both verisons can be found below.

Hunger Striker Helped Others Through Toughest Times
Jim Gibney
Thursday Column, Irish News
8/07/10

It does not happen very often that the publication of this column coincides with the anniversary of one of the 10 men who died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks in 1981.

Today is one of those rare occasions. Twenty-nine years ago Joe McDonnell died after 61 days on hunger strike. Next Tuesday is Martin Hurson’s anniversary.

Joe was one of the oldest of 10 men yet he was also a very young man. He was just 29 years old.

Joe was married to Goretti and had two children – Bernadette and Joseph. Joe came from a large family of eight children.

He began his hunger strike on May 9 1981, four days after the death of Bobby Sands. Before his death, after 61 days, three other prisoners had died – Francis Hughes, Patsy O’Hara and Raymond McCreesh.

Joe would have heard the news of their deaths while he was in a cell in an H-Block or in the H-Block hospital wing.

There is no doubt that Joe would have known the fate that awaited him as the news of the death of each hunger striker reached his ears. Yet at no stage during his agonising hunger strike did he pause to consider his impending death.

In an article written by Danny Morrison several years ago, following a visit to the then closed and decaying Long Kesh, he recalled meeting Joe, two days before he died, in the canteen of the prison hospital.

With Joe were Tom McElwee, Kieran Doherty TD, Kevin Lynch and Mickey Devine.

Danny wrote: “Joe McDonnell, who had two days to live, was brought in on a wheelchair and kept joking throughout the visit. He smoked several cigarettes in between sipping water.”
Gerry Adams in his book Before the Dawn wrote about knowing Joe from being interned with him:

“Joe was a very happy-go-lucky guy.” He recalled Joe’s “sense of fun”.

“On the day he started his hunger strike, he sent me out a Kind Edward Cigar from his prison cell,” he said.

That wit greeted me when I first met Joe in Cage 3 in 1973 and on the two occasions I visited him when he was on hunger strike.

I wondered at the time, and still do to this day, where Joe and the other hunger strikers got their resolve to carry them beyond life.

Indeed the same question may be asked of their loved ones who stood with them as they faced their final moments.

Jim ‘Jazz’ McCann, then a very young prisoner, remembered his time with Joe on the blanket protest in the H-Blocks. “Joe was a tower of strength. He got a lot of us through the protest. He was forever the optimist. A ‘raker’ – the life and soul of the wing.”

Joe never took a visit with his family for almost five years because he refused to wear a prison uniform. But he “talked about Goretti and Bernadette and Joseph and his family, especially his sister Maura, every day and night,” according to Jim.

He was in constant contact with Goretti through comms and had visitors from across Belfast smuggle her comms to him.

Jim said: “Joe’s dream was to get a visit with Goretti and the children and to be reunited with them, wearing not a prison uniform but his own clothes.”

Former hunger striker Raymond McCartney described Joe as “the heartbeat of the wing. The wise ‘old’ man of the wing, who was very very protective of other prisoners.”

Joe had regularly argued for the hunger strike, two years before it actually began. To his comrades he was “rock-solid”, “unbending”, “stubborn and principled”, “a figure-head”, “a family man”, “a caring person”.

And a man who made others laugh while he got them through the toughest and most challenging of times.

Sourced from the Irish News


A slightly different version of this article appears on the Bobby Sands Trust website:

Joe McDonnell Tribute

July 8, 2010

Today is the 29th anniversary of the death on hunger strike of IRA Volunteer Joe McDonnell from West Belfast. Veteran republican Jim Gibney here pays tribute to the fifth hunger striker to die in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.

It does not happen very often that the publication of this column [Jim’s weekly feature in the ‘Irish News’] coincides with the anniversary of one of the ten men who died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks in 1981. Today is one of those rare occasions. Twenty-nine years ago Joe Mc Donnell died after 61 days on hunger strike. He was one of the oldest of the ten men yet he was also a very young man. He was 30-years-old. Joe was married to Goretti and had two children, Bernadette and Joseph. Joe came from a large family of eight children.

He began his hunger strike on the 9th May 1981, four days after the death of Bobby Sands. Before his death, after sixty one days, three other prisoners had died – Francis Hughes, Patsy O’Hara and Raymond Mc Creesh.

Joe would have heard the news of their deaths while he was in a cell in an H-Block or in the H-Block hospital wing. There is no doubt that Joe would have known the fate that awaited him as the news of the death of each hunger striker reached his ears. Yet at no stage during his agonising hunger strike did he pause to consider his impending death.

In an article written by Danny Morrison several years ago, following a visit to the then closed and decaying Long Kesh, he recalled meeting Joe, two days before he died, in the canteen of the prison hospital. With Joe were Tom Mc Elwee, Kieran Doherty TD, Kevin Lynch and Mickey Devine.

Danny wrote: “Joe Mc Donnell, who had two days to live, was brought in on 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.”

Gerry Adams in his book ‘Before the Dawn’ wrote about knowing Joe from being interned with him: “Joe was a very happy-go-lucky guy.” He recalled Joe’s “sense of fun… On the day he started his hunger strike, he sent me out a King Edward Cigar from his prison cell.”

I wondered at the time and still do to this day where Joe and the other hunger strikers got their resolve to carry them beyond life. Indeed the same question may be asked of their loved ones who stood with them as they faced their final moments.

Three ex-prisoners who knew Joe as an active IRA volunteer outside and inside prison spoke to me about the man they knew. Seamy Finucane said Joe had a reputation in Andersonstown for being “a hands-on IRA operator”. He was a member of two active service units attached to the Belfast Brigade and Battalion staffs. He oozed confidence. “In his company you knew you were safe”.

“Being safe” around Joe is how a very young prisoner, Jim ‘Jazz’ Mc Cann, remembered his time with Joe on the blanket protest in the H-Blocks. “Joe was a tower of strength. He got a lot of us through the protest. He was forever the optimist. A ‘raker’, the life and soul of the wing.” Joe never took a visit with his family for almost five years because he refused to wear a prison uniform. But he “talked about Goretti and Bernadette and Jospeh and his family especially his sister Maura every day and night,” according to Jim. He was in constant contact with Goretti through comms and had visitors from across Belfast smuggle her comms to him.

Jim said, “Joe’s dream was to get a visit with Goretti and the children and to be reunited with them, wearing not a prison uniform but his own clothes.”

Former hunger striker Raymond Mc Cartney described Joe as “the heart-beat of the wing. The wise ‘old’ man of the wing, who was very protective of other prisoners.”

Joe had regularly argued for a hunger strike, two years before it actually began. To his comrades he was ‘rock-solid’, ‘unbending’, ‘stubborn and principled’, ‘a figure head’, ‘a family man’, ‘a caring person’.

And a man who made others laugh while he got them through the toughest and challenging of times.

Sourced from The Bobby Sands Trust website

NIO ordered to respond to Sentinel request

NIO ordered to respond to Sentinel request
Published Date: 24 February 2010

THE Northern Ireland Office has been ordered to give secret details of the 1981 hunger strike to the Sentinel – or to explain why it thinks doing so might damage international relations.

The NIO has delayed making a decision on whether to release the information requested under the Freedom of Information Act since last May – even though it was required to do so within 20 working days.

According to the Information Commissioner’s guidelines, the maximum time to be taken, in extraordinary circumstances, should be 40 working days. Despite that, the NIO is today still deciding on its response to the Freedom of Information request submitted on May 29, 2009.

The request was prompted by growing claims that a deal acceptable to the republican prisoners was offered before the fifth hunger striker died, but their wishes were over-ruled by republican sources outside the prison. It was claimed that this was done because it may have interfered with a forthcoming election, which marked the rise of Sinn Fein as a political force.

In its initial response to the request, the NIO invoked the section 27 exemption which exists, “to protect the United Kingdom’s international relations, its interests abroad and the United Kingdom’s ability to protect and promote those interests”.

Therefore, before deciding how to respond, the NIO must consider the public interest – and decide whether the public interest in providing the documents is outweighed by the damage or likely damage that would be caused by disclosure to the United Kingdom’s “international relations, its interests abroad or its ability to protect and promote those interests”.

It is understood that other countries’ views on what harm disclosure might cause are taken into consideration when the public interest test is applied in such cases. In this case, it is not known what other country is being considered in the deliberations, though contacts between the Government and the Irish government formed part of the Freedom of Information request.

Initially the NIO said some of the requested information was subject to the exemption under section 27, but when clarification was later sought, said that “all” of the information was subject to the exemption.

After a complaint was made to the Information Commissioner in October, saying the delay in making a decision was unreasonable, the NIO has now been told to specify the relevant sub-section of the exemption that explains “why disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice international relations”.

It must also say whether it has concluded that the public interest is best served by making the requested details public, or whether it’s best served in keeping them secret – or even if it no longer considers the exemption to apply.

The Information Commissioner’s Office found that the NIO breached a number of sections of the Freedom of Information Act. It failed to respond within 20 working days to say that all of the information requested was subject to an exemption; it did not specify the relevant sub-section; and adjusted its time frame on a number of occasions, leading to a finding that the delay in carrying out a public interest test was in breach of section 17 (3)(b) of the act.

It has 35 days to respond, though it also has the right to appeal against the decision notice issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The NIO failed to meet a number of deadlines even after the complaint was made to the Information Commissioner’s Office alleging that the delay in giving a substantive response was unreasonable.

According to the Information Commisioner’s decision notice, the NIO informed the Commissioner in correspondence on November 13 that the delay was regrettable but not unreasonable due to it “having a number of unusual aspects”. It detailed some of these, particularly the difficulty of consulting with the various interested stakeholders about the potential disclosure of information.

At that point, the NIO hoped a response could be provided by December 3 “but, in any event, by 4 January 2010”.

On January 5, the deadline was shifted to February 20, though that has now been extended as the decision notice requires a response within 35 working days.

In its decision notice, the Information Commissioner’s Office acknowledged the reasons given by the NIO to justify its delay, but added: “However, the Commissioner is of the view that the time now taken to weigh up the public interest test is unwarranted, being well in excess of the prescribed 40 working day limit.”

Sourced from Londonderry Sentinel

Excerpt from Adams interview with Irish News

Gerry Adams Interview with Diana Rusk: excerpt on 1981 Hunger Strike
The Irish News
11 February 2010

Diana Rusk: Turning to the Hunger Strike, there is a vocal minority that believe you turned down a possible deal with the British government after the fourth hunger striker died. What is your response to that?

Gerry Adams: It is not true.

Diana Rusk: It is not true that you turned down a possible deal?

Gerry Adams: It was never in our capacity to turn down or to accept. The rules which were set out by the prisoners meant it was over to them. It was they that decided so it’s not true.

Diana Rusk: Did you inform the IRA ‘army council’ of Brendan Duddy’s offer at the time?

Gerry Adams: There wasn’t a deal.

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News letters page: There was no hunger strike offer

There was no hunger strike offer
Irish News letters page
Manus McDaid, Derry
07/12/09

With reference to the letter entitled ‘The truth about the Hunger Strikers’ by Mr Tony O’Hara (October 22), one has to reiterate again the position taken by the hunger strikers the second time around.

They made five demands to be met by a response by the British government in writing and delivered to them by a British government representative in person.

Anything less than that was to be rejected.

I imagine the H-blocks were awash with rumours of concern, hope and fear for the well-being of the hunger strikers.

I believe that the terms ‘deals’ ‘agreements’ were freely used.

In that climate it would not be surprising if some failed to understand the difference between a verbal deal and a written agreement.

As I understand there may have been work in the hope that a written agreement might be thrashed out.

I understand that a deal was returned by Mrs Thatcher who described it as a ‘dangerous precedent’.

So no document bears witness to an offer by the British:
• ‘the mountain climber’ said he never saw a document
• Rurai O Bradaigh who was very close to the events of 1981 said the IRA leadership had no awareness of a deal [a document]
• the chaplains in the Kesh knew nothing of a document.

The hunger strike was brought to an end when clergy argued for that end on moral grounds – not on the existence of a documented offer to the strikers based on the latter’s conditions.

So Mr O’Hara on your ‘factual side’ you have Mr O’Rawe saying there was a deal and Mr Garrett Fitzgerald is pretty light in the absence of a written document.

It is important to separate ‘local talk’ and a distinctive ‘deal’ verbally agreed maybe.

The requirement of the hunger strikers was for written propositions by the British given to them.

One ought to be alert that any kind of public inquiry critically needing British involvement is a non-starter.

Sourced from the Irish News

Irish News letters page: Act provides facts

Act provides facts
Irish News letters page
T Molloy, Belfast 11
21/11/09

Sean Flynn (The Irish News, October 17) says that he visited INLA hunger strikers on July 5 1981 and they were not aware that talks were going on in the background.

He says he saw Danny Morrison in the prison. Morrison says he did not see Flynn and he believes that Flynn has mixed up his dates.

This can be resolved very easily. Under the Freedom of Information Act Morrison applied for details of all visits to the hunger strikers on July 5 1981.

He received a facsimile of a document which proves that he visited all the hunger strikers (thus suggesting that he did tell the INLA men about talks).

Why doesn’t Sean Flynn do the same – apply under the Freedom of Information Act to prove that he visited the H-blocks on Sunday, July 5 1981?

Sourced from the Irish News

Irish News letters page: Only an inquiry can solve 1981 Hunger Strike issues

Only an inquiry can solve 1981 Hunger Strike issues
Irish News letters page
Gerard Foster, Andersonstown
20/11/2009

Having read the two articles on the 1981 Hunger Strike issue (Irish News, October 22) of an offer made by the British, a number of things jumped out at me.

Firstly, how Richard O’Rawe stuck to asking questions and quoting named sources to make the points that he wanted to make of the ‘kitchen cabinet’ led by Gerry Adams. How he dealt with those who are trying to deride the debate using emotional points instead of answering the questions asked or trying to say that those who believe there is a version different from the Adams and Co line are calling the hunger strikers “dupes” or “fools”.

Secondly, in the article by Bernard Fox he was unable or unwilling to answer the points made by the Republicans who do not toe the Adams line. He was critical of the former Blanketmen who are asking questions about July 1981, as to “why they would wait all these years to bring this out”.

Yet he himself said in the same article “It took me 20 years before I could even speak openly about my experiences”.

Surely Bernard that answers your own point about the time span?

Bernard says he is emotional and raw even now for him and these claims just add to the pain, and then says he can only imagine what it must be like for the families of the 10 lads. Again he is using the Adams technique of tugging at people’s hearts by talking about the families and their pain instead of answering the questions. He seems to forget that at least two of the families are asking for an inquiry into the July 1981 offer.

Is their hurt and pain any less than the other families?

Thirdly, Bernard also states he has no time for inquiries and goes on to say “what is needed is the truth and it would be naive to think the British will ever tell the truth”.

We don’t need the British to tell the truth, what is needed is for the kitchen cabinet to answer the questions asked instead of running away from the issue and playing on people’s emotions, changing their version of the events in July 1981, contradicting each other and themselves. Why has Bernard avoided these things instead of telling us that “we [the prisoners] knew he [Bik] wasn’t going to let us down”?

Yet even Bik has changed his version a number of times of what actually happened in July 1981.

Not very reassuring is it?

Lastly, Bernard criticised claims the last six hunger strikers were allowed to die “in order to maximise electoral support for Sinn Fein”. I would ask Bernard who is making these claims? I know of nobody asking for the inquiry who is also claiming this.

An inquiry will look at what happened in July 1981 asking all those involved in the Mountain Climber offer what part they played and were the prisoners told everything. After it concludes with its findings then people will be asked why they acted the way they did and for what reasons. Adams and his kitchen cabinet cannot hide behind closed doors at private meetings hoping this will go away, it will not. Tony O’Hara in the letters page in the same issue of The Irish News asks questions of Gerry Adams that cannot be avoided much longer.

Sourced from the Irish News

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

The facts of the hunger strikes have already been established
Irish News letters page
Carrie Twomey
17/11/09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The statement has now been read and we await provo reactions (we would be willing to allow them a sight of the document just before it is given to the prisoners and released to the press)” – Extract from a Telegram from the Northern Ireland Office to the Cabinet Office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sourced from the Irish News

Thomas ‘Dixie’ Elliott: “We got nothing”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009
“We got nothing”
by Thomas ‘Dixie’ Elliott

This is an unedited version of what was carried in the Irish News

I often look back to the time I spent on the blanket protest and feel privileged that I had the honour of spending some of those dark and more often than not, cold and brutal days sharing a cell in the company of Tom McElwee and Bobby Sands. These patriots, like the other brave hunger strikers, dreamt that they would live to bear witness to the unity of the Irish people within the political framework of a thirty-two county socialist republic, and it was for that reason alone that they had been imprisoned. Having spoken to Tom and Bobby and other hunger strikers, I know that they also looked forward to getting out of Long Kesh after completing their sentences and returning to their families. Tragically, it was not to be.

The darkest of those days were the periods of the two hunger strikes and I clearly remember the night of 18 December 1980, when the first hunger strike ended, after Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes called it off in order to save Seán McKenna’s life. I was in the leadership wing with Bobby, Bik McFarlane and Richard O’Rawe at that time. Bobby had been to the prison hospital and I looked out the window of my cell and saw him alight from the prison van with shoulders hunched and I knew immediately that something wasn’t right. This was confirmed when he walked down the wing and told us: ‘Ní fhuaireomar faic,’ [we got nothing]. In fact the only thing coming from the British, and it was handed to Gerry Adams by Father Meagher in Belfast, was a document that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on and which would never had ended the hunger strike even had The Dark chosen to let Seán die and continue with the fast.

In regards to clothing and work, the most important of our five demands, the document stated: ’As soon as possible all prisoners will be issued with civilian-type clothing for wear during the working day’. We Blanketmen realised instantly that civilian-type clothing was nothing more than a modernised prison uniform and that Bobby had been spot-on when he told us ‘Ní fhuaireomar faic,’ out of the 1980 hunger strike. That being the case, why do Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, and others persist with the claim that the Brits reneged on a deal during the first hunger strike when that is demonstrably untrue? Even more perplexing was the fact that former hunger striker, Bernard Fox, recently supported this claim in an interview with the Irish News.

While I have the greatest respect for Bernard as a former comrade and republican, he nonetheless said something in his interview with profound implications:

I wasn’t in the hospital at that time [when Danny Morrison met the hunger strikers on 5 July 1981] and I don’t know what the men were told or not told but I do know there was no deal.

He is right, of course; there was no deal between the prisoners and the Brits in early July; had there been a deal, Bernard would not have had to go on hunger strike. But what is astonishing is that he had been on hunger strike for thirty-two days, yet Bernard says that no one had informed him about the Mountain Climber offer which Danny Morrison allegedly relayed to the hunger strikers on 5 July 1981. It goes without saying then that Bernard never set eyes on the Secretary of State, Humphrey Atkins’s statement that incorporated the offer, and which was to be released upon the hunger strike ending. That begs the question: how can Bernard reconcile being deliberately kept in ignorance about the potentially life-saving Mountain Climber offer, and still lend his unqualified support for those who took a decision to keep that knowledge from him?

Bernard said he was deeply distressed by allegations that a deal which could have ended the hunger strike was vetoed in order to maximise electoral support for Sinn Féin. I too am deeply distressed, but the more I looked into these claims the more I see that there was a lot more being discussed at the time than a resolution to the hunger strike. In a comm to Gerry Adams, dated 26.7.’81, reproduced on page 334 of Ten Men Dead, Bik talks about ‘examining the possibility of contesting elections and actually making full use of seats gained i.e. participating in the Dáil’. He continues: ‘Such an idea presents problems within the Movement. How great would the opposition be and what would be the consequences of pursuing a course which did not enjoy a sizeable degree of support?’

Then on August 20th the same day that Micky Devine died, Owen Carron retained Bobby’s Fermanagh/South Tyrone seat. Just three days later on August 23rd, Sinn Féin announced that in future it would contest all Northern Ireland elections. The Hunger Strikes ended on October the 3rd and on October 6th Prior implemented exactly what was on offer from July 5th.

On October 31st at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis Danny Morrison gave his famous ballot box/armalite speech in which he addressed the issue of the party taking part in future elections.

This time-line can be viewed at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/abstentionism/chron.htm

It shockingly appears that while men were dying and even when the Hunger Strike was still on-going that they were discussing and even pushing through electoralism.





Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Irish News letters: Judge the hunger strikers on their own brave deeds

Judge the hunger strikers on their own brave deeds
Irish News letters page
Manus McDaid, Derry
02/11/09

It is my hope that the recent extensive coverage by The Irish News of the Hunger Strike represents the paper’s contribution to the search for closure on this painful long-running argument about British intentions during the strike.

It is evident that there are those who have simply taken the word of the British on this matter although the British themselves are reticent to speak about it.

There are also some who forget or choose to forget the first Hunger Strike ended when the men on strike took the British at their word.

As I wrote before, these men were double-crossed.

I believe the men who went on the second Hunger Strike were well aware of that.

They were not going to make the same mistake and accept the word of a duplicitous British government. They wanted their demands agreed in writing and confirmed by a British official in person.

This, to my best knowledge, never happened.

I note Mr O’Rawe via one Mr Liam Clarke says the secretary of state “would release a statement” in the event of the Hunger Strike.

This is more British double-speak. Truly, if a British official told me the day of the week, I would immediately reach for my diary.

I believe the men who died on hunger strike knew of the knavery of their opponents who could find space between truth and untruth where they could play with words.

It is here that the fortitude and might of the men on hunger strike ought to be measured, not by a welter of ‘what if’ rhetoric type of questions, nor by those seeking political gain, nor by those trying to make a quick buck out of the sacrifices made in support of their comrades in Long Kesh and Armagh Jail.

Sourced from the Irish News

Sinn Fein leaders must bow to plea for Hunger Strike deal inquiry

Sinn Fein leaders must bow to plea for Hunger Strike deal inquiry
Irish News, letters page
Patrick Saunders Belfast 14
30/10/09

FOR a long time I have followed the debate about the 1981 Hunger Strike and the events which many people are now questioning. At the time I was just a young boy so I don’t really remember a lot about those terrible days – except that I wasn‘t allowed out too often. Over the last few years there has been a steady increase in the number of republicans calling for an independent inquiry and I have to say

I totally agree with them.

The republicans who are calling for this inquiry are ex-Blanketmen, family members of those brave Hunger Strikers who died and a lot of other well-known republicans for whom I have a lot of respect and admiration.

The only people holding up and denying the opportunity of this inquiry are the leadership of Sinn Fein. Gerry Adams undoubtedly played a pivotal role in what went on in the H-blocks and would have known whether there was a deal or not.

He has said there was no deal and the claim that there was is just everyone on a Sinn Fein-bashing exercise.

I totally reject that view. People want the truth, that’s all.

If it comes out through an inquiry that there was no deal, then everyone will be able to put the whole issue to bed and finally try to get on with their lives.

This is a very emotional issue to many people and I’m being as sensitive as I can.

Too many people are calling for an inquiry now to just ignore them.

Sourced from the Irish News

Irish News letters page, 27 October 2009

An honest answer
Irish News letters page
GEAROID O TOHMRAIR Beal Feirste 12
27/10/09

I SEE that Richard O’Rawe is again peddling rubbish (October 22) about a deal on the Hunger Strike that the British government had apparently sent to Brendan Duddy and – according to Richard – was passed to Gerry Adams and rejected by the republican leadership on the outside who were running the strike.

As far as I and the majority of republicans are aware, it was the prisoners and the gaol leadership who were in control of the blanket protest and the Hunger Strike.

Bernard Fox (same edition) is a republican who disagrees with the current direction Sinn Fein has taken.

It would have been easy for him to have muddied the waters a bit or to have said nothing.

But Bernard is an honest and honourable man and I believe him because he has nothing to gain.

Sourced from the Irish News


Reliability
Irish News letters page
Patrick J Corr Pittsburgh PA, USA
27/10/09

Reading about the inability of Gerry Adams to deal with the offer to the 1981 hunger strikers that would have ended the protest at an earlier stage, I believe Mgr Dennis Faul’s lesson to me, as a student at St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon, on the reliability of republican leaders, has been fully vindicated.

Sourced from the Irish News

Irish News letters page, 26 October 2009

We should not insult the hunger strikers’ intelligence
Irish News letters page
Manus McDaid, Derry City
26/10/09

Carrie Twomey, in her letter entitled ‘The men behind the wire grow all the more noble as time reveals the truth’ (September 29), attacks me personally, although I never mentioned Sinn Fein in my letter (September 16).

On the matter of the first Hunger Strike, we sadly cannot ask Brendan Hughes his reasons for being part of the ending of the first hunger strike, we can only surmise.

Ms Twomey says (as if she personally knows) it was Mr Hughes’s ‘humanity’. Given the state of the prisoners in both Long Kesh and Armagh, I wonder if Mr Hughes was tricked by the British. That is an equally plausible hypothesis.

Again Ms Twomey speaks in a ‘the facts’ manner when she addresses the second Hunger Strike.

“The second Hunger Strike continued for longer than it needed because of the inhumanity of those managing it on the outside”.

That is not fact – it is opinion to which you are entitled.

I disagree with your opinion and I’ll tell you why.

It is a fact that the hunger strikers had learnt a bitter lesson. ‘‘Do not take simply the word of the British”.

Therefore they wanted in writing the response of the British to their five demands. They wanted a British government official to come in person and deliver the written response to them.

This required no influence from the ‘outside’.

It required the British to respond as described above.

They did not do so.

This may not sit easily with Ms Twomey.

It is good that she recognises the integrity of the hunger strikers.

It is too bad though that she and others, perhaps unconsciously, insult the intelligence of these men and their families by fatuous concoctions of half-truths and conspiracy theories.

Sourced from the Irish News


Sinn Fein has forgotten its best friends
Irish News letters page
L Dempsey, Belfast 11
26/10/09

The leadership of Sinn Fein and the IRA always demanded extreme loyalty from its members and it is recognised that Sinn Fein owes its electoral strength primarily to the sacrifice of the hunger strikers.

However, the leadership have never felt compelled to return that loyalty and former prisoners have been abandoned. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the fact that Coiste na nIarchimi, ostensibly an umbrella organisation for ex-prisoner groups, is staffed by people whose loyalty is to Sinn Fein first rather than to prisoners’ interests.

Thus we have former employees now sitting on policing boards and partnerships and advocating support for an organisation that views republican ex-prisoners as criminals.

This is a conflict of interest and wholly incompatible with prisoners’ interests.

If prisoner issues are to be addressed, it is going to have to be by people willing to exclusively promote prisoners’ interests.

We are fed up hearing how important it was for the peace process for Gerry Adams to get a visa to the US – and all of those in the leadership of Sinn Fein, including ex-prisoners, can do likewise. Those not tied to Sinn Fein – but who sacrificed their blood and liberty at the bidding of these so-called republicans – cannot get a visa.

That’s not important to Sinn Fein.

Let’s consider an independent prisoners’ movement.

Sourced from the Irish News

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


There's an inner thing in every man,
Do you know this thing my friend? It has withstood the blows of a million years, and will do so to the end.