July 1981

Icon

Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Cartoon: Throwing the Book At Gerry

thebookatgerry

 Sourced from John Kennedy

Cartoon: Enforcing the Cover Up

bangersbrowniescrews

Sourced from John Kennedy

Joe McDonnell’s Death: Expanded Timeline 29 June – 12 July 1981

UPDATED 25 Nov 2011 – Brendan Duddy’s Mountain Climber notes added; quote from John Blelloch
UPDATED 11 July 2009 – Excerpts from Biting at the Grave added

Merged Timeline – Joe McDonnell’s death

Please note this timeline is by no means definitive and is subject to revision as more sources are added and/or more evidence and information comes to light. This timeline is a verbatim compilation of various sources in a chronological order and is open to interpretation.

Sources: Danny Morrison, Garret Fitzgerald, Brendan Duddy, John Blelloch, British Government documents, Ten Men Dead, Before the Dawn, Biting at the Grave, INLA Deadly Divisions, Blanketmen, Irish News, Belfast Telegraph, eyewitness accounts.

KEY:

DM = Danny Morrison

GF = Garret Fitzgerald

Other sources are noted in text.

29 June

DM: Four hunger strikers have already died – Bobby Sands on day 66, Francis Hughes on day 59, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara on day 61 of their hunger strike.

DM: Joe McDonnell is on day 52 without food. Secretary of State, Humphrey Atkins reaffirms that political status will not be granted and that implementing changes in the areas of work, clothing and association present ‘great difficulty’ and would only encourage the prisoners to believe that they could achieve status through “the so-called ‘five demands’”.

30 June

GF: “The IRA reaction, allegedly on behalf of the prisoners, had been to describe this response as ‘arrogant’. Nevertheless the Commission for Justice and Peace saw the British statement as encouraging – as did we – and sought further clarification. Our information from the prison was that, despite the IRA statement purporting to speak for them, the prisoners wanted the commission to continue its involvement. We were also aware that the relatives of the prisoners on hunger strike were becoming increasingly restive at the IRA’s intransigent approach.”

1 July

GF: “On 1 July Michael O’Leary and I communicated our view on these points to the British Ambassador and urged that the NIO meet the commission again and allow the commission to meet the prisoners. We also warned against any policy of brinkmanship, which – especially in the view of the nearness to death of one hunger striker, Joe McDonnell – could harden attitudes, including in particular the attitudes of the relatives, who had the power to influence developments. That night I rang Margaret Thatcher to make these points directly to her.”

3 July

DM: Irish Commission for Justice and Peace [ICJP] has eight-hour meeting with Michael Alison, prisons minister.

GF: Garret Fitzgerald meets with relatives of the prisoners/hunger strikers:

“This meeting on 3 July was, as I had expected, intensely distressing, but it enabled me to see for myself that while there were those among them who took a straight IRA line, most of them were indeed primarily concerned to end the hunger strike.”

4 July

DM: ICJP again meets Alison who gives its representatives permission to meet the eight hunger strikers in prison hospital. They are shocked at the condition of Joe McDonnell. Prisoners later issue statement saying British government could settle the hunger strike without any departure from ‘principle’ by extending prison reforms to the entire prison population. ICJP tells prisoners’ families that they are ‘hopeful’ but that prisoners deeply distrust the authorities.

DM: British government representative (codenamed ‘Mountain Climber’) secretly contacts republican leadership by ‘back channel’. Insists on strict confidentiality.

GF: “The Minister of State at the NIO, Michael Allison, met the commission again. He gave the impression that he wanted to be more conciliatory, but referred to ‘the lady behind the veil’, namely the Prime Minister. As we had proposed, he cleared a visit by the Commission for Justice and Peace to the prisoners, who then issued a statement that, as we had thought likely, was much more conciliatory than the one published by the IRA on their behalf three days earlier. They said they were not looking for any special privileges as against other prisoners, and that the British government could meet their requirements without any sacrifice of principle. It looked as if the commission would now be able to resolve the dispute with Michael Allison, who seemed close to accepting their proposals.”

GF: “Following the conciliatory statement by the prisoners, direct contact had been made with the IRA by an agent of the British government, through an intermediary. Disastrously, his proposals, while close to what the prisoners and Allison, through the commission, were near to agreeing, went further in one respect. Not unnaturally the IRA preferred this somewhat wider offer, and above all the opportunity to be directly involved in discussions with the British government.”

Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, pg 90-92: “Both sides met again on 4 July for what the Commission members felt was a pro-forma exercise. Within minutes of the meeting’s beginning, however, Alison did a complete about-face. If the hunger strikes were to end, he told the Commission, the government would not appear to be acting under duress, in which case all prisoners would be allowed to wear their own clothes. Own clothing as a right, not a privilege, Hugh Logue asked. Own clothing as a right, Alison replied.”

“After the meeting with Alison the Commission was given permission to go immediately to the Maze/Long Kesh prison. When they arrived, they were brought to the hospital wing […] The eight hunger strikers sat on one side of a table on which jugs of water had been placed; the five commissioners sat opposite them.”

“For the next two hours the two sides went over the proposals the Commission had hammered out with Alison and which it now thought were on offer. Prisoners would be allowed to wear their own clothes at all times as a matter of right, not privilege; association would be improved by allowing movement by all prisoners during daily exercise time between the yard blocks of every two adjacent wings within each block and between the recreation rooms of the two adjacent wings in each block during the daily recreational period; the definition of work would be expanded to ensure every prisoner the widest choice of activities – for example, prisoners with levels of expertise in crafts of the arts could teach these skills to other prisoners as part of their work schedules, prisoners would be allowed to perform work for a range of charitable or voluntary bodies, and such work could even include the building of a church “or equivalent facilities for religious worship within the prison”.”

5 July

Brendan Duddy’s Mountain Climber notes:

Send on 5 of July
Clothes = after lunch
Tomorrow
and before the the afternoon visit
as a man is given his clothes
He clears out his own cell pending the resolution of the work issue which will be worked out [garbled] as soon as the clothes are and no later than 1 month.
Visits = [garbled] on Tuesday. Hunger strikers + some others
H.S. to end 4 hrs after clothes + work has been resolved.

Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, pg 96:

“…Danny Morrison was allowed to go into the Maze/Long Kesh to see the hunger strikers on the morning of 5 July…to apprise them of what was going on, although he did not go into detail. Morrison says that he relayed information about the contact and impressed upon them the fact the ICJP could “make a mess of it, that they could be settling for less than what they had the potential for achieving.”

GF: “They were then allowed by the British authorities to send Danny Morrison secretly into the prison for discussions with the hunger strikers and with the IRA leader there, Brendan McFarlane. This visit was later described by the IRA as a test of the authority of the British government representative in touch with them to bypass the NIO.”

DM: After exchanges, Mountain Climber’s offer (concessions in relation to aspects of the five demands) goes further than ICJP’s understanding of government position. Sinn Fein’s Danny Morrison secretly visits hunger strikers. Separately, he meets prison OC Brendan McFarlane, explains what Mountain Climber is offering should hunger strike be terminated. McFarlane meets hunger strikers.

DM: Morrison is allowed to phone out from the doctor’s surgery. Tells Adams that prisoners will not take anything on trust, and prisoners want offers confirmed and seek to improve them. While waiting for McFarlane to return Morrison is ordered out of the prison by a governor [John Pepper].

Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, pg 92: On Sunday, 5 July, Bishop O’Mahony, Hugh Logue and Father Crilly went back to the Maze/Long Kesh to talk with McFarlane. They spent about four hours with him.

Sources various: McFarlane returns to block; sends O’Rawe a run-down of the offer from the Mountain Climber. McFarlane, as told to Brian Rowan: “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.” O’Rawe and McFarlane agreed there was enough there to accept the offer: “We spoke in Irish so the screws could not understand,” Mr O’Rawe told the Irish News.“I said, ‘Ta go leor ann’ – There’s enough there. He said, ‘Aontaim leat, scriobhfaidh me chun taoibh amiugh agus cuirfidh me fhois orthu’ – I agree with you, I will write to the outside and let them know.” Conversation confirmed by prisoners on the wing.

DM: ICJP visits hunger strikers and offers themselves as mediators. Hunger strikers say they want NIO rep to talk directly to them. Request by hunger strikers to meet McFarlane with ICJP is refused by NIO. Mountain Climber is told that prisoners want any offer verified.

Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, pg 93: “That evening the commissioners met with the prisoners again for about two and a half hours. This time the conversation centred on the question of guarantees – although the hunger strikers had not indicated that they regarded what was being proposed as being fully acceptable. They would, they said, have to consult their colleagues. […] They wanted a senior official from the NIO to come into the prison and spell out to them what was on offer – they would have to hear it from the British themselves rather than take the Commission’s word for it. Nevertheless the focus on the question of guarantees led the commissioners to believe that what had been put on offer the day before had not been repudiated, even after overnight consideration.”

““On the last night,” says Logue, “they [the hunger strikers] were all saying that we had to square any settlement we had, even if it was acceptable to them, with Bik.” In short, what the prisoners appeared to be saying was that if the terms were acceptable to McFarlane, they were acceptable to them. McFarlane was down the corridor in his bed – he had been brought into the hospital wing that evening and provided with a bed there so he could stay over and be available for consultation with the commissioners if the need arose. O’Mahony and Logue went down to talk to him. “He listened to us for about two minutes,” says Logue, “and turned around and went back to sleep and Joe McDonnell was going to be dead within thirty-six hours and I never forgave him for that. He was not in the business of trying to get a solution.” Nevertheless, the commissioners left in a hopeful state. Before they left, Kieran Doherty spoke briefly in Gaelic to Oliver Crilly. Doherty, Crilly told Logue, had told him that if somebody came in and read the terms out to the hunger strikers, they would accept them.”

Comm to Brownie from Bik (6.7.81 11pm – referring to events of the 5th):

“….Anyway Pennies will have filled you in on main pointers. The Bean Uasal has a time table of meetings, OK. At them all the same line was pushed by the Commission. You should have the main points from Pennies. They have maintained to myself and hunger strikers that principle of five demands is contained within the stuff they are pushing and that Brits won’t come with anything else.”
“I spent yy [yesterday] outlining our position and pushing our Saturday document as the basis for a solution. I said parts of their offer were vague and much more clarification and confirmation was needed to establish exactly what the Brits were on about. I told them the only concrete aspect seemed to be clothes and no way was this good enough to satisfy us. I saw all the hunger strikers yesterday and briefed them on the situation. They seemed strong enough and can hold the line alright. They did so last night when Commission met them. There was nothing extra on offer – they just pushed their line and themselves as guarantors over any settlement. The hunger strikers pushed to have me present, but NIO refused this and Commission wouldn’t lean hard enough on NIO. The lads also asked for NIO representative to talk directly to them, but the Commission say this is not on at all as NIO won’t wear. During the session H. Logue suggested drafting a statement on behalf of the hunger strikers asking for Brits to come in and talk direct, but lads knocked him back. A couple of them went out and made a phone call to NIO on getting me access to meeting and on getting NIO rep. They didn’t really try for me, according to Lorny, because when asked they said they didn’t want to push too hard and had been put off by the Brit’s firm refusal. Meeting terminated about midnight and Bishop O’Mahoney and J. Connolly paid me a short visit just to let me know the crack. Since then I haven’t been to see anyone except Lorny and Mick Devine on the way back to the block this morning. Requests to see hunger strikers and O/Cs have not been answered at all…I’m instructing Lorny to tell hunger strikers (if they are called together) not to talk to anyone till they get their hands on me. OK? By the way Joe was unable to attend last night’s session.”

Jack Holland & Henry McDonald, INLA, Deadly Divisions, page 179:

“Shortly before Joe McDonnell’s death, Councillor Flynn received a telephone call from a man in the Northern Ireland Office, who told him to go to Long Kesh. “There are developments,” was all he said. Even though it was late at night, Flynn went, accompanied by Seamus Ruddy. The NIO official, who refused to give his name, met him, and revealed that there had been discussions between Sinn Fein and the government and that it looked like they might settle. Flynn was given permission to go into the jail and speak to Lynch and Devine, who corroborated the NIO man’s assertion but said that the five demands were not being met, so whatever the Provisionals did, the INLA hunger strikers would not budge. Flynn could not get the official to reveal what was being offered. Later, when he confronted the Provisionals, they denied that they were engaged in any secret talks with the NIO.”

6 July

Brendan Duddy’s Mountain Climber notes:

The S.S. [Shop Stewards/Adams Committee] fully accept the posal — as stated by the Union MemBship [The Workers/Prison Leadership]
And that is the only Basis for a successful draft proposal by the Management. [British/Thatcher]
It is essential that a copy of the draft be in the S.S. hands Before it is made public.
To enable the S.S. to apr – up
or to point out any difficulty before publication
If it is pub. without prior sight and agreement the S.S. would have to disapprove it.
Monday Morning
July 6th.

Richard O’Rawe, Blanketmen, page 184:

“On the afternoon of 6 July, a comm came in from the Army Council saying that it did not think the Mountain Climber’s proposals provided the basis for a resolution and that more was needed. The message said that the right to free association was vital to an overall settlement and that its exclusion from the proposals, along with ambiguity on the issue of what constituted prison work, made the deal unacceptable. The Council was hopeful, though, that the Mountain Climber could be pushed into making further concessions. As usual, the comm had come from Gerry Adams, who had taken on the unenviable role of transmitting the Army Council’s views to the prison leadership.”

DM: Gerry Adams confides in ICJP about secret contact and the difference in the offers. Commission is stunned by disclosure. It confronts Alison and demands that a guarantor goes into the jail and confirm what is on offer. Alison checks with his superiors and states that a guarantor will go in at 9am the following morning, Tuesday, 7 July. Hunger strikers are told to expect an official from the NIO.

GF: “On Monday, 6 July at 3:30pm, according to the account given to me shortly after these events, Gerry Adams phoned the commission seeking a meeting, revealing that the British government had made contact with him. An hour and a half later two members of the commission met Adams and Morrison, who told them that this contact was ‘London based’ and had been in touch with them ‘last time round’, i.e. during the 1980 hunger strike. Adams demanded that the commission phone the NIO to cancel their meeting.”

GF: “Members of the commission, furious at this development, then met Allison and four of his officials. They asked him if he had been in communication with the hunger strikers or with those with authority over them. He said that no member of his office had been in contact, and, when pressed, repeated this line. They then discussed the Commission’s own proposals.”

GF: “When the commission contacted us immediately after this meeting, they told us nothing about the London contact with Adams and Morrison – understandably, given that this was a telephone call – which in any event still did not loom large in their eyes at that point beside the agreement they believed they had reached, which indeed seemed to them to have settled the dispute and to be about to end the hunger strike.”

GF: “The commission had produced to Allison the statement on which they had been working, which they described as ‘a true summary of the essential points of prison reform that had emerged.’ They told Allison that this statement was considered by the hunger strikers to be ‘the formation [sic] of a resolution of the hunger strike,’ provided that they received ‘satisfactory clarification of detail and confirmation by an NIO official to the prisoners personally of the commitment of the British Government to act according to the spirit and the letter’ of the statement.”

GF: “Although there was a difference of opinion on whether certain of the concessions were ‘illustrative’ or not, this does not seem to have been a problem for the British at the time, since Allison went out to make a phone call and then came back to say that he had approval. He proposed that an NIO official would see the prisoners with the governor by mid-morning the following day, Tuesday. When we received this information Demot Nally phoned the British Ambassador to urge that this confirmatory visit take place as soon as possible.”

GF: “Late that night, however, the commission was phoned by Danny Morrison seeking a meeting, which they refused; but half an hour later he arrived at the hotel, saying that the Sinn Fein-IRA contacts with the British were continuing through the night and that he needed to see the actual commission proposals. This request was refused, although he was given the general gist of them.”

Brendan Duddy’s Mountain Climber notes:

Reply 11:30 PM July 6

The British Gov. is preparing to issue a statement only if there is an immediate end to the hunger strike.
(A) Prison reg. in Armagh would become general in NI prison ie civian clothing
B Visits as for conforming prisons
C Re. as stated on June 30 by Sec of State

7 July

DM: Republican monitors await response from Mountain Climber.

DM: 11.40am: Bishop O’Mahoney [ICJP] telephones Alison asking where the guarantor is. Alison suggests he and the ICJP have another meeting. O’Mahoney tells him he is shocked, dismayed and amazed that the government should be continuing with its game of brinkmanship. He says: “I beg you to get someone into prison and get things started.”

DM: 12.18pm: ICJP decides to hold 1pm press conference outlining what had been agreed by the government and explain how the British had failed to honour it.

DM: 12.55pm: NIO phones ICJP and says that an official would meet the hunger strikers that afternoon.

DM: 1pm: ICJP calls off its press conference.

GF: “On Tuesday afternoon, Gerry Adams rang to say that the British had now made an offer but that it was not enough. Three members of the commission then met Adams and Morrison, who produced their version of the offer that they said had been made to them. The commission saw this as almost a replica of their own proposals but with an additional provision about access to Open University courses.”

Brendan Duddy’s Mountain Climber notes:

Freedom of Movement would be permitted within each wing. Prison officer would maintain the total control of supervision during these periods:

Prison work will vary between Cell and Block maintenance, educational, cultural subjects ie Open University, toy making for charities. Building projects, ie New Church.

FOI Document 1: “Extract from a letter dated 8 July 1981 from 10 Downing Street to the Northern Ireland Office”

“Your Secretary of State said that the message which the Prime Minister had approved the previous evening had been communicated to the PIRA. Their response indicated that they did not regard it as satisfactory and that they wanted a good deal more.”
“That appeared to mark the end of the development, and we had made this clear to the PIRA during the afternoon.”

DM: “Late afternoon: Statement from PRO, H-Blocks, Richard O’Rawe: “We are very depressed at the fact that our comrade, Joe McDonnell, is virtually on the brink of death, especially when the solution to the issue is there for the taking. The urgency of the situation dictates that the British act on our statement of July 4 now.””

FOI Document 1: “This had produced a very rapid reaction which suggested that it was not the content of the message which they had objected to but only its tone.”

GF: “Meanwhile the commission had spent an agonising day, for while London had been negotiating with the IRA, Allison and the NIO had prevaricated about the prison visit, repeatedly promising that the official was about to go to the prison.”

DM: 4pm: NIO tells ICJP that an official will be going in but that the document was still being drafted.

Padraig O’Malley: Biting at the Grave, pg 97: “At one point, David Wyatt, a senior NIO official who had sat in on most of the discussions, rang to explain the delay: a lot of redrafting was going on and it had to be cleared with London.”

DM: 5.55pm: ICJP phones Alison and expresses concern that no official has gone in.

DM: 7.15pm: ICJP phones Alison and again expresses concern.

FOI Document 1: “The question now for decision was whether we should respond on our side. He had concluded that we should communicate with the PIRA over night a draft statement enlarging upon the substance of the previous evening but in no way whatever departing from its substance. If the PIRA accepted the draft statement and ordered the hunger strikers to end their protest the statement would be issued immediately. If they did not, this statement would not be put out but instead an alternative statement reiterating the Government’s position as he had set it out in his statement of 30 June and responding to the discussions with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace would be issued. If there was any leak about the process of communication with the PIRA, his office would deny it.”

GF: “At 8:30pm, however, Morrison and a companion had come without warning to the hotel where the commission had its base. Their attitude was threatening. Morrison said their contact had been put in jeopardy as a result of the commission revealing its existence at its meeting with Allison; the officials present with Allison had not known of the contact. Despite this onslaught the commission refused to keep Morrison informed of their actions.”

DM: 8.50pm: NIO tells ICJP that the official will be going in shortly.

DM: 10pm: Alison tells ICJP that no one would be going in that night but would at 7.30 the next morning and claims that the delay would be to the benefit of the prisoners. Republican monitors still waiting confirmation from Mountain Climber that an NIO representative will meet the hunger strikers. The call does not come.

GF: “At ten o’clock that night Allison phoned to say that the official would not now be going to the prison until the following morning – adding, however, that this delay would be to the prisoners’ benefit.”

Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, pg 97: “Asked by Logue why no representative had been sent into the prison that morning, Logue says that Alison replied, “Frankly, I was not a sufficient plenipotentiary.””

FOI Document 2: “Extract from a Telegram from the Northern Ireland Office to the Cabinet Office”

PLEASE PASS FOLLOWING TO MR WOODFIELD
MIPT contains the text of a statement which SOSNI proposes to authorise should be released to the hunger-strikers/prisoners and publicly. The statement contains, except on clothing, nothing of substance which has not been said publicly, and the point on clothing was made privately to the provos on 5 July. The purpose of the statement is simply to give precise clarification to formulae which already exist. It also takes count of advice given to us over the last 12 hours on the kind of language which (while not a variance with any of our previous public statements) might make the statement acceptable to the provos.
The statement has now been read and we await provo reactions (we would be willing to allow them a sight of the document just before it is given to the prisoners and released to the press). It has been made clear (as the draft itself states) that it is not a basis for negotiation.”

FOI Document 1: “The meeting then considered the revised draft statement which was to be communicated to the PIRA. A number of amendments were made, primarily with a view to removing any suggestion at all the Government was in a negotiation. A copy of the agreed version of the statement is attached.”

“The Prime Minister, summing up the discussion, said that the statement should now be communicated to the PIRA as your Secretary of State proposed. If it did not produce a response leading to the end of the hunger strike, Mr Atkins should issue at once a statement reaffirming the Government’s existing position as he had set out on 30 June.”

10pm Comm to Brownie from Bik:

“…I don’t know if you’ve thought on this line, but I have been thinking that if we don’t pull this off and Joe dies then the RA are going to come under some bad stick from all quarters. Everyone is crying the place down that a settlement is there and those Commission chappies are convinced that they have breached Brit principles. Anyway we’ll sit tight and see what comes…”

8 July

DM: 4.50am Joe McDonnell dies on the 61st day of his hunger strike.

GF: “Just before 5:00am that night Joe McDonnell died. At 6:30 the governor, in the presence of an NIO official, read a statement to the prisoners that differed markedly from the one prepared by the commission, and, in their view, approved by Allison thirty-six hours earlier. Fifteen minutes later Adams rang the commission to say that at 5:30am the contact with London had been terminated without explanation.”

Gerry Adams, Before the Dawn, page 299:

“Very early one morning I and another member of our committee were in mid-discussion with the British in a living room in a house in Andersonstown when, all of a sudden, they cut the conversation, which we thought was quite strange. Then, later, when we turned on the first news broadcast of the morning, we heard that Joe McDonnell was dead. Obviously they had cut the conversation when they got the word. They had misjudged the timing of their negotiations, and Joe had died much earlier than they had anticipated.”

DM: 9am: An NIO official visits each hunger striker in his cell and reads out a statement which says that nothing has changed since Humphrey Atkins’ policy statement of 29 June, thus suggesting that there was no new document being drafted as claimed by the NIO at 4pm on 7 July.

John Blelloch: “[…] the problem as always was seeing whether we could find some fresh statement of the government’s position which respected all our, which abided by our principal objectives which we adhered to throughout the hunger strike but nevertheless constituted some sort of opportunity for the prisoners to come off it. As far as I remember the delay on that was actually getting final agreement to the text of what might be said, which was not easy, and in the event McDonnell died before that process could be completed and of course thereafter it collapsed.” – 1986 interview with author Padraig O’Malley

GF: “When we heard the news of Joe McDonnell’s death and of the last-minute hardening of the British position, we were shattered. We had been quite unprepared for this volte-face, for we, of course, had known nothing whatever of the disastrous British approach to Adams and Morrison. Nor had we known of the IRA’s attempts – regardless of the threat this posed to the lives of the prisoners, and especially to that of Joe McDonnell – to raise the ante by seeking concessions beyond what the prisoners had said they could accept. We had believed that the IRA had been in effect bypassed by the commission’s direct contact with the prisoners at the weekend, which we had helped to arrange.”

DM: ICJP holds press conference and condemns British government and NIO for failing to honour undertaking and for “clawing back” concessions.

GF: “That afternoon the Commission for Justice and Peace issued a statement setting out the discussions they had had with Allison leading to the agreement reached on Monday evening. I then issued a statement recalling that I had repeatedly said that a solution could be reached through a flexibility of approach that need not sacrifice any principle. While the onus to show this flexibility rested with both sides, the greater responsibility must, as always, rest on those with the greater power.”

10 July

DM: ICJP leaves Belfast.

10pm comm to Brownie from Bik:

“…No one will be talking to them [ICJP] unless I am present and then it will only be to tell them to skit OK. More than likely you lot have already done a fair job on them this evening. Sincerely hope so anyway. If we can render them ineffective now, then we leave the way clear for a direct approach without all the ballsing about. The reason we didn’t skite them in the first instance was because I was afraid of coming across as inflexible or even intransigent. Our softly softly approach with them has left the impression that we were taking their proposals as a settlement. I’m sorry not I didn’t tell them to go and get stuffed.”

Comm to An Bean Uasal from Bik, Fri. 10.7.81

“Comrade, got your comm today alright. Find here a statement attacking ICJP as requested.”

12 July

Comm to Brownie from Bik

“…Talking to Pat [McGeown] this morning and he reckons we should not have cut out the Commission. I explained the crack in full, but he’s one for covering all exits no matter what the score is. Just thought I’d mention that, OK?…”

GF: “I have given a full account of these events (some of them unknown to us at the time they took place) because in retrospect I think that the shock of learning that a solution seemed to have been sabotaged by yet another and, as it seemed to us, astonishingly ham-fisted approach on behalf of the British government to the IRA influenced the extent and intensity of the efforts I deployed in the weeks that followed, in the hope – vain, as it turned out – of bringing that government back to the point it had apparently reached on Monday 6 July.”

Sourced from:
Danny Morrison, Timeline: 2006 & 2009
Garret Fitzgerald, Excerpt from autobiography, All in a Life, 1991, pages 367-371
Brendan Duddy, Mountain Climber notes
Freedom of Information documents, Sunday Times website
Gerry Adams, Excerpt from autobiograpy, Before the Dawn, 1996, page 299
Padraig O’Malley, Biting at the Grave, 1990, page 90-98; interview with John Blelloch, 1986
Jack Holland & Henry McDonald, INLA, Deadly Divisions, 1994, page 179
Richard O’Rawe, Blanketmen, 2005, page 284
David Beresford, comms from Ten Men Dead
Brian Rowan, interview with Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, 4 June, 2009
Steven McCaffrey, Irish News, Former comrades’ war of words over hunger strike, 12 March 2005

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Recent Items

Contents

Use this link to access all contents

New to Archive

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


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