July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

One reader still has questions about 1981 hunger strike

One reader still has questions about 1981 hunger strike
Andersonstown News Monday, Mala Poist

The recent and very private meeting between Provisional Sinn Féin and families of the 1981 hunger strikers seems to have left us with even more questions unanswered than there was before the meeting.

Firstly, I want to recognize that this is still a very emotional event for the families and no doubt also still very painful. I have difficulty writing this letter for these reasons. But the truth is the hunger strike is such an historic event that anything concerning it will always attract a lot of attention. 

The families recently released a statement through PSF press office asking for the allegations that the Provisional leadership turned down an offer that the prisoners thought was enough to end the hunger strike. For some of the families to say they want the controversy to end will not, unfortunately, make it go away.

The hunger strike and the slow death of the ten men reached all corners of Ireland and even well beyond our shores. Former blanketmen, even surviving hunger strikers and republicans have a vested interest in what happened in July 1981, as can be seen by the amount of them that attended the public, and packed meeting held in Derry’s Gasworks a few weeks ago. Adams and the PSF leadership refused to attend this meeting.

The British go-between to the Provisional leadership, the Mountain Climber, did attend and was open to questions from the public for the first time. He confirmed that O’Rawe’s account of the offer from the British was true. He also confirmed that the offer was rejected by the PIRA. What also came out at this meeting was that the INLA leadership inside and outside the H-Blocks knew nothing about the contact with the British. Two INLA prisoners died after the events of July 1981.

Since O’Rawe’s claims came out the reaction from PSF was fast and furious, so fast that they did not coordinate what they were saying as they contradicted each other in public, and also forgot what was already recorded in the public domain. 

Adams has remained totally silent on the issue since he was interviewed in two TV shows for the 25th anniversary in 2006, where in one show, for the BBC, he spoke openly about his role in the hunger strike and about the Mountain Climber with ease. Then O’Rawe’s claims came out and Adams in the RTé show denied he knew about the Mountain Climber, two totally different versions that are contradictory, both can not be true.

Mountain Climber

The Mountain Climber issue is now well documented, as one of the contacts with the British. But one contact that seems to have slipped under the radar is the contact Adams personally had with the British. In his book Before the Dawn, Adams, in his own words, says that he was on the phone to a British contact when Joe McDonnell actually died. 

Who was this contact and where are the transcripts of these conversations? Why the need for the Mountain Climber if Adams and his “kitchen cabinet” had direct contacts with the British?

There are lots of other questions that need to be answered about the role that Adams and his “kitchen cabinet” played during the hunger strike, for instance, in the same book, Adams also claims that the British always left it until the critical stage, as a hunger striker neared death, and phoned late at night believing that they (the “kitchen cabinet”) would be at a low ebb (now this is not the Mountain Climber contact, as that was all done in writing and only started on the 4/5 July) so he, Adams, got into the habit of cat-napping during the day to be fresh for these calls.

Now what has me confused about all of this is (1) what “critical stage” was there before Joe died that Adams had contact with the British? Surely that would be the first four strikers? (2) Did the prisoners and their families know about this contact, because as far as I can tell this contact is not recorded elsewhere. (3) It is obvious from his own words that Adams played a major role (key role?) in the hunger strike, yet now remains totally silent in public on what that role was. Why?

Finally, to the families I am sorry if this has opened old wounds for you, but this is not going to go away. The hunger strike and the men who died on it are such a massive part of our history that the events of 1981 will always be in the public domain and questions will be asked about the men and the hunger strike, just as questions are asked and examined about other major events in our history that wider society has a vested interest in, and that’s the way it should be.

Gerard Foster

Sourced from The Andersonstown News


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A day-by-day account of the events of early July, 1981.

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