July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Bernard Fox: Claims only add to pain

Claims only add to pain says ex-hunger striker
THE HUNGER STRIKE Was there a deal?
By Allison Morris, Irish News
22/10/09

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UPSET: Bernard Fox today PICTURE: Hugh Russell

Former republican hunger striker Bernard Fox says he is deeply distressed by allegations that a deal which could have ended the strike was vetoed in order to maximise electoral support for Sinn Fein.

The west Belfast man, who spent a total of 22 years in prison, was on hunger strike for 32 days when the protest was ended.

Speaking to The Irish News Mr Fox said: “I was a close friend of Joe McDonnell. I was on active service with him on the outside, and later imprisoned with him.

“Under those circumstances you get to know a person’s character very well.

“Joe loved life and had no desire to die but he was determined and pragmatic and was not for settling for anything other than the five demands – that I can say for sure.

“I wasn’t in the hospital at that time and I don’t know what the men were told or not told but I do know that there was no deal.

“Offers, yes – there were plenty of offers.

“Sure wasn’t Kieran Nugent given an offer of a convict’s uniform in 1976, an offer he declined?”

Having been interned twice the former IRA man was returned to the Maze prison as a convicted prisoner in 1977 and immediately joined the blanket protest, before volunteering for the Hunger Strike.

He spent 32 days on hunger strike before the protest, which claimed the lives of seven IRA and three INLA prisoners, came to an end.

“It took me 20 years before I could even speak openly about my experiences,” he said.

“It’s still emotional and raw for me even now. These claims just add to that pain.

“I can only imagine what it must be like for the families of the 10 lads.

“Bik [McFarlane] was chosen to act as our OC [officer commanding]. It’s a job no-one envied – the pressure must have been unbearable.

“Regardless of what I or anyone else may think about the political direction he has taken since, at the time we knew he wasn’t going to let us down.

“To suggest that he in some way colluded with the outside leadership to let his comrades die is sickening to me and does not hold up to scrutiny.

“After the first hunger strike we, [the prisoners] were very clear we wanted our demands in writing and delivered by a representative of the British government so there could be no reneging this time.

“Look, I would never criticise any former blanketman. We all suffered equally and the comradeship we had at that time was the only thing that saw us through.

“But try as I may I cannot understand where some people are coming from or why they would wait all these years to bring this out.

“Thatcher and the British government are responsible for the deaths of our comrades – that’s where the blame lies.”

In 1998 Fox was released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

He has since parted company with Sinn Fein in disagreement over its political direction.

“I have no personal or political agenda,” he said.

“My only concern is for the families and how all this must be hurting them.

Addressing calls for a public inquiry, he said: “I have no time for inquiries. What you need is not an inquiry but the truth and it would be naive to think the British will ever tell the truth.

“If there are unanswered questions my advice would be to seek clarification.

“That way the families who have called on all this to stop can be left in peace.”

Sourced from the Irish News

“Rusty Nail”: Feint and Retreat

Friday, October 02, 2009

1981 Hunger Strike: Feint and Retreat
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

This afternoon we’ll be looking at Laurence McKeown’s Irish News piece, in a ‘fisky’ sort of way. Other articles are in the works to be looked at. It may be that some of the material will be revisited at a later date. 

To begin with today’s piece, former hunger striker Laurence McKeown wrote: “When O’Rawe first made the claim that the British had been prepared to reach a deal during the 1981 Hunger Strike but that it was rejected by the leadership of the republican movement, I believed the claim to be totally unfounded. I still believe that. In the intervening period it has been disproved by documentation from the period and by a broad spectrum of individuals involved at the time.”

What documentation is he referring to? Where has the claim been disproved by the documentation he is referring to?

Who makes up the broad spectrum of individuals?

Slugger has followed this issue very closely and is left baffled at this. The documentation in the public domain supports O’Rawe’s claim – it doesn’t in any manner disprove it. The ‘broad spectrum’ consensus – at least as broad as it can be made up of former prisoners (hunger strikers and blanketmen), their family members, members of the ICJP, the Mountain Climber link who delivered the offer and refusal (and verified the FOI documentation), and even the Taoiseach of the time, who, in the same issue as McKeown’s article, says, “O’Rawe’s account seems to me to be, within his framework of knowledge, honest and accurate.” – is not that the claim has been disproven, but that it is very much a valid claim that needs explained by those responsible.

And that’s just taking apart the first paragraphs of McKeown’s piece – he’s off to a bad start. Unless he will show us this documentation he refers to, and quote the broad spectrum of individuals to support his case?

We should be so lucky. Instead of expanding on his evidence of O’Rawe’s claims being disproven, he veers off into shooting the messenger. It’s all a political conspiracy, he says, dragging out the usual bogeymen out to get poor Sinn Fein. Why, those disaffected bogeymen are just like alcoholics – you can’t tell them anything – “So why bother?” he posits.

Like O’Rawe, who in his article explains that seeking the truth is “a sacred duty”, McKeown too feels dutybound, to the families of the hunger strikers and “the thousands of ordinary people who did so much for us”.

He paints another hypothetical – that the Brits, if we accept that they were offering concessions, then walked away with their tail between their legs instead of going to the Irish, the Church and the SDLP to make public their offer and force the hunger strikers down that way. First off, they didn’t walk away with their tail between their legs at the refusal of Adams over the early July offer. They came back to Adams in the last half of July attempting once again to come to agreement, and again, the Adams committee refused them. The Red Cross was also sent in to attempt to mediate; they were rebuffed and quickly sent packing. The Adams committee had Thatcher over a barrel in one regard – she could not be seen to be negotiating with the IRA. Were she to make public that she was actively attempting to end the hunger strike by directly negotiating with Gerry Adams, her government would have been in severe difficulties. It would have also impacted relations with the Irish government. So those defending the traditional Adams narrative of the hunger strike can use the question of “Why didn’t she go public” as a shield to hide behind as they know very well that was never on the cards. Had they gone to the media, as McKeown suggests, Thatcher would have been savaged. Was she willing to sacrifice herself and her government in order to end the hunger strike? McKeown can’t have it both ways. She wanted an end to the hunger strike, and did take risks to bring it about, but she wasn’t about to commit public political suicide in order to do so – and no one was under any illusions that she was. So there is a safety in suggesting she would as a defence tactic now.

Even to this day the NIO will not release all documents relating to the hunger strike because of the damage it could do to people still active in politics today. When the British are done with the Sinn Fein leadership and have no further need to protect them, then those secrets will be made public. Adams’ proxies can ask why they aren’t made public today safe in the knowledge that as long as he is useful to them, they will never be released.

McKeown argues that the idea that Thatcher was negotiating with the IRA would have set off the prison authorities too much, and that is his reason for why the O’Rawe claims aren’t true. He cites a discussion with an un-named BBC producer as evidence for this. This discussion has been previously cited by McKeown in R.K. Walker’s 2006 book on the hunger strike, although the context used then is in reference to the first hunger strike, not the second. On page 79, McKeown describes the ending of the first hunger strike:

Released from Long Kesh in 1992, he sheds further light on the feeling among Republicans that during the first hunger strike of 1980 the British authorities had no intention of making a genuine attempt to reach a compromise. He recalls:

“It was said by the British [to Cardinal Ó Fiach and others] that once the strike was ended, there would be concessions on at least the wearing of our own clothes, as opposed to prison uniform. Ó Fiach had appealed to the hunger strikers and to the British government to call off the strike. He thought he had an understanding that our own clothes would be acceptable. And this was the understanding of Republicans at the time. So our relatives brought our own clothes up to the prison to leave in for us to wear, thinking that that was what had been agreed. But instead we were told that we couldn’t wear them, and that we would have to wear “prison-issue civilian clothing”, which was not what had been agreed at all.
Many years later, during the making of a documentary on Ireland by the BBC, the BBC producer said off-screen that he’d been told by someone who’d been in official circles at the time that six NIO officials including the prison governor had threatened to resign if the prisoners had been given any concessions at all.” pg 79, The Hunger Strikes, R. K. Walker

Leaving aside the nonsense of the first paragraph, compare this with Monday’s article, where McKeown uses the same example in a different context:

“A BBC Timewatch programme produced in 1994, a full 11 years before Richard O’Rawe’s claim, possibly holds the answer.
I did an interview for the programme and the producers got access to many senior British government officials from the time.
In casual conversation with the producer I asked if the civil servants, particularly in the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), had felt a bit like ‘piggy-in-the-middle’, forced to hold to Thatcher’s uncompromising line while having to deal with adverse publicity from around the world.
The producer replied that everything they had discovered indicated that Thatcher at one point was going to make concessions but that when the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) got wind of it top civil servants, including the governor of the prison, Stanley Hilditch, threatened to resign.
As soon as he said it I realised it made absolute sense. Of course the civil servants in the NIO (unionists) would be more opposed to any concessions to republican prisoners than the British would.”

 

But it makes sense only to a certain point – because this ‘rebellion’ took place in the context of the first hunger strike, not the second, and Thatcher most certainly learned from this, as the FOI documentation shows. She made sure that the line would be held the second time around, not only by getting Atkins’ assurances, but by moving both Atkins and Hilditch out of their positions – to be replaced by Prior and Kerr – as the hunger strike was winding down and the concessions she had offered were ultimately implemented. She wasn’t looking a third hunger strike. As has been said by other British officials of the ending of the first hunger strike, with a little imagination from the prison authorities the second hunger strike could have been averted. They rebelled, and made it inevitable. Thatcher wasn’t going to give them a second chance.

McKeown writes –  

“So, the producer of the programme added, threatened with rebellion on their doorstep it appears the British government decided it best to weather the storm (of the Hunger Strike) rather than follow through with their ‘offer’.”

10 Downing Street, in the FOI documents, discussing the second July offer, answers both of these hypotheticals:

“The Prime Minister asked whether a detailed offer along the lines set out above were made and failed, he could hold the prison officers. Mr Atkins thought that this would be just about possible. The Prime Minister pointed out that once the offer of own clothes had been made publicly, it would have to be implemented whether or not the hunger strikers called off their strike. Mr Atkins agreed. After further discussion, the Prime Minister decided that the dangers in taking an initiative would be so great in Northern Ireland that she was not prepared to risk them. The official who went into the prison could repeat the Government’s public position but could go no further. The Secretary of State agreed.”

What is being discussed is how far to go without Adams indicating that the offer would be accepted. Thatcher asks would the prison officers comply with the offer’s terms; Atkins assures her they would. She reminds him of the clothes issue, making the point because of the previous problem. In the end she decides that going public with the full offer without the acceptance from Adams was too risky; she can go no further without it.

It was choreography she was seeking, and Adams was, at that date, unwilling to give it to her.

McKeown says the hunger strikers weren’t going to agree: “And given that four comrades had already died and the hunger strike of 1980 had ended with not the merest crumb of concession there was no way we were ending ours without a concrete, copper-fastened deal witnessed by guarantors who could stand over it.”

Yet, as we know, the first hunger strike ended with no chance of concessions; the potential guarantors of the second hunger – the ICJP and the Red Cross – were chased, on order from McFarlane. The hunger strikers themselves weren’t given a chance to agree to Thatcher’s proposals – they were told nothing of them. Those who were – O’Rawe and McFarlane – were over-ruled when they accepted them.

What is most interesting about McKeown’s effort here isn’t his use of hypothetical bollocks to bamboozle, but what he left out, the position he abandoned. One would imagine that he would have been in the perfect position to kick the ball into touch and yet he refuses point blank to go near it this time around.

When O’Rawe’s book was released, McKeown had written, in an attempt to rubbish the claims: “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’.” – 10 March, 2005, An Phoblacht

This comment is also referred to in an article for the Village magazine: “Laurence McKeown, whose family took him off the hunger strike, has denounced O’Rawe and accused him of glory-seeking. No concrete promises were on offer from the British, he insists.” H-Block hypocrisy, Village, Saturday, 12 March 2005

Today, 2009, we now know that much more than “vague promises” were on offer; we have the “concrete promises” confirmed and verified by the man who delivered them to Martin McGuinness.

McKeown’s retreat, along with Morrison’s and McFarlane’s absence and Adams’ continued silence, is noted.

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Irish News: Gerard Hodgins – “All evidence points to dark dealings”

All evidence points to dark dealings
THE HUNGER STRIKE
By Gerard Hodgins
29/09/09

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QUESTIONS: Gerard Hodgins, left, pictured with Danny Morrison
PICTURE: Seamus Loughran

THE blanket protests and Hunger Strikes are sacrosanct in republican history. The commitment and courage of the men and women who participated in those prison struggles can never be questioned.

Richard’s [O’Rawe] assertion that the leadership blocked a deal on the Hunger Strike in order to further political ambitions and in the process prolonged the agony doesn’t sit easily in the republican conscience.

So uncomfortable is this fact that most republicans tend to follow the Adams/Morrison narrative that Richard just wants to sell more books and so makes a sensationalist claim about dirty dealings

between the Provisional leadership and the British government in order to increase sales.

This despite the fact that a prima facie case exists that Richard’s assertion has validity: Gerry Adams has (writing in one of his books) previously referred to a happy ending narrative rather than a tell-all story now, yet he won’t elaborate on what this cryptic sentence means.

Gerry Adams has referred to the British coming back with the deal again around the July 18/19 1981.

Gerry Adams has referred to how he got into the habit of catching sleep during the daylight hours during that summer of 1981 because the British would contact him via telephone late at night.

Yet Gerry Adams refuses to put meat on these statements. What is he hiding? What was the true extent of contact between the leadership and the British?

For daring to ask questions like this puts one beyond the pale of the dominant republican narrative. Suddenly you find former comrades in the upper echelons are referring to you as a revisionist, a drug-dealer, a dissident, an antirepublican: no slur is too great, no act too low.

When I learned a meeting was to take place in Gullaghaduff I went along accompanied by Jimmy Dempsey whose son John was killed by the British army the morning Joe McDonnell died.

We both had questions we would like to ask, we were both politely but firmly refused entry to the meeting and I personally was subjected to threats and menaces by a senior Provisional, all because I wanted to ask questions about events in 1981.

When this genie was first let out of the bottle in 2005 the leadership figures were adamant there were neither deals, offers nor anything else. Today they are not so certain.

Bik [Brendan McFarlane] categorically denied that any such conversation took place between him and Richard O’Rawe about accepting a British offer.

Today he says different and remembers “a huge opportunity” and “potential” in the conversation he initially didn’t have with Richard.

On the face of it the evidence points to dark dealings going on in the background of the Hunger Strike, dealings of which nobody on Hunger Strike was aware.

Whether we ever will know the truth of those times is doubtful. The acquisition of any level of power and maintenance of that power is rarely a tale of honour alone.

Sourced from The Irish News

Irish News: Laurence McKeown

Unionists in NIO scuppered deal
THE HUNGER STRIKE: Was there a deal?
By Laurence McKeown
28/09/09

Laurence McKeown is a former IRA prisoner who took part in the Hunger Strike. He joined the fast on June 29 1981 after the first four prisoners died. Following the deaths of six more hunger strikers his family authorised medical intervention to save his life on September 6, the 70th day of his hunger strike…

WHEN Richard O’Rawe first made the claim that the British had been prepared to reach a deal during the 1981 Hunger Strike but that it was rejected by the leadership of the republican movement, I believed the claim to be totally unfounded.

I still believe that.

In the intervening period it has been disproved by documentation from the period and by a broad spectrum of individuals involved at the time.

Nevertheless, the controversy has rumbled on, fuelled by an assortment of disaffected former members of the republican movement and political opponents of Sinn Fein.

The ‘debate’ has therefore more to do with contemporary political machinations and allegiances than it has to do with the Hunger Strike.

Trying to ‘answer’ the claim is a bit like trying to convince an alcoholic that they’d be much better off not taking that next drink.

There will never be an answer that will suffice, a response that will be adequate.

So why bother?

For the families of the six who died later that summer and for the thousands of ordinary people who did so much for us during that period.

The Tory government of Maggie Thatcher is infamous for the trail of suffering, death, social upheaval, destruction of communities, and removal of civil and workers’ rights that it wreaked not just in Ireland but in Britain itself.

But let’s just suppose for a moment that it wanted to end the Hunger Strike.

Britain acts only in Britain’s interest so if it was decided that it was in their best interest to concede some or all of our demands it would not have been out of some humanitarian sentiment but because not to do so would be damaging to Britain’s long-term interests.

So, this Tory cabinet of Maggie Thatcher, having decided that it was in Britain’s best interest to act to break the Hunger Strike, comes up with a list of concessions they are prepared to make, presents this to the leadership of the republican movement, who supposedly reject them and what do the Brits do?

They walk away with their tails between their legs.

Is this the same government that cold-bloodedly slaughtered the Argentinean sailors on the Belgrano?

That smashed the powerful National Union of Mine Workers and left whole mining villages and communities desolate?

If the British had thought it was in their interest to end the Hunger Strike then they would have done so regardless of what the republican movement did or did not do.

They would simply have gone to the media – having first confided with and secured the support of the SDLP, the Catholic hierarchy and the Dublin government – and announced concessions they were prepared to make.

We on hunger strike would then have been faced with either calling it off or trying to continue with a now deeply divided support base, not to mention internal and family divisions.

It’s not rocket science.

So why did the Brits not do that? If indeed they ever had any real intention of doing it.

A BBC Timewatch programme produced in 1994, a full 11 years before Richard O’Rawe’s claim, possibly holds the answer.

I did an interview for the programme and the producers got access to many senior British government officials from the time.

In casual conversation with the producer I asked if the civil servants, particularly in the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), had felt a bit like ‘piggy-in-the-middle’, forced to hold to Thatcher’s uncompromising line while having to deal with adverse publicity from around the world.

The producer replied that everything they had discovered indicated that Thatcher at one point was going to make concessions but that when the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) got wind of it top civil servants, including the governor of the prison, Stanley Hilditch, threatened to resign.

As soon as he said it I realised it made absolute sense. Of course the civil servants in the NIO (unionists) would be more opposed to any concessions to republican prisoners than the British would.

It was personal for them. They lived here. They ran the place. They were the ones who formulated policies and how they were implemented on the ground including the criminalisation and Ulsterisation policies.

Stanley Hilditch had actually cut short a holiday at Christmas 1980 to return to the prison and personally handle the aftermath of the first hunger strike.

So, the producer of the programme added, threatened with rebellion on their doorstep it appears the British government decided it best to weather the storm (of the Hunger Strike) rather than follow through with their ‘offer’.

That was his version of events. What we know for definite is that during the Hunger Strike there were always offers from the British but never a deal.

And given that four comrades had already died and the hunger strike of 1980 had ended with not the merest crumb of concession there was no way we were ending ours without a concrete, copper-fastened deal witnessed by guarantors who could stand over it.

And anyone who was on it or involved with it, including Richard, knows that to be the case. Such was our suspicion and distrust of the British.

In the peace and tranquillity of 2009 it’s easy to forget that. To de-contextualise events. To forget the power of the emotions then and the strength of convictions.

It’s also easy to wish it could somehow have been different. What is unforgiveable though is to attempt to make cheap political gain from those events and in the course of it to cause hurt.

 

Sourced from The Irish News

“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 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.

Irish News: Hunger Strike Deal Must Be Disclosed

Hunger Strike Deal Must Be Disclosed
Seamus McKinney, Irish News


TRUTH: The 10 republican hunger strikers – pictured on the first day of each of their individual protests at the Maze Prison – and the dates on which they died PICTURE: Alan Lewis/Photopress

The first IRA hunger striker to speak about a possible deal which could have saved the lives of five or possibly six of his colleagues has called for the full facts of the initiative to be made public.
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Sunday Times: Was Gerry Adams complicit over hunger strikers?

From The Sunday Times April 5, 2009

Was Gerry Adams complicit over hunger strikers?
Papers suggest IRA snubbed a conciliatory offer from Margaret Thatcher to ensure Sinn Fein by-election win to Westminster

Liam Clarke
Read the documents here

Did five, or even six, of the republican prisoners who were on hunger strike in the Maze prison in 1981 die to advance the political strategy of Sinn Fein?

Did Gerry Adams and other members of the IRA kitchen cabinet snub a conciliatory offer from Margaret Thatcher, then the British prime minister, which met the substance of the prisoners’ demands, just to ensure that Sinn Fein would win a crucial by-election to Westminster?

These are the explosive questions raised for Sinn Fein by papers released to The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act.
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Brendan Hughes: Ending the 1980 Hunger Strike

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Risking the Lives of Volunteers is Not the IRA Way

Brendan Hughes • Irish News, 13 July 2006

In a recent BBC documentary Bernadette McAliskey stated that she would have let Sean McKenna die during the 1980 hunger strike in order to outmanoeuvre British brinkmanship. Implicit in her comments was a criticism of those senior republicans who decided against pursuing the option favoured by Bernadette. As the IRA leader in charge of that hunger strike I had given Sean McKenna a guarantee that were he to lapse into a coma I would not permit him to die.

When the awful moment arrived I kept my word to him. Having made that promise, to renege on it once Sean had reached a point where he was no longer capable of making a decision for himself, I would have been guilty of his murder. Whatever the strategic merits of Bernadette’s favoured option, they are vastly outweighed by ethical considerations.
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Dolours Price: A Salute to Comrades

blanketmen

A Salute to Comrades

Book Review

Dolours Price, The Blanket • 18 May 2005

After reading ‘Ten Men Dead’ I swore that I would never again read about the Hunger Strike of 1981. I cried at every page and my husband eventually hid the book. I bought another.

My levels of sadness rose at the same rate as my levels of anger. The targets for my anger were the usual ones: those identified by the Republican Leadership as responsible for the death of Bobby Sands and his comrades. Top of the list was Margaret Thatcher, then came busybody priests, political opponents, an uncaring Free-State Government and more and more.

Hunger-striking, the last resort of the brutalised political prisoner. The ultimate weapon, one’s own body. As a Republican I have always maintained that just as I could not be ordered to undertake a Hunger-Strike, then the control and ultimate decision as to where that hunger-strike might lead was also a matter for myself, the individual prisoner. That is not to say that guidance from comrades and particularly the leadership of my movement would at all times be of paramount importance in where that Strike would end for me, be that living or dying.
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Laurence McKeown: Answering back on the Hunger Strike

Answering back on the Hunger Strike
Laurence McKeown
10 March, 2005, An Phoblacht

Laurence McKeown writes:

Dear Richard,

There are individuals in history who we regard as great people; moments in history we look back at in wonder.

In our own lives too, there are times that we like to relive and feel once more that sense of achievement, of success, of joy, comradeship or love.

There is a danger, though, that as the years pass, as the hair thins and the wrinkles appear, that we look back through rose-tinted glasses. We start to see things a little differently. Our role in events becomes somehow inflated.

We realise, for the first time, the significance of our own input into events. We recall the profound comments we made at critical moments of debate; the input we had into crucial decisions; even the dazzling pass on the football field, without which the star striker could not have scored and thereby won the day. And we wonder why history has not recorded our part in all of this.

The Sunday Times, that organ of Irish republicanism, revealed to me last week your historic role in events, Richard. 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’. We had all of that in December 1980.

What was news to me was that you were going to call off the Hunger Strike. Strange that. You see I don’t recall you ever being on the Hunger Strike. Were you in the cell at the bottom of the ward? And when were you going to tell the rest of us about your decision?

The death of our ten comrades did not get us our demands. It took many more years, much more suffering and even death to achieve them. But we did it.

You weren’t with us Richard. In fact, if I recall, you left us shortly after writing your last press release about their sacrifice.

I didn’t see you leave Richard. I was blind at the time. But I was one of the lucky ones. I survived.

Maybe you left us to carry out courageous feats elsewhere? Maybe you’ll tell us more about those in future publications. Because for me, actions speak louder than words. Always.

There are some great individuals in history, Richard. And then there are those who would love to be great. What is precious is knowing the difference.

• Laurence McKeown was on hunger strike in 1981 for 70 days.

First published in An Phoblacht

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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.