July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

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

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

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

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

British ‘had no intention of resolving the hunger strike’

British ‘had no intention of resolving the hunger strike’
Brian Rowan reports
Belfast Telegraph, Thursday, 4 June 2009

The IRA jail leader during the 1981 hunger strike today said the British Government never had any intention of resolving the notorious prison dispute in which 10 men starved to death.

Brendan ‘Bic’ McFarlane accused the then Thatcher Government of trying to resolve the prison protest “on their terms” while attempting to “wreck” the IRA in the process.

McFarlane, speaking in an exclusive interview for the Belfast Telegraph, again dismissed claims that he accepted an offer secretly communicated by the British that summer, but was overruled by the Army Council on the outside.

The suggestion first emerged in the controversial book Blanketmen — written by former prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who was part of the IRA jail leadership in 1981.

A British offer on the prisoners’ demands was communicated in the summer of that year through a secret contact channel which was codenamed Mountain Climber.

And, on Sunday, July 5, the senior republican Danny Morrison was allowed into the Maze to separately brief McFarlane and the hunger strikers.

“Something was going down,” McFarlane 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.”

But he said he also made clear that more was needed — that the British had to “expand the offer, and they need to go into the prison hospital”.

McFarlane said this was key — that the Government detail its offer directly to the hunger strikers.

“They (the hunger strikers) were at pains to say the Brits need to come forward,” he said.

“They need to expand on it (the offer),” he continued, “and stand over it and it needed to be underwritten in whatever shape, form or fashion the British chose to do that. It needed to be confirmed,” he said.

McFarlane said at the time this had also been made clear to the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace.

“They (the Commission) went directly to the British and urged them to send someone in,” McFarlane continued.

“The British indicated clearly that they were sending someone in and it didn’t happen.

Looking back at the events of 1981, McFarlane said: “It seems very clear that they didn’t have an intention to resolve it to an acceptable degree — that we felt was acceptable.

“They were going to resolve it on their terms and wreck us in the process,” he said.

My crucial discussion with the Maze strikers

When Brendan McFarlane met Danny Morrison in the jail that Sunday afternoon in July 1981, four hunger strikers were dead and another Joe McDonnell “was in an appalling state”.

The jail leader knew that Morrison’s presence meant something was happening.

For months — since the first hunger strike of 1980 — he had been banned from the jail, and, now, on a Sunday when there were no visits the prison gates had opened for him.

The man from the outside was allowed in to explain the Mountain Climber contacts and the offer the British had communicated.

And the fact that the British were in contact — albeit through a conduit now known to be the Derry businessman Brendan Duddy — was progress.

After meeting Morrison, McFarlane met the hunger strikers.

“We went through it step by step,” he said. “The hunger strikers themselves said: OK the Brits are prepared to do business — possibly, but what is detailed, or what has been outlined here isn’t enough to conclude the hunger strike.

“And they said to me, what do I think?

“And I said I concur with your analysis — fair enough — but you need to make your minds up,” he continued.

The hunger strikers, according to both McFarlane and Morrison wanted the British to send someone into the prison.

McFarlane continued: “Something had to be written down. Something had to be produced to the hunger strikers, even to the extent that the Brits were saying, there it is, nothing more, take it or leave it, and that’s the way the lads wanted clarity on this.

“We were never given a piece of paper,” he added.


McFarlane: Key Dates

1951 – born Belfast.

1968 – left Belfast to train as a priest.

1970 – left seminary in Wales and later joined IRA.

1976 – life sentence for gun and bomb attack on Bayardo Bar in Belfast (August 1975, five killed).

1981 – IRA jail leader during hunger strike. Ten men died (7 IRA, 3 INLA).

1983 – he escaped from the Maze in IRA breakout.

1986 – re-arrested in Amsterdam, extradited and returned to Maze Prison.

1998 – release papers signed January 5.

Now – Sinn Fein party activist based in north Belfast

Sourced from the Belfast Telegraph

A fresh glimpse into the untold story of the hunger strike

A fresh glimpse into the untold story of the hunger strike
The hunger strike still divides opinion after almost 30 years. Brian Rowan believes a conference in Londonderry on Saturday may hold some of the answers
Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The source who spoke to the Belfast Telegraph has considerable knowledge of the Mountain Climber initiative in the summer of 1981 — an initiative linked to the republican hunger strike.

It was a secret contact channel between the Government and the republican leadership through which a verbal and private offer on the prisoners’ demands was communicated.

The source does not talk about a deal back then, but describes a situation that is “dramatically complex” and says whether there could have been a deal “becomes an opinion ? how you interpret it”.

The answers that some are looking for do not exist, he told me.

“There is no new knowledge — no new facts. (David) Beresford in (the hunger strike book) Ten Men Dead wrote where it was at. Nothing was ever communicated on paper to the IRA.”

The source describes the period as the Thatcher era — long before the British and the IRA began to think and talk about peace.

“Thatcher wasn’t thinking about the Good Friday Agreement. Thatcher was thinking about hammering them (the IRA).”

And he has another observation — “a lack of experience (on the republican side) in terms of how a Government worked”.

The prisoners’ demand back in 1981 for the Government to send someone into the jail to explain A, B, C, D and E in terms of their offer represented, in the source’s opinion, “a complete non-understanding of Government”.

“A representative of the NIO going in to negotiate with McFarlane (the IRA jail leader Brendan McFarlane) — not on,” the source said.

There are those who think that Brendan Duddy may be able to help with some of the answers, and this Saturday he will speak in a hunger strike debate in his home city of Derry.

He was the key link in the Mountain Climber chain and he believes the continuing row over the hunger strike is being fought outside all the emotion and the complexities and the doubts of 1981.

Duddy is on the record saying he spent every hour of every day trying to save the lives of the hunger strikers.

One of his daughters, Shauna Duddy, described to me seeing her father, shoulders slumped, a cup of tea in his hand, looking out the window with “tears running down his neck”.

This, in one house, is just one of the memories of that period.

You have to understand the bigger picture to understand Duddy.

He is a lifelong pacifist who wanted the deaths within the prison to stop and the killings outside the prison to stop.

His mission — even back then — was to develop a peace process and achieve a dialogue between the British and Irish.

During the Mountain Climber initiative Duddy was speaking to a representative of the British Government.

Some believe it was the MI6 officer Michael Oatley, but my understanding is it was not.

So what was Duddy’s role in 1981? Was it to make a deal?

He will tell you that was a decision for others — “people at the coalface” — British and republican, the same republicans who felt conned at the end of the first hunger strike in 1980 and feared “they were going to be conned again”. Duddy believes this played into their thinking in the summer of the following year.

And he agrees with those, including a former woman prisoner in Armagh Jail who recently wrote to a Belfast newspaper to highlight the difference between an offer and a deal.

“Sile Darragh got it spot on,” he said.

Ten men died in the prison battle. Could things have been different? Almost 30 years on the argument continues.

“The real question is should they (the republican leadership) have settled,” the Mountain Climber source said. It’s a matter of opinion.

“Were people at death’s door (the hunger strikers) capable of making a judgment?”

Almost three decades later the story of the hunger strike has not faded. It is still being debated and argued and fought over by some who were part of it and others who were not.

Sourced from the Belfast Telegraph

Eamon McCann – “Richard isn’t a liar. He told the truth in his book.” (2008)

Will IRA ever admit truth over hunger strike?

Eamon McCann, Belfast Telegraph,
Thursday, 27 March 2008

New light has been shed on reported republican reaction to a British offer which might have ended the 1981 hunger strike after four deaths. Ten men were to die before the strike ended.

Evidence which has now become available helps clarify a dispute sparked three years ago by the assertion of former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe that terms for ending the strike, accepted by the prisoners’ leadership in the Maze/Long Kesh, were rejected by IRA commanders outside. The implication is that the lives of six of the hunger strikers might have been saved if the prisoners hadn’t been overruled.
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A day-by-day account of the events of early July, 1981.

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