July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Jim Gibney on Brendan Duddy: Secret go-between shines a light on history makers

Secret go-between shines a light on history makers
By Jim Gibney, The Thursday Column (Irish News)
06/08/09

The names most publicly associated with the Irish peace process are Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, John Hume, Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern, Fr Alex Reid, David Trimble,

Ian Paisley, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

The one name which does not readily come to mind is that of Derry man Brendan Duddy.

Yet Brendan Duddy, now 73 years old, is slowly emerging as another important name to add to that list from a period in time when the armed conflict here was at its bleakest.

For more than two hours last Saturday in St Mary’s College on Belfast’s Falls Road, gently nudged along by journalist and author Brian ‘Barney’ Rowan, Brendan Duddy shone a light into a world where history makers live – a world beyond the camera, the scribe and the media sound-bite.

Brendan Duddy was speaking at Belfast’s Féile an Phobail’s first of many debates. The event, ‘The Secret Peacemaker’ is an apt description of a man who kept his counsel about his role as a conduit between the British government and the leadership of the IRA and Sinn Fein for more than 20 years until he thought it appropriate to speak.

At first glance Brendan Duddy strikes you as a most unlikely person to perform the role of a go-between, which survived three British prime ministers – including Margaret Thatcher – and the various leadership changes within the IRA.

He is diminutive in stature, soft spoken and unassuming – not the sort of person to inhabit a world where spies from MI6 or MI5 knock on your door, metaphorically speaking, with a request that you contact the IRA leadership on behalf of their masters, the British government.

But on reflection Duddy is precisely the type of person to fulfil that role because he has the qualities required – discretion, dependability and trustworthiness.

Duddy, known to both sides as the ‘Mountain Climber’ (because he ran up and down mountains near his home to keep fit), knew and spoke with leading republicans such as Seamus Twomey, Ruairi O’Bradaigh, Dave O’Connell and Martin McGuinness over a 25-year period.

He did so after receiving occasional requests from a range of British intelligence operatives like Michael Oatley and his successors. These men he described as “servants” of the British government.

His first point of contact with the British crown forces was with a Catholic RUC man based in Derry, Frank Lagan. Duddy owned and ran a chip shop which he described as a “political salon”, frequented by John Hume, Bernadette McAliskey and Eamon McCann, leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

He described Lagan as a “networker” within the broad Catholic community.

Lagan’s first request was for Duddy to ask those organising the civil rights march, which became Bloody Sunday, not to march. He refused to do so.

The second request was to ask the IRA and Official IRA not to have guns on the march. This he did. Bloody Sunday was, he said, “premeditated murder”.

Lagan introduced him to Oatley in the early 1970s. Duddy came to view him as a “vehicle for change”. He told this to leading republicans and he told Oatley: “You have to talk to the IRA”.

He was involved in the background to the IRA’s ceasefire of 1974-75, which he described as “not having a chance because the time was not right”.

When Thatcher came into office Oatley told him: “Put on your long-johns, we are going into the ice-age.”

That ice-age thawed during the first and second hunger strikes of 1980-81 when he was involved in efforts through Oatley and another agent of the British government to secure an acceptable solution. At Saturday’s event he appealed for an end to the ongoing “damaging debate” about the hunger strikes.

British prime minister John Major reopened contact with him (a contact that survived British state violence and IRA attacks).

He accused the Tories of trying to destroy the early moves towards peace when they claimed that Martin McGuinness had sent a message asking for help to end the war.

He said Martin McGuinness was “psychologically incapable” of such a suggestion.

It was a fascinating discussion and in time the people of this country will rightly see Brendan Duddy as a ‘servant of peace’.

Sourced from the Irish News

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

Brian Rowan and Brendan Duddy to Speak at Feile

The Secret Peacemaker

Brendan Duddy interviewed by Brian Rowan
St Mary’s University College
Saturday 1st August, 2.30pm

For two decades spanning a period from the early seventies to 1993, Brendan Duddy was the secret link between the British Government and the republican leadership. His codename was the ‘Mountain Climber’ and he was the ‘backchannel’ as the British and the IRA explored peace in the early nineties. In conversation with journalist Brian Rowan, followed by Q & A.

Feile Belfast

Sile Darragh’s letter deconstructed + Sands Family objection

Excerpt from Slugger O’Toole comment section discussion, looking at the Sands family objection to the Bobby Sands Trust, and deconstucting the Sile Darragh letter.

Sile Darragh is a member of the Bobby Sands Trust, which has a vested interest in protecting the Morrison narrative, not least because Danny Morrison is its secretary.

The legal firm Madden & Finucane continues to act for the trust, whose original members were Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, the late Tom Cahill, Marie Moore and Danny Devenny. For a time, Bobby’s two sisters, Marcella and Bernadette, were members of the trust. Current members are Gerry Adams MP, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, Jim Gibney, Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, Sile Darragh, Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, and Peter Madden.

launch-of-site11

5 of the current Trust members are party to the dispute over the prison acceptance of the July offer. A further Trust member then weighs in with a letter supporting their position, and it in turn is flogged by Raymond McCartney on Radio Foyle as the new leadership line, which appears also in the Brian Rowan article about Brendan Duddy.

By the by, the Sands family has long disowned the Bobby Sands Trust and have sought in the past to have it wound up. In 2000,

A spokesperson for the Sands family said that all of the dead hunger striker’s family were united on the issue and would consider any avenue to wind up the trust. “We simply want his property returned and for (Sinn Féin) to cease using him as a commodity”, said the spokesperson.

According to the Sands family version of events it was their unhappiness with the way Bobby Sands’ writings and poetry were being treated by some in the Sinn Féin leadership that led to a new Trust being set up in 1994.

“We came to look closer at the Trust and in turn were concerned at the lack of control or accountability”, said one family source. “There were no records of minutes etc. or proper accounts and it was debatable if they ever functioned as a Trust but rather as an extension of SF. It has been claimed that Marcella was a member of the Trust for instance yet she was never informed of meetings or for that matter who the other members were”.

There was also family concern over an alleged attempt by Sinn Féin to insert a clause in the new Trust which would have made Gerry Adams a financial beneficiary. “It came in the draft version of the new trust documents drawn up in 1994 though Adams said that it should read the president of Sinn Féin of the day. We didn’t agree to either”.

Now, onto Síle Darragh’s letter – which really doesn’t amount to much more than what has already been said by the Morrison crowd; its only value is that it allows them to now say, “Síle Darragh’s letter,” and imply by reference that she is some sort of new authority for having put her name to something Morrison himself likely wrote. No matter – it says:

I have before me, David Beresford’s book Ten Men Dead which was published in 1987 and which presumably Richard O’Rawe has read. Here are some quotes from 1981: “The Foreign Office, in its first offer . . .” (p293); “a vague offer” p294; “parts of their offer were vague” – Brendan McFarlane (p295); “nothing extra on offer” (p295); “what was on offer” (p297); “he [Gerry Adams] told the two men [Fr Crilly and Hugh Logue of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace] what the Government had been offering” (p297).

I have before me Ten Men Dead, too, and so, to look at the pages cited.

Page 293 – the full quote describes the offer made through the Mountain Climber link. This has now been confirmed by Brendan Duddy as the offer obtained by Liam Clarke via FOI requests and can be viewed here.

Page 294 – says that the section on remission is “a vague offer”, but as we see from the NIO document:

III. allow the restoration of forfeited remission at the discretion of the responsible disciplinary authority, as indicated in my statement of 30 June, which hitherto has meant the restoration of up to one-fifth of remission lost subject to a satisfactory period of good behaviour;

(Síle’s letter was written before the NIO material was available and, obviously, before the Derry meeting).

Page 295 – a misleading extract from a comm of Bik McFarlane’s. He is speaking of the offer the ICJP was pursuing:

“I saw all the hunger strikers last night (6 July) and briefed them on the situation. They seemed strong enough and can hold the line alright. They did so last night when the Commission met them. There was nothing extra on offer – they just pushed their line and themselves as guarantors over any settlement.”

So although the word ‘offer’ appears in the line, it confuses things as it is referring to a different offer from the Mountain Climber one.

Page 297 – This refers to when Adams told the ICJP to back off because he had a better offer from the Mountain Climber.

“Adams had decided they had to take a chance and let the commission know about the contacts with the British Government – for no other reason than to explain why the Commission should withdraw. He told the two men what the Government had been offering – more than had been offered to the Commission – explaining he believed the authorities were merely using the ICJP as an intelligence feed, as a cross-check to construct a strategy to win, or at least settle, the dispute. The commissioners were stunned by the disclosure.”

Page 294 and 302 – That Morrison was in the hospital on the day has never been in dispute. However, the reference on page 302 to his visit is worth looking at a little closer. It quotes a comm McFarlane sent to Adams reassuring him that the hunger strikers were accepting the Adams line:

“Now I had a yarn with all the hunger strikers. They are all strong and determined. Very angry about Joe’s death, as we all are. I emphasized the point of staying solid and keeping their clanns (families) in line…‘Pennies’ had already informed them of the ‘Mountain Climber’ angle and they accepted this as 100%. They accept the view that the Brits, in trying to play us too close to the line, made a blunder and didn’t reckon on Joe dying so quickly…”

What this reads as is McFarlane reporting back that he had told the hunger strikers what Adams wanted him to and that they believed him.

Darragh then goes in her letter to say “Mr O’Rawe didn’t speak to the hunger strikers, didn’t visit the prison hospital or meet the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace.” This has no bearing whatsoever on O’Rawe’s role, and his knowledge of the acceptance of the Mountain Climber offer between himself and McFarlane.

So now that we have looked at the Darragh letter in detail, we turn to Brendan Duddy’s endorsement of it as reported by Brian Rowan.

It is entirely consistent with his position at the Derry meeting, and in keeping with what his knowledge would have been at the time in his role as the Mountain Climber link. The difference is that in Derry, he was presented with the NIO document and able to verfiy that as the offer he conveyed to the Adams committee, he was able to clarify that he was never told of the prison leadership’s acceptance of the offer, and he confirmed the response from the Adams committee was to reject the offer. Brian Rowan, who was at the Derry meeting, did not have the NIO document at the time he wrote his article, and apparently did not ask him if he knew of the prison leadership’s acceptance of the deal. A failure to ask relevant questions does not mean ‘the witness is unreliable’; it means the lawyer is shading the examination, or not asking the right questions.

It is because Duddy answered all questions put to him in Derry, and moved the story forward beyond the Morrison offer/deal fudge because of the clarity his answers brought, that he is now being thrown under the bus by those who previously championed him. His account is still consistent with events as we know them and what knowledge he would have in his role as the link. The contention is that the Adams committee over-ruled the prison leadership’s acceptance of the offer Duddy was aware of; why then, would Duddy, who was not in direct contact with the prisoners, know otherwise? He would only know what the Adams committee told him as to what the IRA’s position was. He knew of the offer going in, and he knew that the offer was not accepted by the Adams committee. So of course he would say, “Síle Darragh got it spot on,” because she is describing what the Adams committee told Duddy.

There’s no contradiction; he has remained consistent throughout, given the remit of his role.

Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole, comments 12-14, page 4 of discussion

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

“Rusty Nail”: Account of Gasyard Meeting

Sunday, May 24, 2009
The Truth is a Heartbreaking Thing
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

Last night in Derry a significant meeting was held examining the events of the 1981 hunger strike, specifically looking at the negotiations between the British and the PIRA around the time of hunger striker Joe McDonnell’s death. He was the fifth hunger striker to die; five other young men died of starvation after him. Since the publication of the book, Blanketmen, by Richard O’Rawe, a horrible question has been raised: were the deaths of those 6 men a betrayal of unimaginable magnitude? The heartbreaking truth as emerged undeniably last night is yes.

On the panel were Willie Gallagher, IRSP; Gerard Hodgins, former PIRA hunger striker; Richard O’Rawe, former PRO for the prisoners during the hunger strike; Tommy Gorman, former PIRA prisoner and chair of the meeting; Liam Clarke, Sunday Times journalist; and Brendan Duddy, the Mountain Climber link that ferried negotiation messages between the British and the PIRA’s hunger strike committee which consisted of Danny Morrison and Gerry Adams and also, it is believed, Martin McGuinness, Jim Gibney and Tom Hartley.

Richard O’Rawe’s contention that on July 5th a British offer, authorised by Thatcher, came into the prison via Danny Morrison to Bik McFarlane, was discussed by himself and Bik, that it was agreed that there was enough for the prisoners to accept, and that acceptance was to be sent out to the outside leadership, was verified: Willie Gallagher presented excerpts from a recorded conversation between two former prisoners in which one of them, whose identity is known to those who have heard the tapes, confirms the conversation between O’Rawe and McFarlane took place. In addition to that, former prisoner Gerard Clarke came forward last night and also confirmed that he heard the conversation take place as described by Richard O’Rawe.

Liam Clarke presented new documents obtained from the NIO under Freedom of Information requests that contained the British notes of the offer that was made. O’Rawe confirmed that what was in the British documents was what was relayed to Bik McFarlane, and that was what they had discussed and accepted. Brendan Duddy confirmed that the offer in the documents was that which he conveyed in his role as messenger to the Adams/Morrison committee. He had no knowledge that the prisoners had accepted the offer; he confirmed that the response from the representative of the IRA he was in contact with was to reject the offer.

The only question remaining now is why.

The insulting nonsense about the difference between and offer and a deal and all the shifting denials from Danny Morrison and those pushing the Sinn Fein line is meaningless. The revisionist propaganda about the ending of the first hunger strike and its impact on the second is also exposed for the self-serving guff it is.

O’Rawe was right. His account is now verified by prisoners who heard the conversation between himself and Bik McFarlane; by British documents that detail the offer they discussed; and by the messenger who delivered both the British offer and the Provo hunger strike committee rejection. The IRSP and INLA are on record as having no knowledge of the Mountain Climber negotiations, let alone an offer that was acceptable to the prisoners; and members of the Provisional IRA Army Council of the time have also made clear they too were unaware that the members of the hunger strike committee were in contact with the British government, directly negotiating with the British government, and over-ruling the prisoners’ wishes while doing so.

This is devastating.

Tommy McCourt, at the time a representative of the IRSP, spoke to the meeting about the last time he saw Mickey Devine in the prison hospital before he died. They discussed his funeral arrangements; Devine believed that to come off the hunger strike, even with the support of the INLA and IRSP, would be a complete defeat, one he could not inflict upon his comrades. Neither McCourt nor Devine were aware that just weeks earlier, an honourable end to the hunger strike could have been had for all; but for the political machinations of a secret few. “All those weeks before [his death], there was an offer which I could have said to Mickey Devine, ‘Here’s an offer Mickey. This could save your life.’”

Gerard Hodgins quoted Gerry Adams in his address to the standing room only crowd: “A happy ending, finally, eventually, it seems to me is more important than a tell-all story now.” (Gerry Adams, A Farther Shore, 2003) He spoke of how for too long Republicans accepted the ‘packaged narrative’; now, “We need to know the truth…The genie is out of the bottle. There has to be some way of full disclosure, full truth of everything known of them days between leadership and the British and that’s what I would call for, some way of inquiry, some way that we could get at all the facts from all the key players of that day.”

The truth is a heartbreaking, but needed thing. We know the ending isn’t a happy one. This is why the truthful ‘tell all story’ is more important now than ever. Tell the truth, Mr Adams. No one wants nor needs the packaged narrative of false happy endings anymore.

Links to speech transcripts, copies of the British documents, videos, and other reports of the night will come tomorrow.

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

“Rusty Nail”: Announcement of Gasyard Meeting

Thursday, May 21, 2009
Upcoming Debate: “What is the Truth Behind the Hunger Strike?”
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

Briefly: This Saturday, 7:00 at the Gasyard in Derry, an open meeting organised by Republican Network for Unity is to be held examining the events of the 1981 hunger strike, specifically the contention that the prisoners accepted a deal that was overruled by the outside leadership, after which six further men died on hunger strike. Confirmed speakers include Brendan Duddy, Willie Gallagher, Richard O’Rawe, and Liam Clarke. Danny Morrison refused to participate. Invitations were also issued to Bik McFarlane and Gerry Adams, who have not responded. In a taste of what is to come this weekend, earlier today, Richard O’Rawe and former (1980) hunger striker Raymond McCartney were interviewed by Sarah Brett on Radio Foyle. This interview will be available on the BBC website for a week (it is also archived on YouTube: Part 1 & Part 2), and starts close to the beginning of the programme. In yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, Brian Rowan quotes Brendan Duddy and an un-named source with “considerable knowledge of the Mountain Climber initiative” who puts forth the Morrison argument in regards to the controversy – the semantical, chimeric word play of the difference between an ‘offer’ and a ‘deal’ and how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin. Duddy, it seems, holds to the view, initially relayed by Eamonn McCann, that the outside leadership was incompetent, and, like Raymond McCartney in the Radio Foyle interview, endorses Sile Darragh’s talking points, which first emerged, in part, in an anonymous comment on Anthony McIntyre’s blog. Sile Darragh, like Morrison, McFarlane and Gibney, is a member of the Bobby Sands Trust and her letter seems to be the newest leadership line, as it is pushed in Rowan’s article and McCartney also followed it in today’s radio discussion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer much beyond Morrison’s semantical argument which seems to get destroyed bit by bit as more information continues to come out. Meanwhile, in Rowan’s article, the anonymous source shifts the blame to the prisoners themselves. This shift is interesting as O’Rawe claims that the prisoners accepted the deal, and now a source close to the negotiations claims that the prisoners were naive, inexperienced and incapable of “making a judgment”, which seems to be a backhanded defence of why the outside leadership would have over-ruled them – because they thought they knew better than the prisoners themselves. Inch by inch, are we getting closer to the truth of what happened in July, 1981?

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

A fresh glimpse into the untold story of the hunger strike

A fresh glimpse into the untold story of the hunger strike
The hunger strike still divides opinion after almost 30 years. Brian Rowan believes a conference in Londonderry on Saturday may hold some of the answers
Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The source who spoke to the Belfast Telegraph has considerable knowledge of the Mountain Climber initiative in the summer of 1981 — an initiative linked to the republican hunger strike.

It was a secret contact channel between the Government and the republican leadership through which a verbal and private offer on the prisoners’ demands was communicated.

The source does not talk about a deal back then, but describes a situation that is “dramatically complex” and says whether there could have been a deal “becomes an opinion ? how you interpret it”.

The answers that some are looking for do not exist, he told me.

“There is no new knowledge — no new facts. (David) Beresford in (the hunger strike book) Ten Men Dead wrote where it was at. Nothing was ever communicated on paper to the IRA.”

The source describes the period as the Thatcher era — long before the British and the IRA began to think and talk about peace.

“Thatcher wasn’t thinking about the Good Friday Agreement. Thatcher was thinking about hammering them (the IRA).”

And he has another observation — “a lack of experience (on the republican side) in terms of how a Government worked”.

The prisoners’ demand back in 1981 for the Government to send someone into the jail to explain A, B, C, D and E in terms of their offer represented, in the source’s opinion, “a complete non-understanding of Government”.

“A representative of the NIO going in to negotiate with McFarlane (the IRA jail leader Brendan McFarlane) — not on,” the source said.

There are those who think that Brendan Duddy may be able to help with some of the answers, and this Saturday he will speak in a hunger strike debate in his home city of Derry.

He was the key link in the Mountain Climber chain and he believes the continuing row over the hunger strike is being fought outside all the emotion and the complexities and the doubts of 1981.

Duddy is on the record saying he spent every hour of every day trying to save the lives of the hunger strikers.

One of his daughters, Shauna Duddy, described to me seeing her father, shoulders slumped, a cup of tea in his hand, looking out the window with “tears running down his neck”.

This, in one house, is just one of the memories of that period.

You have to understand the bigger picture to understand Duddy.

He is a lifelong pacifist who wanted the deaths within the prison to stop and the killings outside the prison to stop.

His mission — even back then — was to develop a peace process and achieve a dialogue between the British and Irish.

During the Mountain Climber initiative Duddy was speaking to a representative of the British Government.

Some believe it was the MI6 officer Michael Oatley, but my understanding is it was not.

So what was Duddy’s role in 1981? Was it to make a deal?

He will tell you that was a decision for others — “people at the coalface” — British and republican, the same republicans who felt conned at the end of the first hunger strike in 1980 and feared “they were going to be conned again”. Duddy believes this played into their thinking in the summer of the following year.

And he agrees with those, including a former woman prisoner in Armagh Jail who recently wrote to a Belfast newspaper to highlight the difference between an offer and a deal.

“Sile Darragh got it spot on,” he said.

Ten men died in the prison battle. Could things have been different? Almost 30 years on the argument continues.

“The real question is should they (the republican leadership) have settled,” the Mountain Climber source said. It’s a matter of opinion.

“Were people at death’s door (the hunger strikers) capable of making a judgment?”

Almost three decades later the story of the hunger strike has not faded. It is still being debated and argued and fought over by some who were part of it and others who were not.

Sourced from the Belfast Telegraph

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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.