July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

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

Text of Padraic Wilson speech at Hunger Strike commemoration in West Belfast

Padraic Wilson speaks at Hunger Strike commemoration in West Belfast
Published: 18 August, 2009

‘This morning the 40th anniversary of the burning of Bombay Street was remembered with a march retracing some of the main sites of the August 1969 pogroms. Along with the Battle of the Bogside those events were the catalyst that radicalised a generation of men and women and brought them into armed conflict with the Orange state and the British Empire.

‘This afternoon in Tyrone we gathered to remember the deaths, on hunger strike, of 13 Irish Republicans spanning the period from the 1940’s to 1981 in prisons across Ireland and in England.

‘Last week I was in the audience at the premiere of a play, Young Guard of Erin, that focused on the lives of 10 young republicans, members of Na Fianna Eireann and Cumann na gCailiní, from Ballymurphy and Turf Lodge, who died in the period spanning the 1940’s to the 1980’s. The play was a brilliant piece of drama and a fine tribute to the memory of those young people.

‘Tonight we’ve come together to primarily celebrate the lives and honour the commitment of our comrades and friends who died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks in 1981. All of these events are of course linked and all of them have had an influence in one way or another upon each of us.

‘Over the years a lot has been written and said about the hunger strike of 1981. Some notable pieces of work stand out such as Nor Meekly Serve My Time, Ten Men Dead or the recent film, Hunger.

‘But not all of what has been written or said is deserving of praise, in particular stuff that originated from the political and media establishments.

‘They vilified and demonised our comrades, their families and each and every one of us.

‘They provided a rationale for the murderous attacks against the Relatives Action Committees and others.

‘In recent times there have been attempts, led by some of the same people, to rewrite the history of that period.

‘If we didn’t know better we could be forgiven for thinking that these people actually cared about our comrades or their families.

‘Whatever else we disagree about lets be clear about a number of things:

•The British Government, led by Thatcher, was not an honest broker trying desperately to find a solution to a situation for which they had no responsibility.

•Thatcher had shown quite clearly in December 1980, when the opportunity for a solution to the situation in the H-Blocks and Armagh arose, that she had one intention and one only; that was to demoralise us, crush us, and to deliver a death blow to republican resistance. According to her we had played our last card…the game was still going in Brighton in 1984, Maggie.

•She and her allies failed inside the prisons and they failed on the outside.

•They failed because we, and that means those of us who were in prison, those of you who fought and campaigned on the outside and those of you who provided the resources for that, all of us refused to be intimidated, refused to bow down and refused to be criminalised.

‘While we expect it from those quarters there are others, some of them former comrades, who have aligned themselves with this revisionism. The logic of their position is that our comrades were like sheep being led aimlessly along.

‘That is an insult and it needs challenged.

‘Bobby Sands was our O/C and he led us. Our comrades, Frank, Raymond, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Tom and Mickey, stepped forward to join him and they showed us leadership.

‘Their families said it best themselves after a recent meeting in Gulladuff in South Derry when they stated ‘Our loved ones made the supreme sacrifice on hunger strike for their comrades. They were not dupes. They were dedicated and committed republicans.’

‘Of those dedicated and committed republicans Kieran Doherty, Big Doc, was the person I knew both outside and inside of prison. I’ve said before that when you witnessed Doc in action you knew he didn’t need a title or rank to give leadership, it came naturally. He oozed confidence.

‘His stature and his determination made him stand out.

‘Doc was single minded in what he was about, there was no ambiguity. That same dedication and commitment was to be found in each and every one of the ten lads. No-one led them along. They all showed us leadership.

‘One of our lifelines in the Blocks was the ability to send out and receive communications. The visits were the means to do that. We only had one visit a month for half an hour. So a system was put in place to ensure that the visits were spread out in a way that resulted in a series of visits each day to each Block.

‘Somebody somewhere discovered that if a prisoner appealed their case then they were entitled to a 15 minute visit every day. So naturally men were encouraged to submit an appeal just to open up a potential line of communication. The system responded with a rule that stipulated that such visits were for legal purposes only. To make sure that this rule was enforced a screw would literally stand in the visiting box and if anything was said that was not strictly about the legal case then the visit was stopped and both the prisoner and the visitors were removed.

‘Visitors would come up every day and endure all of the aggression and hassle, going over the same standard conversation, waiting for the opportunity to pass a comm or a parcel of tobacco.

‘The prisoner had to endure two mirror searches and the accompanying physical ill-treatment, the severity of which depended on the particular screws on duty.

‘Big Doc was on appeal visits and he was one of the masters at being able to secure comms and tobacco.

‘Doc became a focus of attention for the screws, especially on the return journey to the Block. The search on arriving back on the wing was usually more aggressive and physical.

‘There was a particular SO who took a sadistic interest in Doc and he wasn’t happy that other screws were a bit hesitant about tackling Doc. He attempted to orchestrate a situation during a return search whereby a few screws tried to have a go at Doc. As soon as he went into the search cell, cell 26 as it was called, Doc knew what was up and he positioned himself in the corner inviting them to come at him face on. They declined the offer.

‘The next day after an appeal visit when Doc entered cell 26, there was a screw in each corner and three around the mirror that was on the ground. They forced him over the mirror and tried to make him squat over it. He resisted.

‘Remember this is a situation where there are up to 7 or 8 fully clothed and kitted out screws against one naked man.

‘Frustrated with the screws inability to bend Doc the SO stepped in and between them they rendered him semi-conscious until he went down. He then scurried out of the way before Doc could recover.

‘On the mural to Doc at Slemish Way there is a quote from one of his letters where he paraphrases Terence Mac Swineys’ quote “It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most who will conquer”. They inflicted brutal and degrading treatment like that on us on a daily basis. We endured it because we had a purpose, a unity of purpose. Any act of resistance has to have a purpose. Any struggle has to have a purpose, a clear objective.

‘The protests in the H-Blocks and Armagh were great levelers. They put all of the prisoners on protest on a level playing field. No-one had privilege or advantage over the other. We all endured the same deprivations. The only thing that tended to alter or change at times was the extent of the brutality that was visited upon you by the screws.

‘The decision to embark upon hunger strike was not one that was taken lightly. The human cost on each person and on their family was immeasurable. That alone was a big enough burden for anyone to carry.

‘But it also carried with it the justification of our struggle and the defence of the integrity of that struggle. The elections of Bobby Sands, Kieran Doherty, Paddy Agnew and Owen Carron sent shock waves through the political establishments in Ireland and in England. Internationally Britain’s role in Ireland began to be questioned as never before.

‘Recently I was in the Middle-East along with two former hunger strikers, Pat Sheehan and Raymond Mc Cartney. We were taken into South Lebanon and brought to the site of a former Israeli prison that was jointly run by them and Lebanese collaborators. It was infamous as a site of torture and brutality for the Palestinian and Lebanese men and women who were held there. Some of them died within its walls.

‘It is now a museum dedicated to the memory of those who were imprisoned in it. Our guide was a Palestinian fighter who had himself been imprisoned and tortured there.

‘When we were introduced to him and our backgrounds explained, he said two words “Bobby Sands”.

‘So the legacy of the hunger strike continues to inspire people and to instill in them ‘an meon saoirse’ – the spirit of freedom.

‘A lot has happened and changed since 1981. Each year we lose comrades from those days. People like Jimmy Duff, Cormac MacAirt, Christine Beattie and Sean McKenna.

‘The nature and expression of struggle and resistance have also changed. And, I believe, rightly so.

‘Our republican objectives still guide us.

‘Those objectives have not yet been achieved or realised.

‘The efforts of our opponents to defeat us will continue.

‘As we shape and redefine the nature of our strategies and tactics so will they.

‘Nothing has ever been given to us on a plate.

‘We’ve had to organise and struggle for every inch.

‘Irish unity won’t come about unless we make it happen.

‘That means working for it.

‘That work can accommodate us all. It’s true that there is no part too big or too small.

‘I’ve been asked at various times over the years if it was all worth it. I’ve always responded that everything that I’ve experienced and all that I’ve been a part of were necessary and worthy. Mindful that some people might think that’s an easy answer to give because I’m alive and well, I can only say that any other response would be a lie and a betrayal.

‘I committed myself to fulfilling the legacy of our comrades in whatever way that I could. Everyone has to find their way of fulfilling that legacy.

‘I mentioned the play ‘Young Guard of Erin’ earlier. While the play was on stage I looked around the hall and it was clear to see the emotional impact that the drama was having on the families present. By the end of the play the sense of pride that filled the hall was palpable.

‘We are rightly proud of our patriot dead. We should always be so. We are privileged to have had them in our lives or to have known them. At events like this tonight we remember them and celebrate their lives.

‘So tonight let’s celebrate their lives and enjoy the company and the craic.

‘Tomorrow let’s get on with fulfilling their legacy. That’s the best memorial we can create. Mar sin, bigí linn agus le chéile leanfaimid ar aghaidh agus beidh an bua againn, go raibh maith agaibh, sin é.’

Sourced from West Belfast Sinn Fein

Derry Journal: Seeking the ‘facts’ on the hunger strike

Seeking the ‘facts’ on the hunger strike

Derry Journal
Published Date: 10 July 2009

A chara,

In his most recent letter (Tuesday Journal, 7/7) Donncha McNiallais dismissed my questions as being opinions, rumours and speculation while pushing what he claimed to have occurred as facts.

He tried to push the line that the Brits reneged on an offer made during the first Hunger Strike, going as far as to state; “Secondly, when the first hunger strike was nearing its climax with Sean McKenna close to death, the British made an ‘offer’ through the Mountain Climber. Apparently, this offer amounted to three-and-a-half of the five demands, which sounds familiar.”

How could the Brits renege on an offer never completed? The hunger strike was called off before the offer could be made into a deal.

What actually happened was, at the same time as Brendan Hughes was calling off the hunger strike in order to save Sean McKenna, Father Meagher was delivering a document to Gerry Adams and others at Clonard Monastery from the British government. Adams and the others weren’t happy with what the document contained but they were arranging to have it sent into the prison when they got word that the hunger strike had ended.

When Bobby and the Dark (Hughes] eventually got to see the document after they received it from Father Meagher, it didn’t contain what Donncha stated was ‘apparently three-and-a-half of the five demands’, but stated “The prisoners would have to wear ‘prison-issue clothing’ during week-days, when they were engaged in prison work.” This didn’t even meet the bottom line as far as the five demands went and would have never been enough to end the hunger strike had Brendan Hughes chose to let Sean McKenna die and continue. In fact, Bobby said to Father Meagher, “It wasn’t what we wanted.”

Not only that, but republicans in Clonard with Adams said of the document, “It’s as full of holes as a sieve.” Even Adams said “it wasn’t a document I would have negotiated for.”

Donncha quoted from Denis O’Hearn’s book, yet all of this is in pages 295 to 302 of that book and it can also be found in page 44 of Ten Men Dead; anyone can check this for themselves. I’m surprised Donncha seemingly failed to read the above-mentioned pages as he would’ve seen that all of this meant that the so-called offer from the Brits wasn’t worth the document it was printed on as it contained nothing. How could the Brits renege on nothing, with the hunger strike ended?

There was a major difference between the first hunger strike and the second one at the time of the July 5th offer. Firstly, four men had died and others were following them on hunger strike. Secondly, Bobby had been elected as a MP, while Kieran Doherty and Paddy Agnew had been elected as TDs, thus effectively smashing Thatcher’s criminalisation policy. Then there was the July 4th conciliatory statement from Richard O’Rawe on behalf of the prisoners which pulled back from Political Status and stated that all prisoners could avail of the five demands. It was following this statement that the British government made an offer on July 5th via the Mountain Climber to the IRA.

Since Richard O’Rawe first made his claims, complete denials of any offers changed to ‘no concrete offers'; now with this too totally refuted, especially by Brendan Duddy’s admission that he took a offer to the IRA which they rejected, the guff has all changed to not trusting the Brits! Which of course is true, you can’t trust the Brits; however men were dying and Joe was at death’s door. So why not hold them to their word while making it clear that as soon as the hunger strike ended, if the promised immediate statement from the British was not forthcoming, then those men waiting in line would resume the Hunger Strike within 24 hours?

Of course, there would have been no need for this, as according to Bik in a comm to Adams dated 6.7.81, the ICJP the previous day had told the hunger strikers that they were willing to act as guarantors over any settlement. That was July 5th, the same day the Brits made their offer via the Mountain Climber. The ICJP were unaware of this offer; the following day July 6th Gerry Adams called the ICJP to a safe house in Belfast and told Father Crilly and Hugh Logue about the contact with the British government and that they had been offering them more than had been offered to the ICJP. This was an attempt to encourage the Commission to withdraw.

Surely Adams should have been encouraging them to ensure that the Brits kept their word over any agreed settlement instead of trying to remove them? Why remove those willing to act as guarantors?

Mise le meas,
Thomas Dixie Elliott

Sourced from the Derry Journal

Derry Journal: You won’t bury the truth

You won’t bury the truth

Derry Journal
Published Date: 07 July 2009

A chara,

Martina Anderson used the recent Volunteers’ commemoration to make an attack on those of us who are seeking to find the truth about what actually happened on and after July 5th 1981 during the H-Block Hunger Strikes.

She accused us of exploiting the grief of the families to attack her party.

We have never used the families to attack anyone. As former Blanket men, we were only asking for answers, so how is this exploiting the families?

However, Martina seemingly oblivious to the families request to call a halt to the controversy, has no problem in continuing to go ahead and throw mud.

Therefore I feel I am fully entitled to reply to Martina’s only attempt to answer any of the questions I posed in my recent letter to this paper.

Of course she, like Donncha before her, can only throw up the old anti-Republican journalists, those right wing press bogeymen, in reply to the questions posed.

I for one would like to know what lies between the right-wing press and what Martin calls ‘dissident journalists’ so that we are on ‘safe’ ground in regards the members of the press?

Exploitation

Martina talks about exploitation yet she and other members of her party have no problem claiming that IRA Volunteers who died for a 32 County Socialist Republic did so for what is basically a photocopy of the Sunningdale Agreement.

It might have a new name but it is no different.

That is the reason I today am totally against the use of armed struggle.

Attempts to smear those of us who resisted the beatings and everything the prison system threw at us and who watched as our ten comrades walked from the wings for the last time will no longer wash.

No amount of mud-slinging can bury the truth.

Is mise le meas,
Thomas Dixie Elliott

Sourced from the Derry Journal

Derry Journal: Hunger-strike – look at the facts

Hunger-strike – look at the facts

Derry Journal
Published Date: 07 July 2009

A chara,

Please allow me to respond to the letters from Willie Gallagher and Dixie Elliott.

Let me start with a few facts rather the opinions, rumours and speculation that have charactarised correspondence to date.

Both Willie and Dixie will be aware that Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiach and Bishop Edward Daly were involved in protracted discussions with the British Government during 1980. When these talks ended in failure in September, Brendan Hughes announced that seven men would commence a hunger strike on 27th October 1980.

On 24th October Ó Fiach and Daly announced that they had won a major concession from the British Government: from now on all prisoners would be able to wear their own clothes. However, when the British released a press statement on the issue, they stated this would be ‘civilian-type uniform’. Either the two clergymen had misinterpreted what was on offer or the British had deliberately misled them. Most republicans and nationalists believed the latter.

The key point is that you could not trust the British.

Secondly, when the first hunger strike was nearing its climax with Sean McKenna close to death, the British made an ‘offer’ through the Mountain Climber. Apparently, this offer amounted to three-and-a-half of the five demands, which sounds familiar. While Brendan Hughes and the other hunger strikers waited on written confirmation of exactly what was on offer, Brendan decided to end the hunger strike. Bobby Sands was cut out of the negotiations.

The proposals finally produced by the British were a rehash of the 1st December document, open to all sorts of interpretation. As we know, the British interpreted them rigidly and reportedly told Bobby Sands that they would give us a number of weeks to build up our muscles before sending us to work. Indeed, it is stated in Denis Ahearn’s book that Bobby Sands wanted to immediately re-commence the Hunger Strike. It is reported that the republican leadership persuaded Bobby to ‘test’ the Brits’ willingness to be flexible.

At Mass that Sunday I witnessed heated exchanges in the canteen between Bobby and other prisoners, notably Pat Mullan from Tyrone, who apparently wanted to start a hunger strike there and then. Brendan McFarland would have been acutely aware of the danger of a split among prisoners if a satisfactory settlement was not achieved. Again, this emphasised the danger of taking the Brits’ word rather than arriving at a clear, unambiguous and negotiated settlement.

Thirdly, when the second hunger strike commenced in March 1981, it was decided that each hunger striker would be their own OC and would make their own decisions on whether to proceed to the death in the absence of a settlement. The Camp OC, Brendan McFarland, would decide whether or not we had a settlement.

These are all facts which I am sure neither Willie nor Dixie will dispute. I mention them to set the context in which any contact with, or ‘offer’ from, the British Government would be viewed – with caution and suspicion.

I am also aware of a ‘rumour’ that went around the blocks after the first four hunger strikers had died that the leadership on the outside felt that if the British withstood the pressure up to then, they would withstand further pressure and that the hunger strike should end. The prison leadership rejected this saying that to end the hunger strike at that stage would be a betrayal of our dead comrades. I don’t know if this is true but I do know that there was a mood among the prisoners that we could not end the hunger strike unilaterally. It is my opinion that at that time, the end of May 1981, nothing less than the five demands would have been acceptable and anything less might have resulted in a third hunger strike.

I stated in my previous correspondence on this issue that I would have accepted concessions the ICJP claimed to have wrested from the British. Fortunately, I had the luxury of not having to make the hard decisions that people like Brendan McFarland had to take.

Finally, in relation to Bloody Sunday, the organisers of the meeting in the Gasyard Centre invited a journalist, Liam Clarke, to be part of the panel. This is the same journalist who promoted Paddy Ward, who gave evidence to the Enquiry about his one-man fight with the entire British Army on Bloody Sunday and who together with Liam Clarke tried to place the blame or part of the blame for what happened at the door of the republican leadership. In that context, I think it is relevant to what he, Liam Clarke, along with others, is trying to do now – place the blame or part of the blame for the deaths of hunger strikers at the door of the republican leadership instead of where it really lies: with the British Government.

Is mise, le meas
Donncha Mac Niallais

Sourced from Derry Journal

Irish News: Former Blanketman Joe McNulty

blanketmanSinn Fein talked tactics while hunger strikers died

Joe McNulty, Dungannon
18/06/09

The revelation that Brendan Duddy confirmed a document from the British conceding demands on clothes, remission, work and other areas in early July 1981 (before Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson died) came as a total shock to me as a blanket man (The Irish News article May 25).

As a prisoner in H-block 3 I was never asked what my opinion was on these concessions and, in fact, I never knew that the document ever existed.

Why were the blanket men not consulted as a complete group about this critical development?

The contents and concessions in this paper would have been sufficient to have ended the hunger strike successfully and, in my estimation, 90 per cent of blanket men I was in contact with would have accepted this.

The accusation that the leadership let the hunger strike continue for political gain, is a huge charge without producing firm evidence.

So I reread a lot of books on the hunger strike.

On page 334 of David Beresford’s book Ten Men Dead, I came across the following communication from BIK (Brendan McFarlane) to Brownie (Gerry Adams).

‘‘The climate now is ripe to make significant progress and establish a firm base down there (free state) which is a necessity for future development and success in the final analysis. To allow opportunities to slip by (opportunities which may not present themselves again) would be a grave mistake’’.

This comm was dated July 26 1981 and at this date six hunger strikers were already dead.

These two leaders were discussing a new electoral strategy and plan, in the middle of the hunger strike (six had already died).

Tragically Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom Mc Elwee, and Micky Devine were to die in the coming weeks.

So the hunger strike was seen as an ‘opportunity’ which it would be a ‘grave mistake’ not to take advantage of.

To be discussing electoral tactics while hunger strikers were dead – and dying – was callous in the extreme.

I rest my case with anger and a sad and heavy heart.

Joe McNulty, Dungannon

“Rusty Nail”: Gerry Adams to meet Hunger Strikers Families; Inquiry Sought

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gerry Adams to meet Hunger Strikers Families; Inquiry Sought
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

This week in South Derry, bowing to pressure from recent revelations that have reduced aspects of the standard Provisional narrative of the 1981 hunger strike to self-serving propaganda, Gerry Adams and members of the 1981 PIRA sub-committee for the Hunger Strike will meet privately with members of hunger strikers’ families. This comes as a former hunger striker and other Blanketmen, and the families of hunger strikers Patsy O’Hara and Mickey Devine, have made public calls for a full inquiry into the events of July, 1981.  It has been established an offer, approved by Thatcher, which met 4 of the 5 demands, was conveyed through the Mountain Climber link via Brendan Duddy, to Martin McGuinness in Derry, who in turn brought it to Gerry Adams, Jim Gibney, Tom Hartley and Danny Morrison in Belfast. Danny Morrison gave details of the offer to prison OC Bik McFarlane, who then discussed it with PRO for the Hunger Strikers, Richard O’Rawe. They both agreed there was enough there in the offer to end the hunger strike; Bik McFarlane said he would send word out of the acceptance. This conversation was overhead by a number of nearby prisoners who have come forward corroborating it. Brendan Duddy has confirmed that the response he got from the Adams committee was rejection: “More was needed.” Six hunger strikers subsequently died. The British had the prison authorities implement the substance of the July offer three days after the hunger strike finally ended in October, 1981.
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Statement: Former Blanketman Thomas ‘Dixie’ Elliott

Statement by former Blanketman Thomas ‘Dixie’ Elliott

I feel I must respond to Donncha Mac Niallais who in his recent letter to the Derry Journal ‘defied’ any prisoner who was in the blocks at the time to deny that if a shouted conversation between Bik McFarlane and Richard O’Rawe happened it wouldn’t have been repeated at mass and on visits. Well I in turn wish to put my recollection on record just as I already did in the Gasyard debate.

blanketmanI was in that wing with Bik and Richard at the time and I had previously shared a cell with Bobby Sands in the wing. As anyone who was on the protest would know I also shared a cell in H4 with Tom McElwee and we remained close friends. Tom gave me his rosary beads before he went on Hunger Strike and I still have them today. As I said at the Gasyard debate I did not hear the acceptance conversation between Bik and Richard as I was at the other end of the wing and I wasn’t going to lie about it. What I do remember is that there was a rumour at the time that the Brits had made an offer and Joe McDonnell wouldn’t have to die. I spoke to at least two other former blanket men from Derry recently and they too remembered the rumours. However rumours don’t prove anything neither does Donncha’s claims that he spoke to someone from Bik’s wing and he said that person didn’t mention an alternative offer direct from the British. How could that person know that the IRA were negotiating with the British Government if the ICJP didn’t know until told by Gerry Adams on the 6th July?

But lets get to the facts……When Richard O’Rawe first made these claims he stood alone against everything that Sinn Fein threw at him. At the Gasyard debate people were pushing to get in the doors. On the panel besides Liam Clarke and Brendan Duddy there were Willie Gallagher, Tommy Gorman, and Richard O’Rawe himself, all former Blanket Men; and someone who was actually on that Hunger Strike, Gerard Hodgins. A document was produced that was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act which outlined what the British were offering: four of the five demands. Brendan Duddy the Mountain Climber confirmed that this was indeed the offer he passed to the IRA and which they rejected. Gerard ‘Cleeky’ Clarke then came forward and admitted that he was in a cell beside Bik and Richard and that he had heard the acceptance conversation between the two, which was always denied by Bik. The whole Gasyard debate was filmed and is online if anyone wants to view it for themselves.

From the outset Bik said there never was an offer what-so-ever, then no concrete offers and he also said that the conversation between himself and Richard never took place. He actually said, “Not only did I not tell him. That conversation didn’t take place.” However Cleeky Clarke stood up and stated that it did indeed take place and Brendan Duddy confirmed that he took an offer containing four of the five demands to the IRA. Therefore this left a question mark over the claims of no concrete offers etc. Now after all this we now have Bik coming out and admitting that a conversation did take place and his comment was, “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.”

This leaves us with the question, why weren’t the Hunger Strikers themselves fully informed of these developments? In a comm to Gerry Adams [which is reproduced in the book Ten Men Dead] dated 7.7.81, Bik said that he told the Hunger Strikers that parts of their offer was vague and the only concrete aspect seemed to be clothes and in no way was this good enough to satisfy us. Surely four of the fives demands amounted to a lot more than a vague offer and contained a lot more than just clothes? Not only that, the INLA members who were on Hunger Strike and their representatives stated they were never made aware of any offers from the British that contained what amounted to four demands. Gerard Hodgins, who was also on Hunger Strike and a member of the IRA, also publicly stated this. As well as all this, Bik told the Hunger Strikers on Tuesday 28.7.81 that “I could have accepted half measures before Joe died, but I didn’t then and wouldn’t now.” What he failed to say was that these half measures contained four of the five demands, as I’ve already pointed out.

The Hunger Strike eventually fell apart after the families started taking the men off the Hunger Strikes when they lapsed into unconsciousness, yet three days after it ended James Prior implemented four of the five demands.

During an RTE Hunger Strike documentary which was aired in 2006, Gerry Adams stated that he was unaware of the Mountain Climber initiative until after the Hunger Strikes had ended; surely as everyone who was part of the Prison protest or who even read the comms from Ten Men Dead would know this is untrue?

The whole argument has now gone from the Prison Leadership accepting what was on offer on July 5th to its rejection from outside and just why was it rejected. The families are entitled to these answers as are the friends and comrades of the men who died. What we don’t need is the usual attempt to smear those who ask these questions as ‘cheerleaders of an anti-republican journalist’, nor do we need Bloody Sunday brought into the debate. Those asking these questions are former Blanket Men with no agenda only the truth. I myself am not a member of any group nor party and I am now firmly opposed to the use of Armed Struggle as I saw too many give their lives for what was effectively on the table in 1973. We need closure in this and I feel that both sides need to come together in a debate open to all so that answers can be obtained.

Derry Journal: Former Blanketman Donncha Mac Niallais

Statement: Former Hunger Striker Gerard Hodgins

Time For An Inquiry says former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins

In 1976 the British introduced the criminalisation policy which decreed that captured Republican volunteer soldiers would henceforth be treated as criminals, being forced to wear a criminal uniform and having no recognition whatsoever as political prisoners. This led to the Blanket Protest and subsequent hunger strikes which convulsed our society, but which did open a window of opportunity to develop a political alternative to armed struggle.

Those of us who were intimately involved in those dark days still carry with us each and every day a reminder of what that all entailed. The horrors of the H-Blocks leap into our consciousness at some point of each and every day; memories of Bobby, Francie, Raymey, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Tom and Red Mick and their horrific deaths through starvation are a constant. It is an indelible mark upon our lives and one we endured through a comforting prism that our ten friends and comrades were part of a greater struggle to achieve independence and freedom against an intransigent enemy who would not buckle and instead seemed to gloat in the deaths of Irishmen in British prisons on Irish soil.

The comforting narrative ran that the combined intelligence and commitment of the Republican Movement could not bend the Iron Lady, but won honour and political legitimacy through our combined efforts at resisting and exposing criminalisation as the fallacy that it was. The cost was high: five years held naked in extreme conditions of brutality and sensory deprivation culminating in two hunger strikes which claimed ten of our friends, fellow Blanket Men.

That narrative has been seriously challenged in recent years with stories of deals being offered by the British and accepted by the prison O/C, only to be overturned by the Leadership on the outside, thus prolonging the hunger strike and creating a question mark over the deaths of the last six hunger strikers to die.

Events surrounding those dark days were examined at a meeting in Derry recently, organised under the auspices of The Republican Network for Unity. Unfortunately Gerry Adams and the Provisional leadership of the day refused to attend or send a representative to contribute to the proceedings. I find it ironic Gerry can run to meetings in New York and San Francisco to discuss Irish unity with the diaspora yet cannot find the time or courtesy to attend a meeting in his own back yard with ex-Blanket Men and other interested parties of the day, about an issue so crucial to those of us who endured the Blanket protests and hunger strikes.

Recent revelations have pointed to the need for clarity, full disclosure and honesty on the part of all who were involved in those secret negotiations/discussions. I would appeal for all these people, for the sake of our memories and in the service of truth, to agree to co-operate with an inquiry into all aspects associated with this traumatic time in our history which has been thrown into such question with the reports and evidence that a deal could have been secured before Joe McDonnell died.

A genie has been let out of the bottle and thrown the perceived narrative of the horrors of 1981 into question. One thing is certain of those days and which no question mark hangs over: the Blanket Men fought courageously and the hunger strikers died martyrs and their commitment and sacrifice can never be sullied, questioned or diminished in any way.

The final piece of the jigsaw which has remained hidden from view to this day is the actions and reasons for those actions on behalf of the leadership who guided us. It is time for answers and explanations to be offered.

I am not a member or supporter of any political party, grouping or organisation. I am a supporter of peace and politics and don’t advocate any sort of return to the days of war: I am not on a Sinn Fein bashing exercise and have tried to be measured with my words. I am an ex-Blanket Man who was there and would welcome some insight into the secrets of 28 years ago.

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


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