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

 

Sinn Fein spokesman: No evidence exists to prove ‘bogus claims’

SDLP and SF clash over H-Block GAA club event
GERRY MORIARTY, Northern Editor
Irish Times

Thu, Aug 20, 2009

THE SDLP and Sinn Féin have clashed over the holding of a H-Block commemoration on Sunday in the grounds of the Galbally GAA club in Co Tyrone.

SDLP deputy leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell accused Sinn Féin of “hijacking” the commemoration, while Sinn Féin accused him of attempting to demonise the memory of the 10 men who died in the 1981 hunger strikes.

Dr McDonnell made his criticism after he and a senior party delegation met top GAA officials yesterday. Holding such events on GAA grounds is against the rules of the organisation. Dr McDonnell said that “like thousands of fellow members of the GAA” he was angry the “Provos had hijacked a GAA premises to cynically deflect attention from Sinn Féin’s internal problems”.

He said it was also part of Sinn Féin’s attempt to divert attention away from Sinn Féin “allowing a number of the hunger strikers to die” to serve the party’s electoral ambitions in 1981.

“GAA grounds should not be prostituted or used politically,” he said. He added that he respected the rights of family and friends of the hunger strikers to commemorate them but that it should not be done in GAA grounds.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said that in relation to the hungers strikers that Dr McDonnell would not be able to “produce a shred of evidence to back up his bogus claims about the circumstances surrounding the men’s deaths as none exists”.

The Sinn Féin spokesman added, “republicans are justifiably proud of the hunger strikers and their families. We make no apology to McDonnell or anyone else for commemorating their sacrifice. The Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee event on Sunday saw up to 10,000 people gather to pay tribute and to remember. That is what the focus needs to remain on, rather than deliberately constructed arguments by anti-republican elements in the media and elsewhere aimed at taking away from the purpose of the day.”

When contacted GAA headquarters referred the matter of the commemoration at its ground in Galbally to the organisation’s Ulster Council which said it had no comment to make on the matter at this time.

GAA sources acknowledged, however, that holding the commemoration on its ground in Galbally is contrary to rule 7 (a) of the organisation.

A similar situation arose in 2006 when a major commemoration was held in Casement Park in Belfast on the 25th anniversary of the hunger strikes.

The instruction from Croke Park not to hold the commemoration in Casement Park was ignored. Subsequently, the GAA refused to make tickets available to senior Sinn Féin members for the 2006 hurling and football All-Ireland finals, a decision Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described as “childish”.

In the past year or so the GAA has made a determined effort to engage in “outreach” with the unionist community and unionist politicians. In June DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and the GAA leadership broke new ground when they met at Stormont.

Sourced from the Irish Times

The Sile Darragh letter

Disputed events during hunger strike
Tue, Apr 21, 2009

Madam, – Richard O’Rawe (April 10th) claims that Brendan “Bik” McFarlane denies there was an offer to end the 1981 hunger strike, and other people, including spokespersons for the IRSP, have said that it knew nothing of an offer until Richard O’Rawe published his book in 2005.

I have before me, David Beresford’s book Ten Men Dead which was published in 1987 and which presumably Richard O’Rawe has read. Here are some quotes from 1981: “The Foreign Office, in its first offer . . .” (p293); “a vague offer” p294; “parts of their offer were vague” – Brendan McFarlane (p295); “nothing extra on offer” (p295); “what was on offer” (p297); “he [Gerry Adams] told the two men [Fr Crilly and Hugh Logue of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace] what the Government had been offering” (p297). On p294 and p302 it reports that Danny Morrison in the prison hospital told the hunger strikers (Joe McDonnell, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee and Mickey Devine) the details of what the British appeared to be offering. So much for Mr O’Rawe claiming they were kept in the dark.

Mr O’Rawe didn’t speak to the hunger strikers, didn’t visit the prison hospital or meet the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace.

This whole matter will be put to rest when he grasps the difference between an offer and a deal (which the British refused to stand over). – Yours, etc,

SÍLE DARRAGH,

Ex-Armagh Gaol POW,
Strand Walk, Belfast.

armagh

 

Sourced from the Irish Times

Irish Times: SF denies claims on hunger strike deaths

SF denies claims on hunger strike deaths
GERRY MORIARTY, Northern Editor, Irish Times

Mon, Apr 06, 2009

SINN FÉIN has rejected the latest claims that the IRA leadership prevented a deal that possibly could have saved the lives of six of the 10 republicans who died in the 1981 H-Block hunger strikes.

These claims follow on repeated allegations that the IRA and Sinn Féin leaderships in 1981 refused to countenance ending the strike in July in order to facilitate the election of hunger strike candidate Owen Carron in August 1981. The election of Mr Carron as MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone, which followed the election of Bobby Sands who died in May of that year, marked the rise of Sinn Féin as a political force.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that it had seen documents that showed the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, despite publicly being opposed to the prisoners’ demands, privately was prepared to make critical concessions.

These reported concessions, including a key demand that prisoners be allowed wear their own clothes, were made in July at a time when Bobby Sands and three other prisoners had died. By the time the hunger strike began to peter out in late August, six more prisoners had died. The last of the hunger strikers to die was INLA member Michael Devine, who passed away on August 20th, the day Mr Carron was elected MP.

The allegation that the republican leadership, driven by Gerry Adams, was prepared to prolong the strike in order to see Mr Carron elected, has been raging for a number of years now.

Four years ago former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe, in his book Blanketmen , said the IRA army council blocked a deal that possibly could have saved the lives of six of the hunger strikers. The Sunday Times report quoting documents it received under freedom of information legislation effectively supports Mr O’Rawe’s account of events.

Mr O’Rawe said that in July 1981, when four prisoners had died, the prisoners’ leadership accepted a deal to end the strike but that this was over-ruled by the IRA army council. Mr O’Rawe wrote that a British intermediary effectively conceded most of the prisoners’ five demands. In his book, Mr O’Rawe said that he and Brendan McFarlane, the IRA commanding officer in the Maze Prison at the time, agreed the offer should be accepted.

Both Mr McFarlane and Mr Morrison have repeatedly insisted the claims by Mr O’Rawe and others are wrong.

A Sinn Féin spokesman also said yesterday that the allegations were untrue. He said they emanated from British military intelligence “and ignore completely the actual timeline of events”.

© 2009 The Irish Times

 

Sourced from The Irish Times

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

Hunger strikers wanted more than vague promises

(by Danny Morrison, Irish Times)

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

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

The 1981 hunger strike was a direct result of the 1980 hunger strike. The British government had said that it would not act under duress but would respond with a progressive and liberal prison regime once it ended. The prisoners called off the fast to save the life of Seán McKenna.

However, the British immediately reneged on their promises. Because of this duplicity the hunger strikers of 1981 were adamant that any deal must be copperfastened.
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A day-by-day account of the events of early July, 1981.


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