July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Underlying Slur in Morrison’s Hunger Strike Comments

Underlying Slur in Morrison’s Hunger Strike Comments
Irish News letters page
Terry Hughes

I read with interest Danny Morrison’s recent article in the Andersonstown News about the 1980 hunger strike, which was led by my brother, the late Brendan Hughes.

“Whether the republican leadership’s analysis and depiction of what was happening, was correct”, I do agree that the leadership was bereft of ideas on how to resolve the prison crisis.

Not only was there a dearth of ideas on how to bring the prison protest to a successful conclusion, but there was abject failure at leadership level to highlight to the outside world the conditions that the prisoners were enduring, and it was only when the first hunger strike was called that the world would see what was happening to the Blanketmen in the H Blocks.

During this time there were many rallies and meetings to highlight the demands of the prisoners.  On December 8th, 1980 — the eve of Charles Haughey’s summit meeting with Margaret Thatcher — I met with the then Taoiseach in a hotel in Kilkenny to impress upon him the urgency of trying to resolve the hunger strike.  While Mr Haughey told me that he was not pessimistic of the outcome, he certainly did not leave me with the feeling that he would stick his neck out to resolve it.

The hunger strike ended on December 18th, and, as Danny Morrison now admits, there was nothing on the table when Brendan called off the hunger strike after 52 days. 

Danny used the word ‘unilaterally’ to describe Brendan’s decision to end the hunger strike, saying that he did not consult his OC, Bobby Sands. 

There is an underlying slur there, whether or not Danny Morrison wishes to admit it. 

What Mr Morrison did not say – and should have said — was that Brendan had little choice other than to intervene to save Sean McKenna’s life.

I say this because Sean had indicated to Brendan early on in the hunger strike that he was not prepared to die, and had secured Brendan’s word of honour that he would not let him die.

As well as that, several other hunger strikers had informed my brother that they were not prepared to die either. 

So what was Brendan to do in those circumstances? Let Sean die? Brendan believed that that would be tantamount to him committing murder. 

Perhaps Danny Morrison thinks Brendan should not have kept his word to Sean and let him die. If he does think this, he should say so.

Brendan lived to see ten of his best friends and comrades die on the second hunger strike.

It affected him deeply and, I believe, was the primary contributing factor to his own early death.

Abandoned and demonised by his erstwhile comrades in the leadership, Brendan Hughes he died as he lived, a republican, and a man of honour.

First published in the Irish News

Tony O’Hara: The truth about the Hunger Strike

The truth about the Hunger Strike
Tony O’Hara, Derry
Irish News Letters
22/10/09

I read with amazement the attempt by Gerry Adams (October 12) to win back some ground in the controversy over the Hunger Strike offers.

Most of his piece was spent demonising everyone who dared offer an opinion against the Sinn Fein line.

But Mr Adams’s opinion of any of these people doesn’t mean that what they have said is wrong.

The evidence has been growing and – as other avenues are explored – more evidence will come to light.

Let’s deal with some of the facts of the controversy.

Richard O’Rawe claims that he and Bik McFarlane had a conversation about ‘the Mountain Climber’ offer received in a communication in which O’Rawe said in Gaelic, ‘‘There is enough there’’ (to end the Hunger Strike). Bik agreed. This has been verified by two other prisoners who heard the conversation.

Bik claims this never happened. As well as his other contradictory statements, Bik on UTV live on March 1 2005 denied that any offer of any sort was ever made by the British at any point.

In March 2005, in an interview with The Irish News, Bik stated: “There was no concrete proposals whatsoever in relation to a deal.”

At Gulladuff he said he took the offer to the prisoners – they turned it down.

Kevin Lynch and Mickey Devine never heard this offer.

We know the offer came via Brendan Duddy – ‘the Mountain Climber’.

Yet Gerry Adams has stated that he never heard of ‘the Mountain Climber’.

Who overruled the POW leadership to reject the British offer that contained almost four of the five demands?

Did Gerry or any other members of the republican leadership get any other offers from the British?

On the issue of Garret Fitzgerald and censorship – Gerry’s own members have been trying to silence people talking about this – with threats, demonising etc.

Gerry should put some manners on them.

It should also be clarified that there was no family statement at Gulladuff.

The following day Sinn Fein members took a SF-composed statement around to some family members for them to sign.

My mother and I never signed it. Neither did Michael Devine (who was also at Gulladuff) or Louise Devine.

The British government were ultimately responsible for the deaths of our relatives.

We all agree on that.

But could some of the lives have been saved?

My family and Mickey Devine’s family are receiving tremendous support from hundreds of ex-POWs, republicans and nationalists in our quest to uncover the truth.

We are not selective about where evidence comes from. Facts are facts – it is the truth we are after.

At Gulladuff, I suggested that we invite all concerned into a room together to thrash things out. Gerry didn’t reply.

That suggestion is still there, only now I ask for it in public with an agreed international humanitarian as chairperson. Only that will end it.

Richard O’Rawe has agreed to attend, former taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald has also said he would cooperate with an inquiry.

Will Gerry?

I invite the readers of The Irish News to make up their own minds by visiting http://www.longkesh.info

Sourced from the Irish News

Devine Children Have Questions for McKeown

A Chara,

Our father was the last of the Hunger Strikers to die and all we ask from republicans is the truth. Due to all the contradictions, new evidence and the ever-changing shifting Sinn Fein narrative we feel that only an independent republican Inquiry can heal this festering sore that has erupted over what occurred during the Hunger Strike.

We would therefore like to seek clarification from one of the contributors to the Hunger Strike feature in the Irish News last week.

Laurence McKeown in an interview on 10-03-2005, stated:

”Strangely, there was nothing new to me regarding what was on offer from the Brits back in 1981. Whether it was the ‘Mountain Climber’ or the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, we wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of ‘regime change’.”

Since then Danny Morrison and Bik McFarlane stated that all the hunger strikers, including my father, were given the full details of
the Mountain Climber offer and it was they who rejected it.

Both Louise and I attended the Gasyard debate and listened to Brendan Duddy, the Mountain Climber, claim that the offer he wrote down and communicated to Martin McGuinness on the 5th July of 81 contained four of the demands. He also stated that he believed this was a genuine offer from the British.

We would like to ask Laurence how can he reconcile his public position of “vague promises of regime change” regarding that offer with that of Duddy’s claim of four of the demands being met in the offer he communicated to McGuinness. If both Laurence and Brendan are being truthful then it is only logical that Danny and Bik did not give the full details of the offer at all to my father therefore he couldn’t have rejected the offer.

Another contradictory claim, according to Jake Jackson,(Bik McFarlane’s confidant during that period), in an interview for “Biting at the Grave” (page 96), stated that gthe only people he could say knew for sure about the Mountain Climber initiative at that point were himself, McFarlane, Block OCs Pat McGeown, and Sid Walsh and the PRO Richard O’Rawe, and the hunger striker Joe McDonnell. As for the rest, he says, it would have been on “a need-to-know basis: the closer a hunger striker was to dying the more likely he was to know. Micky Devine and Kevin Lynch, the INLA members, wouldn’t have been informed, one way or the other, nor would the hunger strikers who were still on the blocks.”

We were hoping that Laurence would have shed more light on this important crucial aspect of the controversy in his Irish News contribution as the 1981 IRSP leadership are very clear that they were not aware of either the offer or its contents. Therefore we would make this appeal to Laurence to tell us publicly exactly what did happen in the prison hospital and what exactly was my Father told, if anything, that he felt he couldn’t share with his family or his movement.

We would also like to ask Laurence did he see a copy of the offer which Duddy gave to McGuinness who in turn gave it to Gerry Adams.

Micky & Louise Devine

Hunger striker’s children renew inquiry call

Hunger striker’s children renew inquiry call
Published Date: 06 October 2009
By Staff reporter, Derry Journal

The children of Derry hunger striker Micky Devine have renewed their call to find out the truth about the circumstances that led to their father’s death in Long Kesh in 1981.

Michael Og and Lousie Devine have called on leading Belfast republican, Laurence McKeown, to explain comments he made in a recent interview when he said there was “nothing new” on offer from the British during the negotiation surrounding the hunger strike in 1981.

The Devines are calling for an independent inquiry to be held into claims that a deal which could potentially have saved the lives of six of the hunger strikers was rejected by the IRA leadership, despite having been accepted by republican leaders within jail. The claim, which was made by a former blanketman, has been rejected by Sinn Féin and many leading republicans.

Michael Og Devine said: “Our father was the last of the Hunger Strikers to die and all we ask from republicans is the truth. Due to all the contradictions, new evidence and the ever-changing shifting Sinn Fein narrative we feel that only an independent republican Inquiry can heal this festering sore that has erupted over what occurred during the Hunger Strike,” he said.

Mr Devine also said he is confident his father was not aware of any deal coming into the prison through a secret contact known as the ‘Mountain Climer.’

“Both Louise and I attended the Gasyard debate and listened to Brendan Duddy claim that the offer he wrote down and communicated to Martin McGuinness on the 5th July ’81 contained four of the demands. He also stated that he believed this was a genuine offer from the British.

“We would make this appeal to Laurence to tell us publicly exactly what did happen in the prison hospital and what exactly was my father told, if anything, that he felt he couldn’t share with his family or his movement. We would also like to ask Laurence did he see a copy of the offer which Duddy gave to McGuinness who in turn gave it to Gerry Adams,” he said.

Sourced from the Derry Journal

Irish News: Eight families meet but not all back statement

Eight families meet but not all back statement
Families of the strikers are divided over O’Rawe claim
Seamus McKinney
28/09/09

The families of eight of the hunger strikers failed to reach agreement on the new claims when they met in June this year.

A meeting to discuss the Richard O’Rawe claims and the recent controversy was addressed by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, the party’s former publicity officer Danny Morrison and Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, OC of the IRA prisoners in 1981.

The Sands and Lynch families did not attend the meeting.

Michael Devine jnr – the son of INLA man Michael Devine, the last hunger striker to die – said he had walked out of the discussion.

Mr Devine told The Irish News following the meeting that he had walked out although he had made no protest at the meeting. He said he had left the discussion because he had been unable to put his point of view.

The organisers of the meeting – held at Gulladuff in Co Derry – refused to allow IRSP spokesman William Gallagher to attend.

People who attended the meeting said it had been “highly emotional”. Insiders said the discussion had brought back many painful memories for the families present.

At the close of the discussion an effort was made to have the families issue a joint statement demanding an end to the controversy but this failed.

A counter-call for an independent inquiry into the controversy also failed to get full support.

Days after the meeting, some of the families issued a statement calling on those making claims of a deal to stop.

“All of the family members who spoke with the exception of Tony O’Hara (brother of Patsy) expressed deep anger and frustration at the ongoing allegations created by O’Rawe,” the statement said.

It was claimed the statement was supported by all of the hunger strikers’ families present with the exception of the O’Hara family.

This was later disputed when Michael Devine’s son Michael jnr told The Irish News he had neither seen nor given his support to the statement.

 

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: INLA man’s son calls for inquiry

INLA man’s son calls for inquiry
Families of the strikers are divided over O’Rawe claim
By Seamus McKinney
28/09/09

MICHAEL Og Devine was just eight years old when his father, also Michael, became the final hunger striker to die on August 20 1981 after 60 days without food.

The INLA prisoner told Tommy McCourt, a friend who visited him just days before his death, that he could not come off the Hunger Strike.

Mr McCourt has recalled how the two men discussed Devine’s funeral arrangements.

His dying friend told him if he came off the Hunger Strike and thereby ended the protest his life would not be worth living in the H-blocks.

His son, Michael Og, recalls that although very young he was fully aware he was seeing his father for the final time during their last visit days before his death.

Had the British government’s offer to make a statement conceding some of the hunger strikers’ five demands been accepted by the Provisional IRA leadership and had the protest ended, Devine (26) would not even have gone on hunger strike.

He commenced the protest on June 22. But like his fellow INLA prisoner Kevin Lynch and the INLA leadership, he was never made aware of the negotiations prior to the death of Joe McDonnell on July 8.

Michael Og believes the version of the deal and events put forward by Willie Gallagher of the IRSP.

“I believe Willie would not tell me lies. He has been working on this for three years,” Mr Devine said.

As to whether his father would have declined to go on hunger strike if he had known a deal was offered and rejected, the Derry man says that is too difficult a question to answer.

“If there was a deal there, I don’t know how he would have reacted,” he said.

Following a private meeting between Hunger Strike families and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in Gulladuff a statement was issued saying most of the families, including the Devines, accepted the Sinn Fein version of events.

But the statement was signed on behalf of the Devine family by members of the hunger striker’s extended family.

However, Michael Og is adamant that he did not and does not support the statement.

He said he is not angry at present about the controversy but he believes all the facts should be revealed and that this can be done only through an independent inquiry.

 

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Provos ‘kept rivals in dark’

Provos ‘kept rivals in dark’
Families of the strikers are divided over O’Rawe claim
By Seamus McKinney
28/09/09

Top from left, Michael Devine’s children Michael Og and Louise, former blanketman Dixie Elliott, Patsy O’Hara’s mother Peggy O’Hara and the hunger striker’s brother Tony O’Hara, Willie Gallagher of the IRSP, Richard O’Rawe and former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins.

Top from left, Michael Devine’s children Michael Og and Louise, former blanketman Dixie Elliott, Patsy O’Hara’s mother Peggy O’Hara and the hunger striker’s brother Tony O’Hara, Willie Gallagher of the IRSP, Richard O’Rawe and former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins.

TONY O’Hara last saw his brother Patsy alive two days before the Derry man died on the 61st day of his hunger strike on May 21 1981.

At the time O’Hara was an INLA prisoner at the Maze serving a sentence for possession of arms.

He died on the same day as IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh from Camlough, Co Armagh.

“For the entire duration of the 61 days I got to spend two hours and 15 minutes with Patsy. Even though I was in jail I was brought in handcuffs from H5 to the prison hospital – a short trip,” Mr O’Hara said.

Two days after seeing his brother Mr O’Hara, whose first cell mate was Bobby Sands, heard of his younger brother’s death on a crystal radio set smuggled into the jail.

“Another prisoner came to his window and shouted but I sort of knew. I was waiting for it when news came,” he said.

Mr O’Hara was given 12 hours compassionate parole to attend his brother’s funeral and just two months later he was released.

“When Patsy died I just felt numb. I remembered what it was like when Bobby Sands died,” he said.

“On the night he was elected there was elation. We just, everyone just, celebrated and cheered.

“But on the night he died there was just silence. The whole of Long Kesh went silent.”

Although any deal, real or not, would not have saved O’Hara’s life, the INLA man’s family is one of those demanding an inquiry into the Provisionals’ management of the Hunger Strike.

Mr O’Hara’s concern is that the Sinn Fein version of events has changed too often since Richard O’Rawe published his account of a possible deal in 2005.

He is also concerned that the INLA leadership was never told of the possible deal despite the fact that two of its members  – Kevin Lynch and Michael Devine – died after it was alleged to have been made.

“It could have been a propaganda coup for the blanketmen and we could have said the Brits reneged on a deal,” Mr O’Hara said.

He believes the Provos tried to manipulate the Hunger Strike to exclude the INLA as much as possible.

“Patsy was to be the second to go on strike after Bobby Sands but Francie Hughes created such a rumpus that he went second,” Mr O’Hara said.

He accepts there could be a number of reasons for the Sinn Fein leadership deciding not to accept the deal.

“There is a lot of speculation and I don’t know the reason but that is one of the big questions that must be asked,” Mr O’Hara said.

He disputes the various statements put forward by the Sinn Fein leadership in recent months, not least a claim that all prisoners were told of the deal in 1981.

Mr O’Hara is adamant that only a full inquiry, chaired by an international human rights figure, will get to the truth.

 

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Deal allegations hurtful to family

Deal allegations hurtful to family
Families of the strikers are divided over O’Rawe claim
By Allison Morris
28/09/09

Kieran Doherty’s parents Alfie and Margaret with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Kieran Doherty’s parents Alfie and Margaret with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Kieran Doherty, known as ‘Big Doc’, was on hunger strike for 73 days before his death on August 2 1981, the longest of any of the 10 men who died.

He was 25 years old.

Elected as a TD to Cavan Monaghan in June 1981, for the last 16 days of his life members of the Doherty family kept a round-the-clock vigil by his bedside in the hospital wing of the Maze prison.

His mother Margaret, now 82, said until the very end he remained adamant that he was not to be taken off the protest until the five demands were not only achieved but copper fastened.

A convert to Catholicism, Margaret Doherty had moved from the staunchly Protestant Shankill Road to Andersonstown after marrying her now late husband Alfie.

She says that her son’s belief in what he was doing left the family with no option other than to give him their support.

“Kieran knew he was likely to die. He told us that from the start,” Mrs Doherty said.

“He was a great son, he had a very strong faith, he never missed his Mass no matter what.

“When he knew he was near the end he told his father not to worry. ‘It’s only a wee step over to the other side’, he said.

“And he made us give our word he wouldn’t be taken off unless the demands were met.

“Up until then you should have seen the way they were being treated. As a mother it just tore at your heart.

“Before the Hunger Strike started he had spent a week in hospital, he had been beaten so badly during a search.

“Kieran knew the Hunger Strike wasn’t going to benefit him because he was going to die. He did it for the other lads because they couldn’t have survived much longer in conditions they were living in.

“I feel him all around me every day. God love him, he’s always been there.”

Representatives of the Doherty family attended a recent meeting in Co Derry with Gerry Adams and Bik McFarland to discuss the controversy surrounding the Hunger Strike.

In a statement, they told The Irish News: “These totally untrue allegations have caused untold hurt and anguish to our family and we feel sully the proud memory of Kieran and his comrades.

“What hurts more is that the nasty and spiteful allegations come from people who should really know better – former comrades and people who claim to be republicans.

“We were at Kieran’s side throughout what was a traumatic time for our family.

“Kieran was determined to see the protest through until the five demands had been achieved. ‘Set in concrete,’ were his very words.

“Due to the position of Margaret Thatcher and the British government a deal was not secured, we knew that at the time and we know it now.

“We would like to state this is hurting our family, especially our elderly mother, and call on those responsible to stop pushing this agenda for whatever personal reasons they may have and allow Kieran to rest in peace.”

The other families

The families of Francis Hughes and Thomas McElwee (who were cousins) from Bellaghy declined to take part in this investigation. Following individual family discussions, they said they believed the issue had been dealt with.

The families of the five other hunger strikers who died were approached by The Irish News but also declined to take part.

 

Sourced from The Irish News

Families back inquiry into 1981 events

Families back inquiry into 1981 events
Derry Journal, 30 June 2009

Sir,

We, the families of hunger-strikers, Patsy O’Hara and Michael Devine, support the call by former hunger-striker, Gerard Hodkins, for an independent republican inquiry into the 1981 hunger-strike.

We cannot understand why any republican would have anything to fear from such an inquiry, or why they would not support it.

The Gulladuff meeting between the Sinn Fein leadership and eight of the hunger strikers’ families was very emotional, and we were not unaffected.

However, at that meeting, the Sinn Fein delegation refused our request for an independent inquiry. Why?
Read the rest of this entry »

Oliver Hughes letter in Derry Journal

Propaganda on hunger-strike
Derry Journal, 30 June 2009
See also Bobby Sands Trust: Hunger Strikers’ Families Speak Out

Sir,

The recent meeting between familes of the hunger-strikers and Gerry Adams was a very emotional and difficult occasion for all of us, particularly in light of the allegations coming from Richard O’Rawe and the IRSP. All of the family members who spoke, with the exception of Tony O’Hara, expressed deep anger and frustration at the ongoing allegations created by O’Rawe.

Tony O’Hara’s suggestion that we should meet with Richard O’Rawe and Willie Gallagher got no support and we asked Tony to express to Richard O’Rawe and Willie Gallagher our wish for them to stop what they are doing and to give us peace of mind.
Read the rest of this entry »

An Phoblacht: Hunger Strikers’ families challenge false claims over deaths

An Phoblacht, Top Stories: Hunger Strikers’ families challenge false claims over deaths

p3-pic2

THE families of the majority of the men who died during the 1981 Hunger Strike have rejected as “false” the claims being made about the fast and the deaths of six of the H-Block prisoners.

The families are particularly incensed at the claims – raised by former H-Block prisoner Richard O’Rawe and repeated by the British media  – that Margaret Thatcher’s government offered the protesting prisoners a deal and that this was rejected by the leadership of the Republican Movement out of political expediency.
Read the rest of this entry »

Bobby Sands Trust: Hunger Strikers’ Families Speak Out

Hunger Strikers’ Families Speak Out
June 21, 2009 · Bobby Sands Trust

Families of those IRA and INLA Volunteers who died during the 1981 hunger strike have issued a statement condemning those who have relentlessly hurt them by making false allegations that their loved ones died needlessly.

The families privately met with Sinn Fein and a representative of the Bobby Sands Trust last Wednesday, 17th June, at the invitation of the party’s president Gerry Adams. Those present included relatives of Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee and Mickey Devine (his nieces and his son Mickey óg). Bridie Lynch, sister of Kevin Lynch, was unable to attend but sent Gerry Adams a note expressing her support. The Hughes’ family were represented by two nephews of Francis. Francis’s brother, Oliver, who was unable to attend, sent a letter to be read out. The meeting took place in Gulladuff, South Derry.
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Sinn Fein issue statement on behalf of families

sflogo

Statement from families of 1981 Hunger Strikers
June 19, 2009

In response to media queries, Sinn Féin have today been asked by the majority of the Hunger Strikers’ families to issue, through our press office, a statement written by them in the wake of recent lies and false allegations made surrounding the events of 1981, and misrepresentation in the media and elsewhere of this week’s meeting between the families and the Sinn Fein leadership.

On Wednesday evening June 17th the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams met with 8 of the 10 families of the hunger strikers who died in 1981. The meeting was held in Gulladuff, South Derry.
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Statement: Call for an Inquiry

The families of hunger strikers Patsy O’Hara and Mickey Devine have issued a statement calling for a public inquiry:

“We, the O Hara and Devine families, would also wish to put on public record our full support for an independent Republican Inquiry, which was first called for by ex-Hunger Striker Gerard Hodgins, into the controversial claims surrounding the events of the 1981 Hunger Strike.

At a recent meeting in the Gasyard, Derry City, which we attended, compelling and disturbing evidence revealing that an offer made by the British which conceded four of the five demands, was accepted by the prison IRA leadership and rejected by elements of the outside IRA leadership.
Read the rest of this entry »

“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: Oliver Hughes

Francis Hughes’s family speaks out

francishughes

THE family of Francis Hughes, the second Hunger Striker to die in 1981, have responded to the Sunday Times story. Speaking through Oliver Hughes, they said:
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Bobby Sands Trust: Documents Still Withheld

Documents Still Withheld
April 7, 2009 · Bobby Sands Trust

An attempt by the ‘Sunday Times’ [5th April] to call into question the republican leadership’s handling of the 1981 hunger strike by publishing British government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act has actually boomeranged on the reporter who wrote the story, Liam Clarke. [Liam Clarke, after being challenged by the Bobby Sands Trust, had to admit last month that a quote he attributed to Bobby Sands and used in a lurid headline – “Sinn Fein is turning into Sands’s dodo” – wasn’t said by Bobby Sands.]
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‘Raw truth’ of Hunger Strike

‘Raw truth’ of Hunger Strike
Sunday Times Online

Comment: Liam Clarke: Raw truth of hunger strike fights its way past myths
March 20, 2005

Anybody who wants to understand the history of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein should read Blanketmen, Richard O’Rawe’s searingly honest account of the events surrounding the 1981 hunger strike.

O’Rawe gives us something new in modern republican history: a participant’s account that attempts to face the facts without romanticising them.

Up to now we have had mostly anodyne accounts, in which every dead IRA man was good at Gaelic games, fearless on active service and loved his mother. Every decision taken by Gerry Adams, the infallible helmsman of the movement and founder of the peace process, was not only correct but also designed to save lives and bring about a ceasefire.

We have also been treated to cod biographies in which Adams never joined the IRA, and a book of lives of IRA volunteers in which well-known informers are revered for their dedication. In this alternative universe, the IRA never committed a crime and even when it made mistakes it was forced into them by the Brits. As Goethe noted, “patriotism ruins history”.

O’Rawe was a public relations officer for IRA prisoners and later for Sinn Fein, so it should not surprise him that the full weight of the republican propaganda machine was deployed to drown the simple truth that many of the later hunger strikers wanted to end the protest around the time when Joe McDonnell, the fifth of the 10 prisoners to die, reached the critical stage.

I know the feeling. I still remember the call from Danny Morrison to my home in North Belfast nearly 10 years ago. He was appealing to me not to write a book about the hunger strikes. He implored me not to slander the memory of the dead or bring distress to their families.

I had just conducted an interview with Geraldine Scheiss, the girlfriend of Kieran Doherty, the eighth hunger striker to die. She told me that he wanted to call off the strike and that, in his final two hours of life, asked her to get tablets to save him from death. Tom Toner, the prison chaplain, confirmed that shortly before Doherty died Scheiss had come out of his room to say he was asking for tablets “for his body”. Doherty’s mother wouldn’t agree until her husband Alfie got back to the jail. Scheiss tried unsuccessfully to get the tablets herself. By the time Doherty’s father returned to the prison, his son had died.

It was clear to me that Kieran Doherty was unhappy about the hunger strike and had expressed his doubts about continuing. He had told Mary McDermott, the mother of Sean McDermott, a close IRA comrade, that “there was a lot more to it than the five demands”. It was clear from her and from other prisoners that Paddy Quinn, another hunger striker who was taken off by his mother when he became unconscious, had spoken in favour of ending the strike.

I sent a copy of my taped interview with Scheiss to her for comment, mentioning in a covering letter that one or two passages were not clear. I got a solicitor’s letter back denying she had said any of it and saying the tape must all have been faulty. As a result I put in only what was independently confirmed.

Sinn Fein had stymied me at every turn in writing the book. I was invited for interviews and kept sitting for hours in a room with prisoners’ wives and relatives waiting for the Long Kesh minibus, only to be told that nobody was available to speak to me. Eventually two liaison people were appointed — Morrison later told me that the only purpose was to see what I was up to — but they proved quite helpful.

One was the former hunger striker Pat “Beag” McGeown, a republican of tremendous dedication, haunted by survivor’s guilt because his wife had taken him off the hunger strike when so many others had died. “You can’t really be sorry to be alive, but yes it does trouble me,” he said.

He hinted at things that would be confirmed and fleshed out in O’Rawe’s account. McGeown told me he had wanted the strike to end and that “a certain number of hunger strikers had arrived at the same conclusion and were saying, ‘Look, possibly the whole thing should be reviewed’.”

It was also clear to me that, although the IRA leadership had not wanted the hunger strike to start in the first place, once Bobby Sands was elected to Westminster things had changed. They wanted it to continue until Owen Carron, a Sinn Fein member who stood as “proxy prisoner” could be elected to the seat left vacant by Sands’s death. At the time there was a republican policy of not contesting Westminster or Dail elections and this was the leadership’s way round it. As Adams said in a 1985 Bobby Sands memorial lecture: “The hunger strikes, at great cost to our H-Block martyrs and their families, smashed criminalisation and led to the electoral strategy, plus the revamping of the IRA.”

O’Rawe puts it more bluntly. The hunger strikers, he said, may have been “cannon fodder” and six of them may have died just to get Sinn Fein’s political project under way.

The hunger strike was prolonged despite an offer to the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which would have been guaranteed by the Catholic church’s hierarchy, that met many of the prisoners’ demands. Substantially the same offer was repeated through an MI6 officer with whom Adams was liaising, and was accepted by the prison leadership as the best deal available. When the hunger strike did eventually end, the same offer was at length implemented and greeted as a victory by republicans.

O’Rawe reveals that McGeown had been warned to keep quiet about his doubts when Adams visited the hunger strikers after many of their families asked him to end the strike. Adams made it clear the visit was a formality, saying that he had come because he “felt duty-bound to satisfy the clergymen and all those who were pressurising their families”.

Most tellingly of all he was accompanied by Carron, who was dressed in what the prisoners referred to as his “election suit”. The implied message was that they would be letting the movement down if they did not hold out until polling was over. Doherty did not attend because he was judged too ill. Instead Adams visited him in a private room and came out saying that “Big Doc” was determined to continue.

The price was deaths in the prison and on the streets, as hunger strike rioting continued. An honest debate on Sinn Fein’s entry to politics was avoided, and Adams’ strategy was advanced.

Some may say it was worth it. Ending the hunger strike after three or four deaths on the basis of the offer to the ICJP, and the parallel offer through MI6, would have set the Sinn Fein political project back. The Catholic church and the SDLP, who were to the fore in the ICJP, would have shared the credit, with little going the way of Sinn Fein.

Adams would then have had to argue openly for a political strategy. He might have faced a split.

Of course it is the duty of military leaders to take such decisions. Generals send men to their deaths after weighing the lives of soldiers against their overall strategic objectives.

It can be argued that Adams and the republican leadership made the right choice but it is an argument that they never had the courage to make. Certainly not to the families of the hunger strikers.

Sourced from Bobby Sands Net Resources

Hunger strikers’ lives not sacrificed — family (2005)

Hunger strikers’ lives not sacrificed — family

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

The family of a dead hunger striker last night (Tuesday) hit out at claims that the IRA sacrificed the lives of republican prisoners in negotiations with the British government during the 1981 dispute.

The family of Francis Hughes last night rejected the claims from former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who earlier this week stated that the British government had been prepared to agree to four of five prisoner demands during the 1981 hunger strike.

However Mr O’Rawe claimed that while IRA leaders in the prison were prepared to accept the deal, they were overruled by the army council on the outside.

Six other hunger strikers died before the end of the protest in October 1981.
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Was my father’s death PR exercise? (2005)

Was my father’s death PR exercise?

(Seamus McKinney and Catherine Morrison, Irish News)

The son of a Derry hunger striker has voiced concerns over claims that the republican leadership could have allowed his father to die for political gain.

Michael Devine, whose father Mickey was the last of the 10 men to die in the 1981 protest, was speaking after publication of Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-block Hunger Strike.

The book’s author, Richard O’Rawe, was a public relations officer for the hunger strikers in the Maze. Along with IRA prisoners’ ‘OC’ Brendan Bik McFarlane, he was closely in-volved in the day-to-day events of the hunger strike.
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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.