July 1981

Icon

Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

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

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

Anthony McIntyre: Victory to Blanketmen

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Victory to Blanketmen
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

It might have been a long flight for Richard O’Rawe, most of it a climb. It is said that aircraft are most strained during the ascent but once in the sky the cruise is relatively easy. The author of Blanketmen now finds himself cruising at a moral altitude well above that of his critics.

For long we had been regaled with delusional tales of how O’Rawe had been comprehensively demolished and that each new non-discovery by his opponents had finally concluded the debate in their favour. Truly underwhelming stuff where wish was parent to the thought.

Even before this week’s Irish News special on the 1981 hunger strike O’Rawe’s integrity had been both salvaged and enhanced. With Brendan McFarlane feeling compelled to reconfigure his account of the pivotal 1981 prison conversation between himself and O’Rawe in the wake of serious erosion of his original account, the die was cast. After that few believed that O’Rawe had made it all up. They may not have attributed any malign motive to McFarlane but simply acknowledged that O’Rawe’s narrative possessed a consistency that unlike the counter narrative was not chameleon in character. The pendulum of culpability swung decisively away from O’Rawe.

His vindication secured, that the Irish News debate took place at all was further validation of the position of Richard O’Rawe. That the claims made in his book Blanketmen almost five years ago are being given such exposure this week in a newspaper read by more Northern nationalists than any other were beyond his wildest expectations at the time of publication. It was also something Sinn Fein would have viewed as a nightmare had they any inkling. Now all O’Rawe has to do is turn up. His critics, by contrast, have no option but to turn up; a sign of how the balance of power of persuasion has undergone a significant shift. And where they needed to raise the level of their contribution they singularly failed. The issue has now been pushed to a new plateau. Had the original allegation in Blanketmen been about the existence of either the unicorn or the mermaid that would have been the last anyone heard of it. What kept it going to the point where O’Rawe’s narrative is now the dominant one, having successfully challenged and displaced the previous one, was the ring of truth that resonated from it.

There are echoes of the Birmingham Six emanating from this controversy. When convicted it looked as if their goose was cooked. Few gave them a snowball’s chance in hell. When challenged the British judiciary jerked and jumped as if they had had been tapped with a cattle prod. Howls of indignation met the challenges of those seeking to establish accuracy. ‘How dare anyone question us’ was the standard arrogant refrain. All critics were told to shut up and just accept the view of Lord Denning that all they had to offer was an appalling vista. They were smeared as terrorist sympathizers. It got the judiciary nowhere as they were swamped under an avalanche of probing and investigative journalism.

Seems something similar is taking place here. The regime of truth which had little true about it is being dismantled month by month. The old chant from within the bowels of the H-Blocks, ‘Victory to the Blanketmen’, has meaning like never before.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: The Wonka Theory of Everything

Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The Wonka Theory of Everything
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

What has been noticeable in the continuing debate about the hunger strikes prompted by the publication of Richard O’Rawe’s book Blanketmen four years ago is that in recent months those most critical of the author have appeared ideationally bankrupt. Any new evidence, insights or interpretations all seem to be reinforcing the O’Rawe perspective. At the beginning of April when the Sunday Times produced documentation indicating that Margaret Thatcher despite her unyielding public stance was privately committed to making substantial concessions to end the strike, Sinn Fein was reduced to falling back on the tried and failed rebuttal that the documents originated with British military intelligence.

When much that was new emerged from the Derry Gasyard debate the party claimed that there was in fact nothing new at all and that what charges had been made there had been:

comprehensively rebutted by documentary and witness testimony when they first appeared. The deaths of all the hunger strikers is the direct responsibility of a British government intent on defeating republicanism. It is regrettable that there are some who have preferred to ignore the truth of what occurred and seek to use events then to further their anti-Sinn Fein agenda today.

At the secretive Gulladuff meeting those disagreeing with Sinn Fein’s version of events were said to be driven by an anti-party agenda.

Added to this are Brendan McFarlane’s comments in London that the ongoing debate fits into a wider effort to undermine the current Sinn Fein president and main negotiator on the Sinn Fein side during the hunger strike: ‘all this information is specifically being used to target Gerry Adams and discredit both him and Sinn Féin.’ You would actually think Roland Dahl was writing the party script.

‘You see Charlie’, he said, ‘not so very long ago there used to be thousands of people working in Willy Wonka’s factory. Then one day all of a sudden, Mr Wonka had to ask everyone of them to leave, to go home, never to come back.’
‘But why?’ asked Charlie.
‘Because of spies.’
‘Spies?’
‘Yes. All the other chocolate makers you see had begun to grow jealous of the wonderful sweets that Mr Wonka was making, and they started sending in spies to steal his recipes.’

This amounts to little more than an assertion that that people who are sceptical of the party go to bed at night and get up the following morning with only one thing on their minds – frustrating the political career of Gerry Adams by stealing his chocolate recipe. As if there are not more important things in life than that; going for a pint, watching a game of soccer, reading a book etc. As well, it overlooks the more plausible view of Professor Paul Bew who pointed out some time back that British state strategy under Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell was about ensuring that the Adams leadership stayed in position. That leadership was considered the best bet for the success of British strategy. Talk to any British official and you get something similar. At a conference in an English university a number of years ago myself and Catherine McCartney pulled faces at each other as we listened to a British minister defend the Adams leadership against criticisms of it in obsequious tones the likes of which are normally only witnessed at Sinn Fein Ard Fheiseanna or in a Thursday column in the Irish News.

Whether intentional or not, the ‘everybody is out to steal Gerry’s chocolate recipe’ mantra amounts to a discursive subterfuge which seeks to disguise the usefulness of the Adams leadership to British state strategy in Ireland.

It is noticeable that Danny Morrison, the most prominent opponent of the O’Rawe perspective, avoids the ‘securocrats at work’ argument. Alert to the nuances of the PR game he is presumably aware that it is synonymous with a guilty plea given what the securocrats have been blamed on over the years. This is why both Brendan McFarlane and Sinn Fein have sounded less plausible than Morrison. Few buy into the notion that the British state seriously want to do Adams or the peace process harm. Although spinning it that way helps the credulous see a master plan that doesn’t exist in order to remain blind to the disaster plan that does.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: Dribblers

Sunday, June 21, 2009
Dribblers
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

Given the level of detail that the ongoing debate on the 1981 hunger strike has generated – four years it has now lasted despite claims by Richard O’Rawe’s critics to have finished him off all of four years ago – it seems most people that I talk to have settled on a workable interpretive framework through which to filter a conclusion. They increasingly opt for the prove all panacea – whether or not the conversation that Richard O’Rawe claims to have taken place between him and Brendan McFarlane in which they said ‘deal’ in response to the British government’s ‘offer’, actually happened. After Derry’s Gasyard debate it is hard to find any but the usual suspects holding the line.

In the four years since the debate began in earnest there have been many cases of premature verdicts announced, based on the telling blow never delivered. The purpose is always the same: cry ‘victory’, mob the man who supposedly rattled home the winner, and the crowd will jump and down in celebration of the goal not scored. The roar of ‘O’Rawe demolished, account comprehensively rebutted’ has gone up quite a few times. For something so ‘comprehensively rebutted’ we find, puzzlingly, his attackers still needing to rebut it.

Earlier this week the key critics of O’Rawe hosted a secret meeting in Gulladuff to which the families of the dead hunger strikers were invited to be addressed by a high powered panel of speakers. The secrecy defeated its own purpose by dint of its inability to keep its own logic a secret. The meeting was hardly just to show the families an action replay of the great victory over O’Rawe that comprehensively demolished him. It represented a fear of cross examination, probing, and cold analytical pursuit of the facts. Others not privy to the secret gathering were barred including the father of a dead 16 year old republican activist shot dead by the British Army in the hours following the death of the hunger striker Joe McDonnell.

To date nothing seems to have emerged from the meeting that would strengthen the hand of those who hosted it. All those comprehensive rebutters for all their comprehensive rebuttals still seem to be taking considerable blows to glass chins that have been left, well, what else other than comprehensively exposed. The man who was supposed to have been on the canvas all those years ago seems to be still in the ring and has been scoring consistently with his jabs against an opposition frequently missing with its jibes. There are signs of growing anger and frustration in the ranks of the opposition that O’Rawe has refused to lie down as commanded and that seconds are crowding into his corner in stark contrast to March 2005 when the book was first launched.

Spectators watching even great players take the ball around their opponent and then around him again and again still want to see the leather hit the back of the onion bag. But dribbling at the mouth and not with the ball at feet has led to O’Rawe maintaining a clean sheet, his net still intact. Pronouncing great victories do not great victories make. Four years after the first great victory today’s proclamations of more great victories sound like Comical Ali’s utterances during the first days of the US invasion of Iraq – loud but empty. The reality check is this: the idea that O’Rawe was counted out is rubbish. Those who did the counting display symptoms of being arithmetically challenged – Ireland united by 2014 and all that.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: Clash of Perspectives

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Clash of Perspectives
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you – Oscar Wilde

There has now been a debate on the 1981 hunger strike spanning almost half a decade. Taking their seats on either side of the debating chamber are what may be generically termed the O’Rawe and Morrison perspectives. Use of these terms allows the discussion to be simplified without being compromised by distortion. These shorthand devices permit the tagging of a claim to a certain camp without having to actually implicate either Danny Morrison or Richard O’Rawe in anything that may flow from any particular claim. To say that the Morrison perspective holds that a certain position is either right or wrong does not mean that the statement should be attributed to Danny Morrison or that he even agrees with its content. Same for Richard O’Rawe.

When the author of Blanketmen first made public his misgivings in his book about the management of the hunger strike a more conciliatory approach from his detractors would have gone a long way. It could have capped the discussion. They could easily have acknowledged that the conversation between O’Rawe and Brendan McFarlane on July 5 1981, which has been the subject of much impassioned debate, took place and then moved to create a context favourable to their own narrative: they were in the midst of negotiations; decisions had to be made on the hoof; there was uncertainty about the Brits’ true position and it had to be tested; the British had no one dying in comparable circumstances and could afford to play brinkmanship; events were moving at breakneck pace; in the midst of it all the jail leadership through no fault of its own failed to appreciate that things were changing by the minute and that a much better deal was in the offing if not yet actually on offer; it needed to be explored further to ensure that the strikers got full bangs for their bucks; the republican negotiators delayed in giving the true jail response to the Brits in the hope of getting something much stronger; in the event they misjudged the timing and have been haunted by it ever since. Even had they called it right they can still not be certain that the British would have honoured any of it.

Only the most poisoned would have been at their throats for that. A more general attitude would have been ‘there for good fortune go I.’ Now that window of opportunity is being drawn shut. What room is left for a benign interpretation is being closed down as O’Rawe’s critics paint themselves into a corner. In ensuring that O’Rawe had to fight to maintain his integrity they have handed him the garrotte with which he seems set to strangle their credibility and narrative. They have also given legs to the spectre not conjured up by O’Rawe – only raised by him as one among a number of possible explanations – that there were political and electoral calculations behind the decision to overrule the prisoners.

Trapped by its own intolerance the Morrison perspective was incapable of even acknowledging that a different point of view could be legitimate without necessarily being right. O’Rawe had to be depicted as a Fagin-like character pick-pocketing the hunger strikers’ mantel of legitimacy and whose work was scurrilous in nature. The complete unwillingness to accept a different viewpoint or come up with something other than a strident roar accompanied by whispering campaigns has led to the debate being where it is today, more contentious than it was four years ago, hard fought and conducted in an atmosphere of acrimony. Small wonder there are those who long for a return to the old certainties of 1981. But like a face finger-drawn on a beach those old certainties have been wiped away by waves of doubt, never to return.

Something atypical from O’Rawe’s critics when Blanketmen first came out – something not laced with the typical parsimony that we have grown used to over the years – would have been the a stitch in time that might have saved nine. That was forgone in favour of the more odious notion of stitching up O’Rawe. Now as the threads of the official narrative continue to be pulled it will require the needle of a surgeon applied with more dexterity than witnessed up to now to restore the tattered and torn official narrative to something that even vaguely resembles its former self. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men had a less daunting challenge.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: Withstanding the Regime

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Withstanding the Regime
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

I did not have to wait until compelling evidence emerged during the debate in Derry’s Gasyard Centre before concluding that an end to the 1981 hunger strike might have been reached in circumstances which would have seen the book Four Men Dead become the pioneering account of what happened behind the tomb-like walls of Long Kesh and its H-Blocks. Even before the publication of Blanketmen, despite being initially hesitant, as a result of conversation with him and others I was drawn to the uncomfortable conclusion that its author was right. When the book appeared on the shelves I commented ‘there was no possible reason that I could think of that would have prompted Richard O’Rawe to craft a tale that would bring him widespread opprobrium.’ Although there was no way of assessing his account on its own terms, I instinctively felt he was on the money. It was the response to his claims that clinched it not only for me but also for a fair few others.

During our pre-publication discussions I cautioned O’Rawe that if he was right his book would prompt a certain reaction. On one occasion I suggested he consider withholding the final product on the mistaken grounds that he might not prove robust enough to face the onslaught that would come his way and told him as much. I felt there was a moral obligation to ensure that he considered the widest range of options because of the consequences. I often joked with him that I could do the solitary, was setting no example for him, and that he was under no obligation to swell the ranks of the ostracised and keep me company. While the party apparatchiks and its military goondas might have been somewhat slow in getting out of the traps when others including myself first began publicly expressing misgivings about what they were telling us regarding the potential of the peace process, by 2005 they had got their bullying act together and would hardly spare O’Rawe their wrath. He was indifferent to it all. I seemed to have forgotten he was a Spartan and was not about to hide behind his shield once the poisoned arrows began raining down on him. He would come out and fight. Once made I welcomed his decision, feeling it was the right thing for him to do.

I had seen it all before and sure enough it came pretty much as expected. It is always the way with them when they are challenged, and particularly so when the challenge has some merit to it. It is the perennial give-away and invariably produces the very outcome their response seeks to avert; the observer infers from the response more so than the challenge that the challenger must have a case. Richard O’Rawe, the former blanket man, once the authentic voice of protesting prisoners, was now to have the blanket ripped from his waist and stuffed in his mouth; it no longer a symbol of potent defiance but a gag to suffocate and produce meekness. He had to be demonised and cut adrift from the social sustenance of the Provisional community; a man who penned ‘scurrilous’ nonsense, who should have called his book ‘on another man’s hunger strike’, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Margaret Thatcher, a liar, a money grabber, a self-promoter, a frustrated entrepreneur seeking another enterprise, an unpardonable creature who should hang his head in shame, even a ‘traitor’, long before Martin McGuinness immortalised the term by hurling it at people who carried out killings without his approval. The sort of things that will be said about you, when you voice concerns, by the staffers of any institution whose sense of power, prestige and privilege are best served by silence in the face of their dubious authority.

A recent example is to be found in the Catholic Church where the senior clerics labelled people much the same as O’Rawe was labelled because a bit of public exposure was not to their liking. So, in O’Rawe’s case the slander campaign was cranked up while the whisper weasels and graffiti vandals set forth to savage his reputation. Meanwhile the muscle flexed itself and filled the doorways of those who might at one time have eaten from the tree of forbidden knowledge and who just might say something in his favour. That would never be allowed to cross the porch and enter the pubic arena.

In spite of all the attempts to generate the power of shame against him O’Rawe simply refused to submit to it. At no time was he prepared to accept the order to sit at the back of the bus. As per usual for those who resist whatever is hurled their way, endurance brings validation. And so it has been for the author of Blanketmen.

Long, arduous and acrimonious the struggle to establish a counter-narrative to the ‘regime of truth’ has survived the regime attempts to demolish it. If the facts of the matter still need to be established definitively Richard O’Rawe’s integrity and reputation do not. On that he has prevailed. For long enough it had been like watching a game of tennis with each point contested as the ball zipped back and forth across the net. After the Derry event there is a sense of the umpire having called game, set and match to O’Rawe. No judgement has been passed on the motives of those who are said to have overruled the prisoners’ decision to accept the British offer; just the fact that they did. All O’Rawe ever needed to prove, really.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: Five Crucial Points

Thursday, June 4, 2009
Five Crucial Points
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

In the conversations I have had with Richard O’Rawe on the alternative view of the 1981 hunger strike proffered in his book Blanketmen I have insisted to him that there are no knock out blows delivered in the type of battle he had entered into. Attrition rather than blitzkrieg would come to characterise his advance. He would face many setbacks, would be let down by those he expected a lot more from, and would at all times feel the breath of hostility hot on the back of his neck. Breakthroughs are always agonisingly slow in coming and when they do can seem anti-climatic. I suggested to him that he would find it a point by point slog first to retain his reputation and then to establish his narrative in the face of withering assault. His achievements would be incremental, his critics nasty and brutish. The hunger strike narrative was a coveted asset from which the fingers of its self-defined custodians would only be prised away one at a time; and with each one removed it would be free to try and gouge him in the eyes. He would be up against pugilists wholly unfamiliar with Queensbury Rules. But at the end of it all if he possessed the necessary stamina and was correct he only had to stay in the ring and the breaks would come his way.

While it might have taken four years it has come to pass. The Derry debate in the Gasyard Centre seems to have been a tipping point. And the narrative has firmly tipped the way of O’Rawe. Since that discussion almost a fortnight ago I have spoken with a number of people from different perspectives and political backgrounds and there is acknowledgement of a definite shift. They all accept that O’Rawe’s credibility as a witness in the eye of the storm, who testified to the turbulence he saw, is now beyond reproach, it being no longer plausible to contend that he manufactured his account. While few of them would go as far as to ascribe the malign or sinister motive, favoured by some, to those republican figures who overruled the prison leadership’s acceptance of the offer from the British to end the hunger strike, they agree that something happened which has yet to convincingly explained.

Despite claims to the contrary we have known for at least four years of the existence of evidence from the wing in which O’Rawe was housed during the hunger strike that would support his claims. Like all evidence it was inconclusive until tested by cross examination. But it at least shaded things the way of O’Rawe. So I was not at all surprised when the former blanket prisoner Gerard Clarke made the contribution in Derry that he did. He claims to have heard the conversation between O’Rawe and Brendan McFarlane, the jail’s IRA leader, on July 5 1981 in which they agreed to accept the British offer. This is nothing new from Gerard Clarke; merely the first time he has said it public. He volunteered it to O’Rawe two to three years ago in a shopping centre but O’Rawe never felt free to cite it until the man himself came forward. Moreover, during his Radio Foyle debate with Raymond McCartney days before the Gasyard event O’Rawe foresaw imminent egg on the face of the Derry MLA over the latter’s allegations that not one person on the wing heard the exchange between O’Rawe and McFarlane. It was a pregnant moment that burst to fruition in the Gasyard.

Important as Gerard Clarke’s intervention was, even more crucial was the contribution made by Brendan Duddy, the conduit between the British government and the IRA leadership in 1981. He not only confirmed that an offer had indeed been made by the British, the contents of which the journalist Liam Clarke produced on the night in documented form, he also claimed that he was told by his contact in the IRA leadership that the offer was not acceptable. The leadership asked for more concessions, not for a British official to be sent in to stand over what was already in the document. O’Rawe’s opponents often insist that a refusal by the British to send in a government representative was the ultimate deal breaker without which no deal could be nailed down.

The five crucial points to emerge from Derry are: documented evidence of a British offer; witness evidence that the document in question was the one handed to his interlocutor in the republican leadership; witness evidence that the offer was refused by the same interlocutor; witness evidence that the stumbling block was not the absence of a British guarantor but not enough on the table; witness evidence that Richard O’Rawe’s account of the conversation between himself and Brendan McFarlane in which they agreed to accept the British offer was correct. The aggregated weight of evidence from Brendan Duddy, Gerard Clarke and Liam Clarke provide a linear account wholly consistent with O’Rawe and seriously at variance with those who would rather Blanketmen had never seen the light of day. Only a rogue intellect could continue to claim that O’Rawe is a falsifier. Too much is falling into place for him.

Against this critics of the O’Rawe perspective are being sorely tested and increasingly found to be wanting. They now sound more raucous than reassured. No new revelation supports their case, not Blelloch, not anything.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: Gasyard Examines Graveyard

Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Gasyard Examines Graveyard
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

The discussion at the Gasyard Centre in Derry last weekend seems to have been a seminal moment in the struggle over the interpretation of the 1981 hunger strike. And I missed it. Despite intending to I eventually did not even attempt to make the trip to Derry. Earlier that week I had been in both Belfast and Dublin and didn’t fancy an even longer journey on the road.

These days I tend to write more from impulse than design although I am sure something of the latter has to be present as well. The pressure not to write is no longer there so the impulse to write is considerably weaker. Defying the censor is its own dynamic. Unlike during The Blanket years I write much more leisurely. There is no longer any need to forensically trace and forecast the defeat of the Provisional Movement as a republican project. It is there for all to see. As a consequence of taking the foot off the pedal I am no longer as tuned into the hunger strike debate as I was a number of years ago when I was still writing for The Blanket.

Maybe it is less a case of not being tuned in and more that the debate itself has reached a peak in terms of detail that the time required to follow it through its labyrinth of references and minutiae in the way that Richard O’Rawe or Danny Morrison presumably do is simply not available. While each twist and turn, fought over and dissected, may be all very necessary to keep the discussion critically informed, when it reaches a certain level it goes over the heads of most people. They see the foothills peppered with footnotes before they even get to follow the trail of the Mountain Climber and they baulk. Keeping pace with it all requires a lot of work. That does not prevent me from trying to keep up but there is a sense that I am trying to jog alongside sprinters. If someone appears on radio or TV I listen to them and try to consider the case that they make. That does not mean that I refrain from taking sides. My long held view is that Richard O’Rawe is right and his detractors wrong.

In any event, if there as a choice on a day like this to take the kids to the park or reread Ten Men Dead the kids win out. In the midst of this electrifying discussion, despite talking a bit about it to friends and journalists, I make the time to watch soccer, write banter about the same, browse through or review a book maybe not connected to Irish politics at all, or watch a film. When that is added to time spent at work or courses there are precious few minutes left over that can be squeezed out of the remainder of the day. Life is better served if we remember to live rather than live to remember.

I haven’t even managed to view the Gasyard discussion it in its entirety on Youtube, dipping into various sections in response to calls from people either asking me if I saw this or that contribution or insisting some segment is a ‘must see.’ Nor did I tune into the full debate on Slugger O’Toole – apparently followed by almost everyone else with an interest in the matter – again restricting my forays to dipping in when someone asked what I thought of any particular comment.

As for the Derry event, my wife went up. Not in my stead but in her own right as an observer with a keen interest in the topic. No doubt she appreciated the break from the kids having been with them all week, breaking up their fights, adjudicating on their disputes and tending to their needs. On top of that she travelled North with her buddy so the enterprise was as much an opportunity for chilling out as it was a political expedition. At the same time there is no disputing that as former editor of The Blanket she learned in the school of hard knocks to give no quarter to the censor. She knows all about the need to ensure alternative voices in any field otherwise knowledge of the matter being discussed will be forced to bend to the pressure of conformity applied by those least interested in allowing free discussion. It may have brought more than a fair share of criticism down on her head along with the unsolicited attention of spooky misogynists or misogynistic spooks – take your pick – who from time to time have unleashed salvoes of vitriol her way. But she has remained undeterred, striving always to provide a platform for free inquiry and expression.

I am glad she went up because Richard O’Rawe later told me that she pulled the questions together at the end in ‘professorial’ style. She is not a professor, just someone who knows how to cut through the chaff, guff and tripe – the component parts of a dunghill-cum-barricade against truth into which the censors are firmly burrowed – and apply a forensic mind to uncluttering the debris and extracting the detail that matters. Subsequently she is equipped with the necessary acumen to deconstruct and demolish an account that does not stand up to scrutiny. It is anathema to her detractors.

It is not just that it saves me the bother of having to do something other than play football with the children and their friends that I am totally supportive of her in her efforts to bring light to bear on the issues at stake. It was the type of service The Blanket was always disposed towards. It seems right that the tradition inherited there from earlier anti-censorship republicans should be exported to other venues and forums. And the city of Derry, where Widgery in 1972 wreaked so much dishonesty, is an unlikely venue for a similar dark spirit to haunt the narrative of the hunger strike.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: A Shifting Narrative

Saturday, May 23, 2009
A Shifting Narrative
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

Sometime during the week I listened to a lively BBC Radio Foyle debate between former Provisional IRA prisoners, Richard O’Rawe and Raymond McCartney. The discussion focussed exclusively on the events of early July 1981 when the republican hunger striker Joe McDonnell was close to death. O’Rawe’s position has been consistent in that he has never deviated from his claim that the Provisional leadership rejected a decision by the prison leadership to accept a British offer that would have ended the strike, thus ensuring no further loss of life. McCartney, a member of the 1980 hunger strike team, has been no less consistent than O’Rawe in his rejection of this account. For him any offers that were made were fatally compromised by the refusal of the British government to provide adequate specification for the means of their enactment.

Before the debate started I was firmly of the opinion that O’Rawe’s version of events was correct. I have long felt that there was a more authentic ring to his claims than to the dismissal of those claims by his critics. Not just because on other issues I have heard many of those critics not infrequently deny the most obvious and try to argue that black was white, but because on all of the occasions that I have discussed the matter with O’Rawe over the past decade he was so thorough and methodical in his marshalling of the evidence and appeared to have no reason to make it up as his detractors sometimes like to suggest. I have also had the opportunity to discuss the matter with some of those opposed to him. And while I never sensed that they were being dishonest in what they said to me I was never with them frequently enough to allow their arguments to grow on me. And some of those who waged their critique of O’Rawe on radio and TV tended to sound like hectoring bullies more intent on silencing him than allowing him to make any case.

In spite of that I tried not to let my prejudice shape my hearing of the Radio Foyle exchange. I could not deny that I knew from experience that McCartney would put party before accuracy. He did this in AP/RN comments hostile to both Tommy Gorman and me after we had accused the Provisional IRA of killing Joe O’Connor of the Real IRA in October 2000. He made the charge that we were guilty of fabrication. Yet I remained willing to listen as fairly as I could to any case that he might make against O’Rawe and judge it on its merits and not on the baggage and bias from yesteryear.

After the debate I concluded that nothing had emerged during it that would cause me to rethink my view on it. If persuasiveness was to be measured in points awarded for content, tone and conviction, then O’Rawe won the exchange. His argument had an internal coherence not so pronounced in McCartney’s. His delivery was weak however and McCartney scored significantly in the way listeners heard things rather than what they actually heard. In the end conviction gave O’Rawe the majority verdict. He spoke as if he was genuinely convinced of what he was saying. This corresponds to a wider view out there which holds that O’Rawe, rightly or wrongly, memory serving him or failing him, at least believes what he has to say. McCartney while presumably believing his own account seemed to lack the passion of O’Rawe in making the argument. He came across more like a politician defending a position which may have been right or could have been wrong but which needed defending nonetheless.

Central to McCartney’s critique was reiteration that O’Rawe’s argument had been persistently demolished by almost anyone challenging him. Hyperbole has long been a feature of McCartney’s discourse, at one time making itself manifest in a suggestion that Ian Paisley serving as First Minister in the Stormont Executive was a gigantic step toward a united Ireland. On this occasion the paradox seems to have escaped him that he is taking part in a radio debate seeking to demolish an argument that he feels was demolished four years ago. Moreover, if the dissection of O’Rawe has been so thorough that it has effectively demolished him, why has the haemorrhaging of support been away from the McCartney perspective and not from O’Rawe? No one, we are aware of, who believed O’Rawe at the start disbelieves him today. The same cannot be said for those who initially believed his detractors. There is a growing body of opinion rowing in behind O’Rawe – who initially fought his corner without much help from seconds – in stating that the Sinn Fein leadership has a case to answer.

Another dubious assertion employed by McCartney is his dismissal of O’Rawe on the grounds that his book Blanketmen was serialised by the Sunday Times which according to McCartney was behaving atrociously during the hunger strike. The very fact that his own party is in the executive bed with the DUP means that positions held by people in 1981 have little bearing on how they are to be viewed today. The DUP’s problem in 1981 was that all of us in the H-Blocks did not die. None of that has prevented Sinn Fein from aligning with the Paisleyite outfit.

In recent months Danny Morrison has argued robustly about the sequence of events that took place in and around the H-Blocks on the 5th of July 1981. And because Morrison has been so precise he has unwittingly helped narrow the debate down, for those trying to make sense of claim and counter-claim, to one issue. That is whether the conversation that O’Rawe claims took place between him and the IRA’s prison leader Brendan McFarlane did in fact happen. It was in the course of that conversation, if O’Rawe is correct, that both men agreed to accept an offer from the British government conveyed to them via Morrison. If O’Rawe establishes that the crucial conversation took place it is effectively game over in terms of any argument against his credibility and motives. Raymond McCartney seems to be the only person in the opposition camp so far capable of grasping this. During his debate with O’Rawe he moved to offset any credit that might accrue O’Rawe’s way in the event of evidence supporting the Blanketmen author’s claims regarding the conversation between himself and McFarlane emerging.

My own view, given the evidence that I have seen, is that O’Rawe will be vindicated. Up until now O’Rawe’s shifting of the narrative pertaining to the 1981 hunger strike away from the Sinn Fein leadership has been incremental. That could change substantially if witness evidence in particular emerges from the wing O’Rawe was on at the time of the disputed exchange between himself and McFarlane. In that event there might follow a decisive shift in the battle for control of the hunger strike narrative which could see O’Rawe’s account move into pole position.

What a turn up for the hunger strike books that would be.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: The Thatcher Intervention

ThatcherRexNilsJorgensen460
The Thatcher Intervention

Sunday, April 5, 2009
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

Two weeks ago I commented on an interview that appeared on the website of the Bobby Sands Trust. The view of the Trust, my own also, was that the document was valuable in that it purported to shed light on some of the issues associated with the hunger strike era. All such documents, flawed as they may be, are coveted nuggets; the building blocks of historical reconstruction, which whether challenging to or supportive of our pre-existing perspectives, should be welcomed for their ability to enlighten us.

The interviewee was John Blelloch, a key NIO official and alleged MI5 operative. The Trust rightly felt that this placed him on the inside track from where he was pivotally placed to fully understand the governmental processes at play. It would also enable him, were he so inclined, to misrepresent the same processes. At no point did the Trust issue a health warning to indicate that Blelloch’s account, because he was what Sinn Fein had longed termed a securocrat, should be treated with some scepticism. It was sold as a fixed proof of an equally fixed British state position in 1981. No allowance was made for the possibility that it might have been a self-serving fiction aimed to conceal rather than reveal.

For the Trust, Blelloch was presented as confirming that there was no hint of flexibility on the part of the British government during the strike and in particular in and around the time of the death of Joe McDonnell, the fifth striker to die. For my part, I felt the Blelloch document was an important addition to our understanding of how the British five years after the strike were still intent on withholding the truth from us.

Because I had serious reservations about the purpose of Blelloch’s interview and had solid reason to believe that in terms of documents it was not the most important one available to researchers, I concluded my article with the comment that ‘it will hardy even make the 7 day wonder category. 7 days is a long time in politics, long enough to see perspectives turned completely on their head.’

Today, 14 days later rather than the magical 7, the Blelloch perspective would indeed seem to have been turned on its head. The Sunday Times ran with a feature article in its prestigious Focus section which purported to show that the British prime minister of the day, Margaret Thatcher, had made serious overtures to elements within the leadership of the IRA aimed at ending the hunger strike. When informed by those IRA elements that the tone rather than the substance was the obstacle to a resolution Thatcher worked on more appropriate wording.

The Sunday Times based its findings on documentation supplied by the NIO to the journalist Liam Clarke. Because it is contemporaneous it has more weight than the Blelloch interview given five years after the event. Gerard Hodgins, an IRA hunger striker and the INLA leadership of the day both claim not to have been informed that such a settlement was on offer. Had they been aware of it the INLA would have intervened and ordered their volunteers, two of whom later died on hunger strike, to end their fast. Hodgins, for his part, armed with the same knowledge would not have embarked on hunger strike.

Today I looked at the Trust website in the hope that the documents featuring in the Sunday Times would have appeared there. They did not. Perhaps in time they will otherwise the Trust will leave itself open to the same allegation that, like Blelloch, it used his interview with a self-serving motive in mind. The documents available to the Sunday Times might not correspond to the Trust’s reading of events but deliberation on the era they address can not be definitively shaped by any one party with a dog in the fight, neither the Trust nor republicans such as Richard O’Rawe who challenge the official Sinn Fen narrative on the hunger strikes. If public understanding is to grow it needs to be informed – not managed and manipulated to produce stupification in the place of understanding – and all documents of relevance should be made available. There is no need for the Trust to remove the Blelloch document even though its value has rapidly diminished as a result of today’s revelations. It should stay there as a historical trace from one of the most difficult and contentious issues in modern Irish history. But the Trust should add the NIO documents so that people can weigh up for themselves the strengths and weaknesses of two distinct accounts.

The NIO documents reinforce the contention of Richard O’Rawe, author of Blanketmen, that just before the death of Joe McDonnell the British government made an offer which was acceptable to the prisoners. O’Rawe’s claims that the army council figure responsible for the day to day management of the hunger strike overruled the prisoners is now even more weighty than before. For his efforts O’Rawe was maligned, harangued, vilified, and described as having penned a scurrilous book. Par for the course in the suffocating world of Sinn Fein wherever an alternative voice is raised.

Prior to O’Rawe’s book there was one republican narrative of the hunger strike. Thatcher was vindictive and vengeful, alone bearing responsibility for the ten deaths. When the book emerged, the hostile way in which O’Rawe’s critics tried to neutralise him and denigrate his account, caused the pixellation in their own narrative to look a bit blurred. Nevertheless, if somewhat tarnished, it remained the dominant account. O’Rawe was out there but the picture he offered was far from focussed. It would take a lot of time before the mind’s eye could sufficiently adjust itself to take in what was being shown. With each passing gambit in the struggle for interpretation the narrative of the hunger strike has gradually slipped from Sinn Fein’s control and into the hands of O’Rawe. The hunger strike is no longer mentioned without O’Rawe being introduced as an alternative voice; one that increasingly draws more listeners. His critics have sought to depict him as pissing in the well. Others saw him as an anti-pollutant dispersing the mud that had gathered in the well, allowing us to peer into it even more deeply than before.

The hunger strike is now a sharply contested event in the history of republicanism giving rise to sharply divided opinions. Ten men died and the only thing we can be sure of is that Thatcher bears culpability for the deaths of the first four.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: The Blelloch Interview

Sunday, March 22, 2009
The Blelloch Interview
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

A couple of days ago I received an e mail from a friend with a link which took me to the well designed website of the Bobby Sands Trust. Once there I found myself looking at what appeared to be a valuable historical document and one that any researcher of the period in time referred to would want archived. It was an interview recorded by the US academic and author Padraig O’Malley with John Blelloch, a key British official central to events pertaining to the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981. The interview took place in 1986 and O’Malley was interested in bringing more light to bear on the era of five to six years past. He later went on to write a book about the hunger strike Biting At The Grave, which while dubious in terms of the analytical method used to explore and explain motivation was nevertheless packed with useful insight and information.

Why the interview has just appeared is not explained. Nor are we told who supplied it to the Trust or when it came into its possession. If Blelloch’s side passed it on we are not aware of it. Nor are we sure that it came from O’Malley. It might well have been stumbled upon as so often happens. The Trust has a responsibility to find these things and would be foolish not to seize upon them whenever the opportunity arises and from whatever the source. While knowledge of the pathway from donor to recipient is useful for allowing a more finely tuned appreciation of where the debate is at, for now the matter of origins is a secondary issue. More than a quarter century after the hunger strikes it is inevitable that people will be more forthcoming and the presumption of an underhand agenda on their part may be misplaced. What is important is that the widest possible range of information be brought into the public sphere so that people can arrive at their own judgements. The Bobby Sands Trust is to be commended for placing this important transcript in the public domain.

According to the Trust:

What is important about the interview is that it represents an insight into the psyche of the British at crucial periods in the hunger strikes, particularly at the time of mediation attempts by others, including the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace [ICJP] … O’Malley twice interviewed Blelloch: in September 1986 and again on 23rd November 1988. Below is an unedited extract from the September 1986 interview dealing with the death of IRA Volunteer Joe McDonnell, and is followed by Blelloch’s analysis of the first hunger strike. It is illuminating in that the interview was conducted long before the publication of Ten Men Dead, which reveals the republican analysis, and it shows the intransigence of the British government throughout both hunger strikes.

Having finished reading the interview this morning, like the Trust I concluded that Blelloch – whom the Trust claims was a member of MI5, a view I have no reason to dissent from – sought to present a very unyielding position. What puzzled me is why he chose to conceal the initiative by his sister spook agency MI6 which seems to have been involved in a more conciliatory approach just prior to the death of IRA volunteer Joe McDonnell. Blelloch had to have known of that initiative but restricted his comments to the efforts by the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, an intervention already well documented. What was not in the pubic domain Blelloch was clearly not going to place there. O’Malley clearly did not know of the MI6 mission otherwise he would have tested the Blelloch perspective against it. Blelloch chose not to enlighten him.

It was not until the following year that David Beresford brought the MI6 role to the attention of the public with his fine book Ten Men Dead. He only discovered it because, according to Richard O’Rawe, a comm from the period referring to the MI6 operative Mountain Climber that was not supposed to make its way to Beresford evaded the Sinn Fein filter. Sinn Fein knew of MI6’s involvement but for its own reasons decided not to make the matter public. We can only speculate that this was because the party felt there was no point in allowing the British to don the mantle of compassion and flexibility when it seemed clear to everyone that they were unbending throughout the period. Indeed Sinn Fein’s most consistent theme has been that the British Prime Minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher, was totally hostile to any bridging of the gap between her government’s position and the demands of the dying prisoners. Sinn Fein, or people close to it, also relied heavily on this inflexible trait of Thatcher in their effort to refute the charge by Richard O’Rawe that the British through MI6 made a substantial offer to the prisoners which the prison leadership accepted but was overruled on by elements within the outside leadership responsible for day to day management of the hunger strike.

In 1986 both Sinn Fein and the British, then on opposite sides of a bitter armed conflict, had their own reasons for wanting to portray the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher as being resolute and determined not to bend in the face of pressure. The British for ideological and then current strategic reasons wanted to maintain an image of a prime minister not for turning as she and the Conservatives set about rolling back the social democratic state. Any suggestion that Thatcher might have wilted in the face of determined republican opposition at the centre of which was the IRA for whom she had a visceral hatred, would have undermined that position. Sinn Fein, for it part, always found it easier to get its message across if its opponent was effectively maligned. In Thatcher it found an easy albeit willing target.

Whether Thatcher was as unbending as has been suggested by Blelloch is called into question by his unwillingness to disclose information that would permit the development of an alternative narrative of the hunger strikes. That narrative has since been developed by Richard O’Rawe in his book Blanketmen and has maintained an elongated stage life despite attempts to force it into the wings. Blelloch’s account does nothing to reinforce O’Rawe’s perspective but at the same time fails to undermine him largely because it declined to trespass on an area then marked ‘prohibited’. By withholding vital information Blelloch has undermined his own ostensible commitment to be forthcoming. Why the Bobby Sands Trust failed to draw attention to this is something best explained by itself.

Blelloch’s account is so flat and delivered in typical British mandarin style, that if it were to be integrated into any assault aimed at exploding the O’Rawe thesis it will produce the blast of a damp squib. It will hardy even make the 7 day wonder category. 7 days is a long time in politics, long enough to see perspectives turned completely on their head.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Recent Items

Contents

Use this link to access all contents

New to Archive

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.