July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

The Public and the Private

The Public and the Private
Anthony McIntyre
The Pensive Quill

Richard O’Rawe has just published a new book. Its title is Afterlives and was launched in Belfast on Thursday evening. Due to last minute ‘ambushes’ I was dragged elsewhere and had to cancel my planned journey north. Much to my regret, because O’Rawe is a battler who has done much to protect free inquiry from book burners and censors. Each time I have tried to phone him since his line has been engaged. I somehow doubt if it was with callers telling him how upset they were at his new work. They would rather paint on walls.

I have still to get a copy but it is being said that Afterlives is a forensic destruction of the argument that that the then republican leadership has no case to answer over its management of the 1981 hunger strike. O’Rawe sets out his stall in relation to the heated debate generated in the wake of his first book Blanketmen. It was there over five years ago that he first publicly vented grave misgivings about the longevity of the strike, expressing the view that with better management six lives need not have been lost. What he said in Blanketmen he had already been saying in private for years. In fact it was through such claims that I ended up meeting him again after a gap of many years. Our paths for long enough simply had not crossed.

Brendan McFarlane the leader of the IRA prisoners during the 1981 hunger strike has reentered the fray against O’Rawe. McFarlane, while not silent on the issue previously, has not been to the fore of the debate to the extent that some might have expected. The prolix of others who have rejected the O’Rawe claims seems not to have done the trick. Turning up the volume and drowning all else out might have made things loud but certainly not clear. So McFarlane has stepped in to the breach to make up the deficit. No easy task given that O’Rawe in the public mind has taken on the persona of writer in residence in the hunger strike debate, his account the incumbent narrative which others must dislodge if they are to make progress of their own. The once dominant Sinn Fein perspective has been rocked and now struggles to stay on its feet and avoid the telling blows that have so far penetrated its guard.

In literary terms O’Rawe’s reversal of fortunes is akin to the Soviet obliteration of the German Operation Barbarossa. Hit by a seemingly unstoppable Blitzkrieg of ill will and hate salvoes from the minute it emerged out of its birth canal, O’Rawe’s challenging account had to withstand a battle a day. But gradually and against the odds, the besieged author carefully pulled his critics onto the punch and delivered body blows that pushed them back well behind their own lines.

It is with much regret that I have followed Brendan McFarlane’s recent contributions including that in today’s Irish News. He does not seem comfortable in the role. Earlier in the week in the Derry Journal he was adding new detail to the narrative which to have any bearing should have seen the light of day much earlier in the debate. Unlike O’Rawe’s revelations, they seem awkward and grafted on, constructed from the perspective of the present rather than as an accurate history of the past.

I have long regarded Brendan McFarlane as a person of immense integrity who led from the front in the violent crucible of the H-Blocks. His task was onerous and unenviable. I feel distinctly uncomfortable about the position this outpouring of critique has placed him in and have said as much to O’Rawe. Yet the chips fall where they do and the evidence lends itself to no conclusion other than that a deal was offered which was accepted by the prisoners. This acceptance was subsequently subverted by the leadership for whatever reason and the hunger strike carried on with the resulting loss of six more lives.

Today Brendan McFarlane revealed communications written by Richard O’Rawe in his capacity as jail PRO. McFarlane claims these show that O’Rawe while in the prison was not of the view that the British had made any substantive offer. But this is old hat, a repeat of the Danny Morrison venture to Dublin a few years ago to search archives for similar communications. Morrison returned to Belfast and revealed that what he had discovered in Dublin was … Dublin. Few took the Morrison ‘comms’ disclosure seriously, intuitively knowing that the public positions of the day were not what people believed privately. How otherwise could the ‘victory’ parade presumably organised by Morrison and others in the wake of the vanquished 1980 hunger strike have gone ahead? The organisers knew privately that no victory had been achieved but publicly ran with the victory parade anyway.

Brendan McFarlane is an important witness to history. He could do worse than take stock of his situation and render a version of events that, even if at odds with the interpretation of Richard O’Rawe, at least sounds credible. The current narrative he is defending is, as William Sydney Porter might have said, ‘beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.’

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: The Wonka Theory of Everything

Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The Wonka Theory of Everything
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

What has been noticeable in the continuing debate about the hunger strikes prompted by the publication of Richard O’Rawe’s book Blanketmen four years ago is that in recent months those most critical of the author have appeared ideationally bankrupt. Any new evidence, insights or interpretations all seem to be reinforcing the O’Rawe perspective. At the beginning of April when the Sunday Times produced documentation indicating that Margaret Thatcher despite her unyielding public stance was privately committed to making substantial concessions to end the strike, Sinn Fein was reduced to falling back on the tried and failed rebuttal that the documents originated with British military intelligence.

When much that was new emerged from the Derry Gasyard debate the party claimed that there was in fact nothing new at all and that what charges had been made there had been:

comprehensively rebutted by documentary and witness testimony when they first appeared. The deaths of all the hunger strikers is the direct responsibility of a British government intent on defeating republicanism. It is regrettable that there are some who have preferred to ignore the truth of what occurred and seek to use events then to further their anti-Sinn Fein agenda today.

At the secretive Gulladuff meeting those disagreeing with Sinn Fein’s version of events were said to be driven by an anti-party agenda.

Added to this are Brendan McFarlane’s comments in London that the ongoing debate fits into a wider effort to undermine the current Sinn Fein president and main negotiator on the Sinn Fein side during the hunger strike: ‘all this information is specifically being used to target Gerry Adams and discredit both him and Sinn Féin.’ You would actually think Roland Dahl was writing the party script.

‘You see Charlie’, he said, ‘not so very long ago there used to be thousands of people working in Willy Wonka’s factory. Then one day all of a sudden, Mr Wonka had to ask everyone of them to leave, to go home, never to come back.’
‘But why?’ asked Charlie.
‘Because of spies.’
‘Spies?’
‘Yes. All the other chocolate makers you see had begun to grow jealous of the wonderful sweets that Mr Wonka was making, and they started sending in spies to steal his recipes.’

This amounts to little more than an assertion that that people who are sceptical of the party go to bed at night and get up the following morning with only one thing on their minds – frustrating the political career of Gerry Adams by stealing his chocolate recipe. As if there are not more important things in life than that; going for a pint, watching a game of soccer, reading a book etc. As well, it overlooks the more plausible view of Professor Paul Bew who pointed out some time back that British state strategy under Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell was about ensuring that the Adams leadership stayed in position. That leadership was considered the best bet for the success of British strategy. Talk to any British official and you get something similar. At a conference in an English university a number of years ago myself and Catherine McCartney pulled faces at each other as we listened to a British minister defend the Adams leadership against criticisms of it in obsequious tones the likes of which are normally only witnessed at Sinn Fein Ard Fheiseanna or in a Thursday column in the Irish News.

Whether intentional or not, the ‘everybody is out to steal Gerry’s chocolate recipe’ mantra amounts to a discursive subterfuge which seeks to disguise the usefulness of the Adams leadership to British state strategy in Ireland.

It is noticeable that Danny Morrison, the most prominent opponent of the O’Rawe perspective, avoids the ‘securocrats at work’ argument. Alert to the nuances of the PR game he is presumably aware that it is synonymous with a guilty plea given what the securocrats have been blamed on over the years. This is why both Brendan McFarlane and Sinn Fein have sounded less plausible than Morrison. Few buy into the notion that the British state seriously want to do Adams or the peace process harm. Although spinning it that way helps the credulous see a master plan that doesn’t exist in order to remain blind to the disaster plan that does.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: Dribblers

Sunday, June 21, 2009
Dribblers
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

Given the level of detail that the ongoing debate on the 1981 hunger strike has generated – four years it has now lasted despite claims by Richard O’Rawe’s critics to have finished him off all of four years ago – it seems most people that I talk to have settled on a workable interpretive framework through which to filter a conclusion. They increasingly opt for the prove all panacea – whether or not the conversation that Richard O’Rawe claims to have taken place between him and Brendan McFarlane in which they said ‘deal’ in response to the British government’s ‘offer’, actually happened. After Derry’s Gasyard debate it is hard to find any but the usual suspects holding the line.

In the four years since the debate began in earnest there have been many cases of premature verdicts announced, based on the telling blow never delivered. The purpose is always the same: cry ‘victory’, mob the man who supposedly rattled home the winner, and the crowd will jump and down in celebration of the goal not scored. The roar of ‘O’Rawe demolished, account comprehensively rebutted’ has gone up quite a few times. For something so ‘comprehensively rebutted’ we find, puzzlingly, his attackers still needing to rebut it.

Earlier this week the key critics of O’Rawe hosted a secret meeting in Gulladuff to which the families of the dead hunger strikers were invited to be addressed by a high powered panel of speakers. The secrecy defeated its own purpose by dint of its inability to keep its own logic a secret. The meeting was hardly just to show the families an action replay of the great victory over O’Rawe that comprehensively demolished him. It represented a fear of cross examination, probing, and cold analytical pursuit of the facts. Others not privy to the secret gathering were barred including the father of a dead 16 year old republican activist shot dead by the British Army in the hours following the death of the hunger striker Joe McDonnell.

To date nothing seems to have emerged from the meeting that would strengthen the hand of those who hosted it. All those comprehensive rebutters for all their comprehensive rebuttals still seem to be taking considerable blows to glass chins that have been left, well, what else other than comprehensively exposed. The man who was supposed to have been on the canvas all those years ago seems to be still in the ring and has been scoring consistently with his jabs against an opposition frequently missing with its jibes. There are signs of growing anger and frustration in the ranks of the opposition that O’Rawe has refused to lie down as commanded and that seconds are crowding into his corner in stark contrast to March 2005 when the book was first launched.

Spectators watching even great players take the ball around their opponent and then around him again and again still want to see the leather hit the back of the onion bag. But dribbling at the mouth and not with the ball at feet has led to O’Rawe maintaining a clean sheet, his net still intact. Pronouncing great victories do not great victories make. Four years after the first great victory today’s proclamations of more great victories sound like Comical Ali’s utterances during the first days of the US invasion of Iraq – loud but empty. The reality check is this: the idea that O’Rawe was counted out is rubbish. Those who did the counting display symptoms of being arithmetically challenged – Ireland united by 2014 and all that.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

“Rusty Nail”: Account of Gulladuff Meeting

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gulladuff: More Heat Than Light
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

UPDATE: SINN FEIN issues statement calling for a cover-up

Wednesday night in Gulladuff, South Derry, Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison and Bik McFarlane met with some members of some of the families of the 1981 hunger strikers. Anyone having any hopes of Sinn Fein supporting and honestly participating in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission should just go home now. It was a complete farce from beginning to end. Goons from West Belfast patrolled the parking lot and guarded the door to the community hall. When former Hunger Striker Gerard Hodgins, and Jimmy Dempsey, a former prisoner and father of John Dempsey, the 16 year old boy who died in the riots that occurred at the death of Joe McDonnell, and who is buried in the republican plot alongside McDonnell, along with a representative for the O’Hara and Devine families, asked to participate in the meeting, Danny Morrison forcibly closed the door on them, snarling that they were not wanted, that they had had their chance at the Gasyard Debate to speak to the families and if the families chose not to attend then, it did not mean that he had to allow them into the hall now. When it was pointed out that the representative was there at the request of two of the families, he stated he would go back and ask the families if entry would be permitted. He then locked them out.

Not long after, Bobby Storey, who had nothing to do with the hunger strike, came out and confronted the trio, insulting Gerard Hodgins under his breath by claiming he was in the Continuity IRA and making allegations about the recent break-in at his home. He clapped Dempsey on the back and turned on a sweeter tone, saying he was sorry about his son but he had no right to be there. Hodgins stated he wanted to make clear that he was not in the CIRA, that such allegations were spurious, and was Storey the source of them for the Andersonstown News. Storey rudely snapped, “I’m not talking to you,” and went on attempting to pacify Dempsey. Hodgins responded, “But I am talking to you,” whereby Storey whipped round, pointed his finger directly at Hodgins and said, “See you? I will speak to you at a time and place of my choosing.” This was a clear threat, which Hodgins underlined by asking incredulously, “Are you threatening me?” Realising he had gone too far, Storey made his excuses to Dempsey and was let back into the hall. Dempsey was clearly unhappy at being locked out of a meeting he felt, as his son’s death was a direct result of Joe McDonnells’, he had every right to be at, to ask, did his son have to die? If the outside leadership at the time had accepted the Mountain Climber offer, and Joe McDonnell had not died, nor would have young John Dempsey.

Yet Bobby Storey, a man who had nothing to do with the hunger strike and who had just threatened a hunger striker, had the doors unlocked for him.

And that was only the fireworks outside the meeting. Inside, it got worse.

With an inauspicious start, Adams introduced the meeting referring to “conspiracy theories by anti Sinn Fein elements” and drawing a comparison to conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Michael Collins, one of which alleges he was set up and shot by his own IRA men.

All the inconsistencies in the press to date were only amplified at the meeting. Attempts to clarify points or challenge previous statements were met with indignant fits of pique, such as Morrison claiming he would never sit in the same room with Richard O’Rawe, “the man who accused me of murdering 6 hunger strikers!”, or Gerry Adams repeatedly asking, “Do you think I am telling the truth, yes or no?”

Bik McFarlane also kept to the discredited nonsense that it was the hunger strikers who rejected the offer, despite evidence that the hunger strikers were never told the details of the offer.  He and Morrison claimed that all the hunger strikers (including Lynch and Devine) were told about the Mountain Climber offer and had refused, saying it was not enough. McFarlane then denied he ever had the the “Tá go leor ann” conversation with O’Rawe based on that claim, saying, “How could I? After hearing the men reject the offer put to them?” This notion does not jibe with any of the historical records and accounts of that time period.

Bik McFarlane claimed that he was always saying “I agree with you” in Irish to Richard, in a pathetic attempt to explain away the prisoners coming forward who overheard the conversation between himself and O’Rawe accepting the Mountain Climber offer. He was explaining that the prisoners who heard that conversation were mixing up the numerous conversations he had with O’Rawe in which he agreed with what O’Rawe was saying. This of course moves further still from his starting position of never having had any such conversation with O’Rawe, to now having had so many, he and other prisoners would be unable to keep track of them.

The ICJP and Mountain Climber offers were conflated in an attempt to obscure the outside rejection of the Mountain Climber offer. PRO statements, statements which were written at the behest of Adams, were repeatedly presented as if they reflected the private comms between the prison leadership and the outside. None of the private comms referring to the Mountain Climber, which O’Rawe had given Adams in 1986, were produced.

O’Rawe was demonised in the meeting, called a liar, painted as the villain and ascribed nefarious motives for pursuing the truth. Some families’ representatives were characterised as ‘anti-GFA’ and those who had attended the Gasyard debate, many of whom were former blanketmen, were derided as ‘yahoos’. A dubious motion was attempted to get the families to agree to a joint statement that would say they were all agreed any probing into the past should cease. They ‘had enough’, ‘old wounds had opened up’, and O’Rawe ‘should stop’,’ he was ‘only after money for books’; Danny Morrison fanned the flames of the attacks on O’Rawe’s character, keeping them going whenever they appeared to peter out. He mentioned O’Rawe’s taking him to court ‘over things I said during an RTE interview’, described how no matter how often he would meet O’Rawe, he never mentioned the relevations. A meeting on the hunger strike was turned into a manipulative back stabbing session. The Sunday Times and Republican Network for Unity were in for kickings as well. The proposed joint statement was objected to and not supported by all. A suggestion that the families meet with O’Rawe and others was knocked back. It was put forward that one of the families approach O’Rawe to tell him to ‘back off’ and ask for a response.  No motions proposed were passed; the meeting was becoming very emotional and many family members were close to tears.

Adams, McFarlane and Morrison were asked would they cooperate with an independent inquiry; the answer was a resounding “NO.”

After an hour and a half of hectoring, emotional manipulation, browbeating and more lies, Mickey Og Devine left early, visibly upset. He was disgusted with what he felt was nothing more than a sham, and with all the shouting and deflection when points were raised that challenged the platform. Other family members were also emotionally distraught when the meeting ended not long after he left.

Last weekend in New York, Gerry Adams waxed nostalgic about the peace process, noting how long it took to get from the start of the process to where Sinn Fein are today. He made observations about all the people – ‘the naysayers and begrudgers’ – who were against the peace process, who did not think it would work, and who did not want Sinn Fein to participate in such. Yet, he proudly claimed, Sinn Fein persevered.

Some Slugger readers will recall, in 1996, prior to the Good Friday negotiations, the image of Adams and McGuinness standing outside locked gates, begging civil servants for access to the British talks going on without them. Now Sinn Fein locks out republicans from their ‘private’ Widgery on their own actions during the Hunger Strike. A widgery in which they absolve themselves of any and all wrongdoing and condemn those who seek only the truth, putting figurative nailbombs into the pockets of anyone who dared challenge them.

The hypocrisy of allowing Bobby Storey, party enforcer, to stand menacingly at the back of the hall with his arms folded, glaring at anyone who didn’t pay homage to Dear Leader, while barring entry to a former hunger striker, the father of a young Fian killed as a result of Joe McDonnell’s death, and representatives requested by families is staggering.

However long it takes from being locked out of a SF widgery until finally achieving a full independent inquiry, with the ability to challenge all views openly and forthrightly in order to ascertain what exactly did happen and why, with or without an official Truth and Reconciliation Commission, those seeking the truth of what happened in July 1981, will persevere, just as Sinn Fein did, despite the naysayers and begrudgers who would rather bury the truth, or present a whitewash as fait accompli. No one is asking for another Bloody Sunday type inquiry – but a Widgery is unacceptable.

In using the families to hide behind the skirts of, it must be remembered that Sinn Fein has not had a problem with disrespecting and going against families of hunger strikers’ wishes when it suits them. Slugger has already noted the Sands family withdrawal of support for the Bobby Sands Trust, of which Morrison, McFarlane and Adams are on the board, because they were deeply unhappy with what they felt was the abuse of their relative. In addition, the Sands family were also vocal about their displeasure with the Denis O’Hearn biography of Bobby Sands, Nothing But An Unfinished Song. This did not, however, stop Sinn Fein, through Eoin O’Broin’s Left Republican Review, from publishing the book in conjunction with Pluto Press, nor launching the book across the country and supporting the children’s edition of the biography, which was co-written with Laurence McKeown. Sinn Fein was so ecstatic about that book they wanted it introduced into school curriculum.  The Sands’ family position on the book, and indeed, the gross abuse of Bobby Sands’ image by the party, means absolutely nothing to Sinn Fein.

If we support the right of O’Hearn, as a historian, to write a biography of a noted historical figure, and the right of former prisoners McKeown and Elliott to contribute to an adaptation for children, while also endorsing its use in schools, despite the express wishes of the family; then it follows that we must support O’Rawe’s book as well.

This therefore becomes an issue of freedom of speech; for if families are to hold history hostage to their emotions, nothing would be written. If families are to be manipulated by politicians who wish to bury the truth of history, and people are then expected, via emotional blackmail, to defer to “the families’ wishes”, nothing would be written but the politicians’ lies. Families may express their disapproval but that will not and should not stop history from being probed, challenged, written, and read.

Clearly, ‘private’ meetings are not sufficient to address public concerns about important issues such as the hunger strikes, which had a massive impact on society beyond a handful of family members. Enough information and evidence is now out in the public domain that needs answered elsewhere from Diplock courts. Blanketmen have the right to ask their leaders of the time for a public and truthful accounting of what they did and why, without it being reduced to a browbeating exercise in deflection. The republican community at large is deeply scarred by the hunger strike and they too deserve the truth. Beyond that, the unionist community also has a right to know was the hunger strike prolonged for the promotion of Sinn Fein, as that impacts their own history greatly as well. The truth can’t be disappeared, no matter how many attempts to bury it are made.

Somehow, the bodies keep being found.
Appendix:

Father and son Jimmy and John Dempsey, as written about by Gerry Adams. Jimmy Dempsey was denied entry and locked out of the meeting in Gulladuff.

An Phoblacht, 15 May 2003
Remembering Fian John Dempsey
Within hours of the death on hunger strike of Joe McDonnell, the British Army shot dead 16-year-old Fian John Dempsey. He and two comrades were on active service when they come under fire from a squad of British soldiers at the Falls Road bus depot in Belfast.
John Dempsey died later in the Royal Victoria Hospital. Last week, on Monday 5 May, republicans from the Turf Lodge area of West Belfast unveiled a plaque at the Falls Bus Depot near the spot where he was killed.
As a tribute to the young republican, we reprint an edited version of an article written by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, using the pen name Brownie, in which he outlined the political and social conditions that influenced the thinking of young nationalists and led them into the struggle for national liberation.

Until the morning of last Wednesday week, Fian John Dempsey, aged 16, lived in one of the grey houses which sprawl on either side of the Monagh Road in Turf Lodge.

His family, a week after his death, are now like so many other families, trying to pick up the pieces – in the heart-rending vacuum which is always created by sudden death, especially by the death of one so young and cheerful as John.

At the wake on Thursday week he looks only twelve years old, his body laid in an open coffin flanked by a guard of honour from Na Fianna Éireann.

Hardened by many funerals, by too many sudden deaths, yet one is riveted to the spot unable to grasp the logic, the divine wisdom, the insanity, which tightened a British soldier’s trigger finger and produced yet another corpse.

“He’s so young, ” exclaimed those who call to pay their respects. “Jesus, he’s only a child.”

All night, neighbours, friends and relatives call. All with the same reaction.

But young people call also, shifting uncomfortably in adult company, but strangely unshocked – not visibly at any rate – by what they see in the sad living room of the Dempsey home.

Just a tightening of young faces as they gaze silently at John’s remains, a hardening of eyes, and then silently out again to stand in small groups at the street corner. None of the awkward handshakes and mumbled “I’m sorry for your troubles”.

They understand better than most the logic which directed the British Army rifle at John, and, having understood, they pay their respects and move outside – to wait.

John’s mother, Theresa, sits comforted by friends, while her husband Jimmy stands, a gaunt figure at the head of his son’s coffin, gently stroking John’s head. Jimmy shakes hands with Dal Delaney – both fathers of dead patriots (the latter of Dee Delaney killed in a premature bomb explosion in Belfast in January 1980).

Many of Jimmy’s prison comrades come to the house. He spent six years in Long Kesh as a political prisoner, and soon talk turns to the Kesh, but not like at an adult wake where ‘craic’ flows non-stop.

At least, not in the living room, where the youthful figure in the coffin brings one sharply back from what has passed to what lies ahead, from what has been done, to what still remains to be done.

The next morning, the slow sad procession to the chapel on a bright warm summer morning; and after Mass, the girl piper heralding our passing as we make our way, once again, to Milltown. Down from the heights of Turf Lodge, past the spot where John was murdered, and by the British Army barracks, through the open gates of the cemetery, to the republican plot, where two open graves – one for Joe McDonnell – await our arrival.

John left school at Easter. He played hurling and football for Gort Na Mona and soccer for Corpus Christi, and like his father and his many uncles he was a keep fit enthusiast with an interest in body building.

He joined Na Fianna Éireann in October 1980 and like many young people from Turf Lodge, was subjected to regular harassment by British soldiers.

Wreaths are laid before we leave for Lenadoon and the funeral of Joe McDonnell.

John Dempsey’s funeral, a smaller and in many ways a sadder ceremony than Joe’s, is a stark reminder that for the first time in contemporary Irish history, the struggle has crossed the generation gap.

When Joe McDonnell was first interned in 1972, John Dempsey was a mere seven years old. Yet they were to die and be buried in the same republican plot, within hours of each other, in the service of a common cause and against the same enemy.

As Jimmy Dempsey said of his son, “John has joined the elite. He died for the freedom of his country.”

(A tribute by Brownie) first published in AP/RN 18/7/81

Marcella Sands on record about Denis O’Hearn’s biography of her brother, Bobby:

In response to an article headlined ‘New Book is First Study of Bobby Sands’, which appeared in a recent edition of the Andersonstown News, I wish to put the record straight.

According to the article, the author of the book, Denis O’Hearn, “thanks the hunger striker’s sister Marcella for her help with the book.” This suggests that I had “helped” or participated in some way in the compilation of this book and, therefore, endorsed it. This is misleading and untrue.

I wish to state categorically that neither I, nor any of my family, helped Mr O’Hearn with his book in any way, nor does my family endorse the book. Indeed, the opposite would be the case as his book contains numerous factual inaccuracies.

Denis O’Hearn’s acknowledgment of the family’s position:

[Part of the article could give] the mistaken idea that the Sands family participated in the research for the book. This is not so. I met Marcella Sands when I was beginning my research and she told me that the family did not feel that they could participate because they were writing their own memoirs and it would create a conflict of interest if they also helped me. I respected their decision and on numerous occasions when people asked me, I made it clear that Bobby’s immediate family was not participating. 

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Anthony McIntyre: Clash of Perspectives

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Clash of Perspectives
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you – Oscar Wilde

There has now been a debate on the 1981 hunger strike spanning almost half a decade. Taking their seats on either side of the debating chamber are what may be generically termed the O’Rawe and Morrison perspectives. Use of these terms allows the discussion to be simplified without being compromised by distortion. These shorthand devices permit the tagging of a claim to a certain camp without having to actually implicate either Danny Morrison or Richard O’Rawe in anything that may flow from any particular claim. To say that the Morrison perspective holds that a certain position is either right or wrong does not mean that the statement should be attributed to Danny Morrison or that he even agrees with its content. Same for Richard O’Rawe.

When the author of Blanketmen first made public his misgivings in his book about the management of the hunger strike a more conciliatory approach from his detractors would have gone a long way. It could have capped the discussion. They could easily have acknowledged that the conversation between O’Rawe and Brendan McFarlane on July 5 1981, which has been the subject of much impassioned debate, took place and then moved to create a context favourable to their own narrative: they were in the midst of negotiations; decisions had to be made on the hoof; there was uncertainty about the Brits’ true position and it had to be tested; the British had no one dying in comparable circumstances and could afford to play brinkmanship; events were moving at breakneck pace; in the midst of it all the jail leadership through no fault of its own failed to appreciate that things were changing by the minute and that a much better deal was in the offing if not yet actually on offer; it needed to be explored further to ensure that the strikers got full bangs for their bucks; the republican negotiators delayed in giving the true jail response to the Brits in the hope of getting something much stronger; in the event they misjudged the timing and have been haunted by it ever since. Even had they called it right they can still not be certain that the British would have honoured any of it.

Only the most poisoned would have been at their throats for that. A more general attitude would have been ‘there for good fortune go I.’ Now that window of opportunity is being drawn shut. What room is left for a benign interpretation is being closed down as O’Rawe’s critics paint themselves into a corner. In ensuring that O’Rawe had to fight to maintain his integrity they have handed him the garrotte with which he seems set to strangle their credibility and narrative. They have also given legs to the spectre not conjured up by O’Rawe – only raised by him as one among a number of possible explanations – that there were political and electoral calculations behind the decision to overrule the prisoners.

Trapped by its own intolerance the Morrison perspective was incapable of even acknowledging that a different point of view could be legitimate without necessarily being right. O’Rawe had to be depicted as a Fagin-like character pick-pocketing the hunger strikers’ mantel of legitimacy and whose work was scurrilous in nature. The complete unwillingness to accept a different viewpoint or come up with something other than a strident roar accompanied by whispering campaigns has led to the debate being where it is today, more contentious than it was four years ago, hard fought and conducted in an atmosphere of acrimony. Small wonder there are those who long for a return to the old certainties of 1981. But like a face finger-drawn on a beach those old certainties have been wiped away by waves of doubt, never to return.

Something atypical from O’Rawe’s critics when Blanketmen first came out – something not laced with the typical parsimony that we have grown used to over the years – would have been the a stitch in time that might have saved nine. That was forgone in favour of the more odious notion of stitching up O’Rawe. Now as the threads of the official narrative continue to be pulled it will require the needle of a surgeon applied with more dexterity than witnessed up to now to restore the tattered and torn official narrative to something that even vaguely resembles its former self. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men had a less daunting challenge.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

“Rusty Nail”: Gerry Adams to meet Hunger Strikers Families; Inquiry Sought

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gerry Adams to meet Hunger Strikers Families; Inquiry Sought
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

This week in South Derry, bowing to pressure from recent revelations that have reduced aspects of the standard Provisional narrative of the 1981 hunger strike to self-serving propaganda, Gerry Adams and members of the 1981 PIRA sub-committee for the Hunger Strike will meet privately with members of hunger strikers’ families. This comes as a former hunger striker and other Blanketmen, and the families of hunger strikers Patsy O’Hara and Mickey Devine, have made public calls for a full inquiry into the events of July, 1981.  It has been established an offer, approved by Thatcher, which met 4 of the 5 demands, was conveyed through the Mountain Climber link via Brendan Duddy, to Martin McGuinness in Derry, who in turn brought it to Gerry Adams, Jim Gibney, Tom Hartley and Danny Morrison in Belfast. Danny Morrison gave details of the offer to prison OC Bik McFarlane, who then discussed it with PRO for the Hunger Strikers, Richard O’Rawe. They both agreed there was enough there in the offer to end the hunger strike; Bik McFarlane said he would send word out of the acceptance. This conversation was overhead by a number of nearby prisoners who have come forward corroborating it. Brendan Duddy has confirmed that the response he got from the Adams committee was rejection: “More was needed.” Six hunger strikers subsequently died. The British had the prison authorities implement the substance of the July offer three days after the hunger strike finally ended in October, 1981.
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Anthony McIntyre: Withstanding the Regime

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Withstanding the Regime
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

I did not have to wait until compelling evidence emerged during the debate in Derry’s Gasyard Centre before concluding that an end to the 1981 hunger strike might have been reached in circumstances which would have seen the book Four Men Dead become the pioneering account of what happened behind the tomb-like walls of Long Kesh and its H-Blocks. Even before the publication of Blanketmen, despite being initially hesitant, as a result of conversation with him and others I was drawn to the uncomfortable conclusion that its author was right. When the book appeared on the shelves I commented ‘there was no possible reason that I could think of that would have prompted Richard O’Rawe to craft a tale that would bring him widespread opprobrium.’ Although there was no way of assessing his account on its own terms, I instinctively felt he was on the money. It was the response to his claims that clinched it not only for me but also for a fair few others.

During our pre-publication discussions I cautioned O’Rawe that if he was right his book would prompt a certain reaction. On one occasion I suggested he consider withholding the final product on the mistaken grounds that he might not prove robust enough to face the onslaught that would come his way and told him as much. I felt there was a moral obligation to ensure that he considered the widest range of options because of the consequences. I often joked with him that I could do the solitary, was setting no example for him, and that he was under no obligation to swell the ranks of the ostracised and keep me company. While the party apparatchiks and its military goondas might have been somewhat slow in getting out of the traps when others including myself first began publicly expressing misgivings about what they were telling us regarding the potential of the peace process, by 2005 they had got their bullying act together and would hardly spare O’Rawe their wrath. He was indifferent to it all. I seemed to have forgotten he was a Spartan and was not about to hide behind his shield once the poisoned arrows began raining down on him. He would come out and fight. Once made I welcomed his decision, feeling it was the right thing for him to do.

I had seen it all before and sure enough it came pretty much as expected. It is always the way with them when they are challenged, and particularly so when the challenge has some merit to it. It is the perennial give-away and invariably produces the very outcome their response seeks to avert; the observer infers from the response more so than the challenge that the challenger must have a case. Richard O’Rawe, the former blanket man, once the authentic voice of protesting prisoners, was now to have the blanket ripped from his waist and stuffed in his mouth; it no longer a symbol of potent defiance but a gag to suffocate and produce meekness. He had to be demonised and cut adrift from the social sustenance of the Provisional community; a man who penned ‘scurrilous’ nonsense, who should have called his book ‘on another man’s hunger strike’, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Margaret Thatcher, a liar, a money grabber, a self-promoter, a frustrated entrepreneur seeking another enterprise, an unpardonable creature who should hang his head in shame, even a ‘traitor’, long before Martin McGuinness immortalised the term by hurling it at people who carried out killings without his approval. The sort of things that will be said about you, when you voice concerns, by the staffers of any institution whose sense of power, prestige and privilege are best served by silence in the face of their dubious authority.

A recent example is to be found in the Catholic Church where the senior clerics labelled people much the same as O’Rawe was labelled because a bit of public exposure was not to their liking. So, in O’Rawe’s case the slander campaign was cranked up while the whisper weasels and graffiti vandals set forth to savage his reputation. Meanwhile the muscle flexed itself and filled the doorways of those who might at one time have eaten from the tree of forbidden knowledge and who just might say something in his favour. That would never be allowed to cross the porch and enter the pubic arena.

In spite of all the attempts to generate the power of shame against him O’Rawe simply refused to submit to it. At no time was he prepared to accept the order to sit at the back of the bus. As per usual for those who resist whatever is hurled their way, endurance brings validation. And so it has been for the author of Blanketmen.

Long, arduous and acrimonious the struggle to establish a counter-narrative to the ‘regime of truth’ has survived the regime attempts to demolish it. If the facts of the matter still need to be established definitively Richard O’Rawe’s integrity and reputation do not. On that he has prevailed. For long enough it had been like watching a game of tennis with each point contested as the ball zipped back and forth across the net. After the Derry event there is a sense of the umpire having called game, set and match to O’Rawe. No judgement has been passed on the motives of those who are said to have overruled the prisoners’ decision to accept the British offer; just the fact that they did. All O’Rawe ever needed to prove, really.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: Five Crucial Points

Thursday, June 4, 2009
Five Crucial Points
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

In the conversations I have had with Richard O’Rawe on the alternative view of the 1981 hunger strike proffered in his book Blanketmen I have insisted to him that there are no knock out blows delivered in the type of battle he had entered into. Attrition rather than blitzkrieg would come to characterise his advance. He would face many setbacks, would be let down by those he expected a lot more from, and would at all times feel the breath of hostility hot on the back of his neck. Breakthroughs are always agonisingly slow in coming and when they do can seem anti-climatic. I suggested to him that he would find it a point by point slog first to retain his reputation and then to establish his narrative in the face of withering assault. His achievements would be incremental, his critics nasty and brutish. The hunger strike narrative was a coveted asset from which the fingers of its self-defined custodians would only be prised away one at a time; and with each one removed it would be free to try and gouge him in the eyes. He would be up against pugilists wholly unfamiliar with Queensbury Rules. But at the end of it all if he possessed the necessary stamina and was correct he only had to stay in the ring and the breaks would come his way.

While it might have taken four years it has come to pass. The Derry debate in the Gasyard Centre seems to have been a tipping point. And the narrative has firmly tipped the way of O’Rawe. Since that discussion almost a fortnight ago I have spoken with a number of people from different perspectives and political backgrounds and there is acknowledgement of a definite shift. They all accept that O’Rawe’s credibility as a witness in the eye of the storm, who testified to the turbulence he saw, is now beyond reproach, it being no longer plausible to contend that he manufactured his account. While few of them would go as far as to ascribe the malign or sinister motive, favoured by some, to those republican figures who overruled the prison leadership’s acceptance of the offer from the British to end the hunger strike, they agree that something happened which has yet to convincingly explained.

Despite claims to the contrary we have known for at least four years of the existence of evidence from the wing in which O’Rawe was housed during the hunger strike that would support his claims. Like all evidence it was inconclusive until tested by cross examination. But it at least shaded things the way of O’Rawe. So I was not at all surprised when the former blanket prisoner Gerard Clarke made the contribution in Derry that he did. He claims to have heard the conversation between O’Rawe and Brendan McFarlane, the jail’s IRA leader, on July 5 1981 in which they agreed to accept the British offer. This is nothing new from Gerard Clarke; merely the first time he has said it public. He volunteered it to O’Rawe two to three years ago in a shopping centre but O’Rawe never felt free to cite it until the man himself came forward. Moreover, during his Radio Foyle debate with Raymond McCartney days before the Gasyard event O’Rawe foresaw imminent egg on the face of the Derry MLA over the latter’s allegations that not one person on the wing heard the exchange between O’Rawe and McFarlane. It was a pregnant moment that burst to fruition in the Gasyard.

Important as Gerard Clarke’s intervention was, even more crucial was the contribution made by Brendan Duddy, the conduit between the British government and the IRA leadership in 1981. He not only confirmed that an offer had indeed been made by the British, the contents of which the journalist Liam Clarke produced on the night in documented form, he also claimed that he was told by his contact in the IRA leadership that the offer was not acceptable. The leadership asked for more concessions, not for a British official to be sent in to stand over what was already in the document. O’Rawe’s opponents often insist that a refusal by the British to send in a government representative was the ultimate deal breaker without which no deal could be nailed down.

The five crucial points to emerge from Derry are: documented evidence of a British offer; witness evidence that the document in question was the one handed to his interlocutor in the republican leadership; witness evidence that the offer was refused by the same interlocutor; witness evidence that the stumbling block was not the absence of a British guarantor but not enough on the table; witness evidence that Richard O’Rawe’s account of the conversation between himself and Brendan McFarlane in which they agreed to accept the British offer was correct. The aggregated weight of evidence from Brendan Duddy, Gerard Clarke and Liam Clarke provide a linear account wholly consistent with O’Rawe and seriously at variance with those who would rather Blanketmen had never seen the light of day. Only a rogue intellect could continue to claim that O’Rawe is a falsifier. Too much is falling into place for him.

Against this critics of the O’Rawe perspective are being sorely tested and increasingly found to be wanting. They now sound more raucous than reassured. No new revelation supports their case, not Blelloch, not anything.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

“Rusty Nail”: The Evolution Of Bik McFarlane’s Memory

Thursday, June 04, 2009

“This is a huge opportunity and I feel there’s a potential here to end this”
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

Inch by inch, the truth is coming out. In a major concession, now that Richard O’Rawe’s account of the July Thatcher offer and prison leadership acceptance has been vindicated, Bik McFarlane has changed his story. Suddenly regaining his memory, he recalls a conversation with O’Rawe and comes up with never-before-revealed details of a conversation he held with the hunger strikers. 

This is a major about-face from where he started, going from “That conversation did not take place, there was no deal, there was no offer, there was no rejection, it didn’t happen” to “Something was going down, this is amazing, this is a huge opportunity and I feel there’s a potential here to end this.”

Coming on the heels of Danny Morrison’s admission in last week’s Slugger discussion that the conversation between O’Rawe and McFarlane did in fact take place, and that the prison leadership did accept the British offer, this morsel of truth from McFarlane is to be applauded, however much it contradicts what Morrison has claimed elsewhere. McFarlane is a bit of a wild card like that for the Morrison narrative, not knowing when to agree there was no offer or deal, or exactly why the prisoners are to blame for the July offer rejection. More of it however, please, Bik and Danny. We’ll get the full truth out of yis yet.

In the meantime, let’s look at the remarkable recovery of McFarlane’s memory.

Evolution of McFarlane’s memory:

28 February 2005

UTV interview with Fearghal McKinney: “There was no offer whatsoever.”

11 March 2005

“He [Richard O’Rawe] uses me to give credence to his argument. It’s ‘Bik and Richard this’, and ‘Richard and Bik that’. And it’s totally erroneous, totally and absolutely erroneous,”

“Danny Morrison and myself had a visit together. He informed me that that morning the British had opened a line of communication to the republican movement in relation to the jail hunger strikes. My eyes widened.

“And he said to me ‘I am instructed to inform you, do not under any circumstances build up your hopes’.

“Danny then went and briefed the hunger strikers. I was able to go in and talk to them [and] went back to the block later that afternoon.

“I went back to the block, wrote out a quick note, passed it up to Richard, informed him that the British had opened up a line of communication.

“We were not to spread the word. I told him and I think I told one other member of camp staff. I told him again that we need to see what’s going to happen here.”

“There was no concrete proposals whatsoever in relation to a deal.

“According to Richard he has a deal done. Richard then says that he shouted down to me that ‘that looks good’. ‘I agreed’ and that I would write out to the army council and say that we would accept the deal.

“That is totally fictitious. That conversation did not happen.

“I did not write to the army council and tell them that we were accepting [a deal]. I couldn’t have. I couldn’t have accepted something that didn’t exist.

“He then says that the conversation continued at the window in Irish to confuse the prison guards so they wouldn’t hear. But there’s 44 guys on that wing who have Gaelic.”

“Not only did I not tell him. That conversation didn’t take place.

“No way did I agree with Richard O’Rawe that a deal was offered and that we should accept it and that I would write to the army council and say that ‘that is a good deal we’re accepting it’.

“And one thousand per cent, the army council did not write in and say ‘do not accept the deal’.”

London, weekend of 17th May 2009

REPUBLICAN hunger strike prisoners who died in the Maze prison in 1981 were never offered any ‘deal’ from the Margaret Thatcher-led Government, according to Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane.

“There was never any deal,” he said

“The whole thrust of this is coming from information that certain journalists requested from the British Government. But the Government and the journalists didn’t release it all — so we’ve actually asked them to publish the whole lot because you will see, through an outline of their own documentation, that they did not have any deal.”

“The British opened the conduit,” said McFarlane. “They said it was to bring about a resolution. But they had to go in with a piece of paper to the hunger strikers and say have a read of it, and ask whether we wanted to accept what they were offering — be it one or two concessions or whatever. But the British never came in because no deal existed and it didn’t happen.”

Today, 4 June, 2009

“Something was going down,” McFarlane said. “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.”

[The British had to] “expand the offer, and they need to go into the prison hospital”.

“They (the hunger strikers) were at pains to say the Brits need to come forward,” 

“They need to expand on it (the offer), and stand over it and it needed to be underwritten in whatever shape, form or fashion the British chose to do that. It needed to be confirmed.” 

“We went through it step by step. The hunger strikers themselves said: OK the Brits are prepared to do business — possibly, but what is detailed, or what has been outlined here isn’t enough to conclude the hunger strike.

“And they said to me, what do I think?

“And I said I concur with your analysis — fair enough — but you need to make your minds up.” 

“Something had to be written down. Something had to be produced to the hunger strikers, even to the extent that the Brits were saying, there it is, nothing more, take it or leave it, and that’s the way the lads wanted clarity on this.

“We were never given a piece of paper.”

As we know now from the Gasyard meeting in Derry, a very concrete set of proposals went in to the prison. We also know that the conversation between O’Rawe and McFarlane accepting the offer took place because prisoners are coming forward confirming this. So the lie has shifted from complete denial to one of claiming to have given the hunger strikers in the hospital the full brief of the offer and it being rejected by them. This lie does not work because of a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it was after speaking with the hunger strikers in the hospital that McFarlane and O’Rawe agreed to accept the offer. As McFarlane himself now says today, “This is a huge opportunity and I feel there’s a potential here to end this”.

In addition, the hunger strikers were not told the details of the Mountain Climber offer. As Laurence McKeown wrote in 2005, “Whether it was the ‘Mountain Climber’ or the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, we wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of ‘regime change’.” Had the hunger strikers been presented with the offer as confirmed by Duddy they would have been told more than “vague promises of regime change”. This is backed up by Danny Morrison’s own interview for Padraig O’Malley’s Biting at the Grave, page 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.”

Bik’s own comm to Gerry Adams on 6 July, 1981,  which was sent after receiving a comm that afternoon from the Adams cadre rejecting the prison leadership’s acceptance, also confirms this: “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.”

In the same comm, a suggestion to request the British to come in and detail their offer to the hunger strikers – albeit the ICJP offer – is rejected by the hunger strikers themselves: “During the session, H. Logue suggested drafting a statement on behalf of the hunger strikers asking for the Brits to come in and talk direct, but the lads knocked him back.”

So how can the hunger strikers on the one hand, according to Bik today, reject the offer from the British because they wanted the British to come in to explain it to them in person, while in 1981 he was telling Gerry Adams that the hunger strikers rejected asking the Brits to come in and talk to them directly? How can Bik today claim that he went through the offer with the hunger strikers step by step, yet in 1981 he clearly says he told them that the offer was vague, and the only concrete aspect was on clothes? We know now that the offer was much more substantial than that. We also know Danny Morrison “did not go into detail” with the hunger strikers during his visit to the hospital on 5 July. Laurence McKeown is on record saying the offer was “vague promises of ‘regime change’” – which means he was told nothing about the true nature of the offer. This is also supported by Jake Jackson’s claim in Biting at the Grave (pg 96) that the hunger strikers didn’t know about the Mountain Climber initiative at that point – nevermind being told the full details of the offer that had come in via the link. Subsequent hunger strikers were also told nothing of the offer or rejection.

These people, Morrison and those supporting his narrative, are like a toddler who refuses to go to bed, in the way they begrudgingly give up bits of the truth a little at a time, while still clinging desperately to the shards of the lie. The toddler thinks he just may be able to stop going to bed if he resists and only moves an inch forward when told it is time. He thinks he is being clever, as he gets to stay up longer, and he is complying a little bit, so he rides the two horses, and just may be able keep riding the one he wants. The problem is, no matter what he does, he’s going to end up in bed anyway. By refusing to budge, he just makes things harder for himself and still ends up in bed. This is the same for Morrison, McFarlane, and all those who are mitigating the lie each time more of it is exposed. The truth is coming out, whether they admit to it or not. The more lies they continue to tell, the worse they make it for themselves. They are passing the point where they could have made it easy by admitting to the mistake made – and soon they are going to be thrown over the shoulder and carried to bed by their grassroots who will harbour a great resentment and anger towards them for not telling the truth in the first place when asked.

 

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

British ‘had no intention of resolving the hunger strike’

British ‘had no intention of resolving the hunger strike’
Brian Rowan reports
Belfast Telegraph, Thursday, 4 June 2009

The IRA jail leader during the 1981 hunger strike today said the British Government never had any intention of resolving the notorious prison dispute in which 10 men starved to death.

Brendan ‘Bic’ McFarlane accused the then Thatcher Government of trying to resolve the prison protest “on their terms” while attempting to “wreck” the IRA in the process.

McFarlane, speaking in an exclusive interview for the Belfast Telegraph, again dismissed claims that he accepted an offer secretly communicated by the British that summer, but was overruled by the Army Council on the outside.

The suggestion first emerged in the controversial book Blanketmen — written by former prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who was part of the IRA jail leadership in 1981.

A British offer on the prisoners’ demands was communicated in the summer of that year through a secret contact channel which was codenamed Mountain Climber.

And, on Sunday, July 5, the senior republican Danny Morrison was allowed into the Maze to separately brief McFarlane and the hunger strikers.

“Something was going down,” McFarlane said.

“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.”

But he said he also made clear that more was needed — that the British had to “expand the offer, and they need to go into the prison hospital”.

McFarlane said this was key — that the Government detail its offer directly to the hunger strikers.

“They (the hunger strikers) were at pains to say the Brits need to come forward,” he said.

“They need to expand on it (the offer),” he continued, “and stand over it and it needed to be underwritten in whatever shape, form or fashion the British chose to do that. It needed to be confirmed,” he said.

McFarlane said at the time this had also been made clear to the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace.

“They (the Commission) went directly to the British and urged them to send someone in,” McFarlane continued.

“The British indicated clearly that they were sending someone in and it didn’t happen.

Looking back at the events of 1981, McFarlane said: “It seems very clear that they didn’t have an intention to resolve it to an acceptable degree — that we felt was acceptable.

“They were going to resolve it on their terms and wreck us in the process,” he said.

My crucial discussion with the Maze strikers

When Brendan McFarlane met Danny Morrison in the jail that Sunday afternoon in July 1981, four hunger strikers were dead and another Joe McDonnell “was in an appalling state”.

The jail leader knew that Morrison’s presence meant something was happening.

For months — since the first hunger strike of 1980 — he had been banned from the jail, and, now, on a Sunday when there were no visits the prison gates had opened for him.

The man from the outside was allowed in to explain the Mountain Climber contacts and the offer the British had communicated.

And the fact that the British were in contact — albeit through a conduit now known to be the Derry businessman Brendan Duddy — was progress.

After meeting Morrison, McFarlane met the hunger strikers.

“We went through it step by step,” he said. “The hunger strikers themselves said: OK the Brits are prepared to do business — possibly, but what is detailed, or what has been outlined here isn’t enough to conclude the hunger strike.

“And they said to me, what do I think?

“And I said I concur with your analysis — fair enough — but you need to make your minds up,” he continued.

The hunger strikers, according to both McFarlane and Morrison wanted the British to send someone into the prison.

McFarlane continued: “Something had to be written down. Something had to be produced to the hunger strikers, even to the extent that the Brits were saying, there it is, nothing more, take it or leave it, and that’s the way the lads wanted clarity on this.

“We were never given a piece of paper,” he added.

bik

McFarlane: Key Dates

1951 – born Belfast.

1968 – left Belfast to train as a priest.

1970 – left seminary in Wales and later joined IRA.

1976 – life sentence for gun and bomb attack on Bayardo Bar in Belfast (August 1975, five killed).

1981 – IRA jail leader during hunger strike. Ten men died (7 IRA, 3 INLA).

1983 – he escaped from the Maze in IRA breakout.

1986 – re-arrested in Amsterdam, extradited and returned to Maze Prison.

1998 – release papers signed January 5.

Now – Sinn Fein party activist based in north Belfast

Sourced from the Belfast Telegraph

Anthony McIntyre: Gasyard Examines Graveyard

Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Gasyard Examines Graveyard
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

The discussion at the Gasyard Centre in Derry last weekend seems to have been a seminal moment in the struggle over the interpretation of the 1981 hunger strike. And I missed it. Despite intending to I eventually did not even attempt to make the trip to Derry. Earlier that week I had been in both Belfast and Dublin and didn’t fancy an even longer journey on the road.

These days I tend to write more from impulse than design although I am sure something of the latter has to be present as well. The pressure not to write is no longer there so the impulse to write is considerably weaker. Defying the censor is its own dynamic. Unlike during The Blanket years I write much more leisurely. There is no longer any need to forensically trace and forecast the defeat of the Provisional Movement as a republican project. It is there for all to see. As a consequence of taking the foot off the pedal I am no longer as tuned into the hunger strike debate as I was a number of years ago when I was still writing for The Blanket.

Maybe it is less a case of not being tuned in and more that the debate itself has reached a peak in terms of detail that the time required to follow it through its labyrinth of references and minutiae in the way that Richard O’Rawe or Danny Morrison presumably do is simply not available. While each twist and turn, fought over and dissected, may be all very necessary to keep the discussion critically informed, when it reaches a certain level it goes over the heads of most people. They see the foothills peppered with footnotes before they even get to follow the trail of the Mountain Climber and they baulk. Keeping pace with it all requires a lot of work. That does not prevent me from trying to keep up but there is a sense that I am trying to jog alongside sprinters. If someone appears on radio or TV I listen to them and try to consider the case that they make. That does not mean that I refrain from taking sides. My long held view is that Richard O’Rawe is right and his detractors wrong.

In any event, if there as a choice on a day like this to take the kids to the park or reread Ten Men Dead the kids win out. In the midst of this electrifying discussion, despite talking a bit about it to friends and journalists, I make the time to watch soccer, write banter about the same, browse through or review a book maybe not connected to Irish politics at all, or watch a film. When that is added to time spent at work or courses there are precious few minutes left over that can be squeezed out of the remainder of the day. Life is better served if we remember to live rather than live to remember.

I haven’t even managed to view the Gasyard discussion it in its entirety on Youtube, dipping into various sections in response to calls from people either asking me if I saw this or that contribution or insisting some segment is a ‘must see.’ Nor did I tune into the full debate on Slugger O’Toole – apparently followed by almost everyone else with an interest in the matter – again restricting my forays to dipping in when someone asked what I thought of any particular comment.

As for the Derry event, my wife went up. Not in my stead but in her own right as an observer with a keen interest in the topic. No doubt she appreciated the break from the kids having been with them all week, breaking up their fights, adjudicating on their disputes and tending to their needs. On top of that she travelled North with her buddy so the enterprise was as much an opportunity for chilling out as it was a political expedition. At the same time there is no disputing that as former editor of The Blanket she learned in the school of hard knocks to give no quarter to the censor. She knows all about the need to ensure alternative voices in any field otherwise knowledge of the matter being discussed will be forced to bend to the pressure of conformity applied by those least interested in allowing free discussion. It may have brought more than a fair share of criticism down on her head along with the unsolicited attention of spooky misogynists or misogynistic spooks – take your pick – who from time to time have unleashed salvoes of vitriol her way. But she has remained undeterred, striving always to provide a platform for free inquiry and expression.

I am glad she went up because Richard O’Rawe later told me that she pulled the questions together at the end in ‘professorial’ style. She is not a professor, just someone who knows how to cut through the chaff, guff and tripe – the component parts of a dunghill-cum-barricade against truth into which the censors are firmly burrowed – and apply a forensic mind to uncluttering the debris and extracting the detail that matters. Subsequently she is equipped with the necessary acumen to deconstruct and demolish an account that does not stand up to scrutiny. It is anathema to her detractors.

It is not just that it saves me the bother of having to do something other than play football with the children and their friends that I am totally supportive of her in her efforts to bring light to bear on the issues at stake. It was the type of service The Blanket was always disposed towards. It seems right that the tradition inherited there from earlier anti-censorship republicans should be exported to other venues and forums. And the city of Derry, where Widgery in 1972 wreaked so much dishonesty, is an unlikely venue for a similar dark spirit to haunt the narrative of the hunger strike.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

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

Discussion between ‘Blanketmanh3’ and “Rusty Nail”

Discussion at Slugger O’Toole website between Danny Morrison (‘blanketmanh3’) and Rusty Nail.

Comment 14, page 2 of discussion:

Surely Richard O’Rawe and Brendan McFarlane couldn’t have called off the hunger strike without asking the hunger strikers? If the republican leadership on the outside rejected what Richard O’Rawe alleges as his and McFarlane’s acceptance, then what happened to the ICJP mediation efforts? Why didn’t the British deal through them which one would presume would be their preferred choice so as not to give any kudos tothe Provos?
This is what Richard O’Rawe actually wrote on the day that Joe McDonnell died: “The British government’s hypocrisy and their refusal to act in a responsible manner are completely to blame for the death of Joe McDonnell. The only definite response forthcoming from the British government is the death of Joe McDonnell. This morning Mr Atkins has issued us with yet another ambiguous and self-gratifying statement. That statement, even given its most optimistic reading, is far removed from our July 4 statement. At face value it amounts to nothing.”
This is what prisons minister Michael Allison said after Joe McDonnell died about the ICJP:he blamed the breakdown on the ICJP’s “over-eagerness” and said they had misrepresented what he had said, inflating his “privately expressed sentiments” to suggest that a solution was near. Its proposals to HMG were “wildly euphoric and wildly out of perspective.” He compared talking to hunger strikers as like talking to hijackers: “you continued talking while you figured out a way to defeat them, while allowing them to save face.”
Primary and contemporary sources. You mightn’t like them but they’re usually the best!

Posted by blanketmanH3 on May 27, 2009 @ 11:36 AM
Read the rest of this entry »

Key points from “Rusty Nail” discussion: End of 1st Hunger Strike

Excerpt from Slugger O’Toole comment section discussion, referring to the end of the 1980 hunger strike:

This is not how the first hunger strike ended. If you take a look at page 299 of Denis O’Hearn’s biography of Bobby Sands, Nothing But an Unfinished Song:

“The movement had sent comms to let him (Sands) know that the British government was sending a courier with a document that might be a solution. But Bobby never got the comms until the next day because “the lad had to swallow them”. It would not have made any difference because the authorities refused to let Sands go to the hospital, where the drama of the negotiations and pressures on Brendan Hughes was unfolding…”

“The next thing he knew, he was taken to the prison hospital at 6:45 in the evening. What he found there shocked him.

I saw Index (Father Toner) and Silvertop (Father Murphy) in the corridor as I walked down the wing. There were three cartons of eggs sitting in a doorway. My heart jumped. Dorcha (Brendan Hughes) came out of Tommy McKearney’s room and went into Tom (McFeeley)’s room in front of me. Tom was in bed. Raymond and Nixie were sitting beside the bed. They were all shattered. Dorcha said, “Did you hear the sceal (news)?” I said, “No.” He said it again. I thought Sean was dead. Then he said, “We’ve got nothing, I called it off.” The MO was banging an injection into Tommy. Sean was en route to the hospital. Tom had been against it, wanting to wait to see what Atkins was going to say in the Commons. Dorcha was under the impression that Sean had only twelve hours to live.”

And also look Adams’ description of the end of the first hunger strike as he writes of it in A Farther Shore, pages 12-13:

But with the commencement of the hunger strike, the British government opened up contact with republicans. Through this contact in the British Foreign Office – code-named “Mountain Climber” – a channel of communication which had been used during the 1974 IRA-British government truce was reactivated. Father Reid’s role had been filled by another Redemptorist priest, Father Brendan Meagher. The British said they wanted a settlement of the issues underpinning the protest and committed to setting out the details in a document to be presented to all of the prisoners formally and publicly after they came off their hunger strike.

Mountain Climber brought the document to Father Meagher, who delivered it to Clonard Monastery where I and a few people who were assisting the prisoners were waiting for him. As he was briefing us, Tom Hartley, the head of our POW department, burst into the room where we were meeting to tell us the hunger strike was over in the blocks.”

See also pages 108-109 of Richard O’Rawe’s Blanketmen:

By 18 December the hunger strikers had not eaten for over seven weeks. Bobby was summoned to the camp hospital about ten o’clock that night. (We later found out that while there, he had met Father Meagher, who presented him with a document from the British government on prison procedures.) You could feel the tension on the wing as Bobby got ready to leave for the hospital. Everyone knew this was an important meeting, because reports had been circulating that Sean McKenna was in a critical condition. After an hour and a half, Bobby returned with the news that the hunger strike was over. My immediate reaction was one of huge relief, but this was tempered when Bobby said, “Ní fhuaireamar faic.” (‘We didn’t get anything.’)

Brendan Hughes had made a commitment to Sean McKenna that he would not let him die, and when he was close to death, he kept his word and called the strike off, before any British documents came in or any deal could be done.

As he wrote in a letter to the Irish News, 13 July 2006, “Risking the lives of volunteers is not the IRA way”:

In a recent BBC documentary Bernadette McAliskey said she would have let Sean McKenna die during the 1980 hunger strike in order to outmanoeuvre British brinkmanship.
Implicit in her comments was a criticism of those senior republicans who decided against pursuing the option favoured by Bernadette.
As the IRA leader in charge of that Hunger Strike I had given Sean McKenna a guarantee that were he to lapse into a coma I would not permit him to die.
When the awful moment arrived I kept my word to him.
Having made that promise, to renege on it once Sean had reached a point where he was no longer capable of making a decision for himself, I would have been guilty of his murder.
Whatever the strategic merits of Bernadette’s favoured option, they are vastly outweighed by ethical considerations.
Terrible things happen in the course of any war and those of us who feel obliged to fight wars must take responsibility for the terrible consequences of actions we initiate.
I can live with that – in war we kill enemies and expect to be killed by them.
I can stand over the military decisions I made during our war against the British.
But there are no circumstances in which I was prepared to make a cynical decision that would have manipulated events to the point where a republican comrade would forfeit his life.
Twenty-five years on, I have no reason to change my mind that the decision I made to save the life of Sean McKenna was the proper one.
Faced with similar circumstances I would do the same again.
History may judge my actions differently but preventing Sean McKenna from becoming history rather than my own place in history was my prevailing concern.
Brendan Hughes, Belfast.

At the meeting in Derry, this was discussed and former blanketmen Gerard Hodgins, Tommy Gorman, Dixie Elliott and Gerard Clarke, and Richard O’Rawe, were all very clear that there was no deal for the British to renege on, and that those inside the prison at the time knew this. They had decided to save face, however, and claim that was what ended the hunger strike in order to keep the pressure on the British. This discussion should be available in the You Tube videos and when I have time I will find it for you later, if you have not already viewed them.

So the idea that the rejection of the British offer in July during the second hunger strike was based on the prisoners’ fear of the British ‘dirty joeing’ them again is a nonsense. The Brits could not renege on a deal that had not been struck. It is propaganda, nothing more.

Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole, comments 20 & 21

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

“Rusty Nail”: 1981 Hunger Strike Truth Commission

Monday, May 25, 2009

1981 Hunger Strike Truth Commission
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

Saturday evening’s meeting in Derry could be described as a grassroots Truth Commission – clearly, the public’s desire for truth and expanded knowledge of the events of the Troubles is overwhelming, enough so that people are not waiting for officialdom to create yet another useless quango in order to get to it. They are, despite all the odds stacked against them, doing it for themselves.  They aren’t seeking compensation or appointed positions: they merely want those who were there to stand up in public and tell the truth of what they know. Brendan Duddy to his credit in Derry made quite clear that was the only thing he was interested in, noting that he was in his seventies and that he had no interest or need to keep anything back. He was there on the night to tell the truth as he knew it. Gerard Clarke, likewise, made a point to put say in public what he knew, for the simple reason that it is the truth, and the it is truth being asked for.

It is understood that Gerry Adams has today sent a letter to some of the families of the hunger strikers.

One of the key points of the meeting was the presentation of the British offer that went into the prison, as read by Liam Clarke, the Sunday Times journalist who has been following the 1981 Hunger Strike story and making Freedom of Information requests for documents relating to British government activity in regards to the prison protests. This document was confirmed by Brendan Duddy, the link between the British government and the Adams committee, as the offer he ferried in early July. This was also confirmed by Richard O’Rawe as the offer Bik McFarlane outlined to him, which they agreed to accept; that conversation was corraborated as taking place by Gerard Clarke, who overheard it at the time, and also by testimony from Willie Gallagher of the IRSP who are in possession of transcripts of a recording where another former prisoner also confirms the conversation took place. Videos of the meeting are currently on YouTube and the IRSP and RNU’s recordings of the public discussion will also be available online shortly. In the meantime, Slugger presents the offer the British made, and a transcript of Willie Gallagher’s opening speech.

Liam Clarke gives the background to the British document*:
“The NIO has several drafts of this document on file, which differ only in minor detail. This was one which Thatcher authorised to be sent to the IRA on July 8th 1981. The letter from Downing Street to the NIO sent on that date (and on the Sunday Times website) describes it as as “a draft statement enlarging upon the message of the previous evening but in no way departing from its substance” It went on “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 the statement would not be put out.” At the meeting in Derry Brendan Duddy said this draft statement set out the offer which he had sent to the IRA on 5th and which, he said, was rejected by the IRA.

In the NIO documents, for a letter from Downing Street to the NIO on July 18, it is made clear that the offer on clothes is “that the prisoners would be allowed to wear their own clothes, as was already the case in Armagh prison, provided these clothes were approved by the prison authorities.””

*You can also watch his presentation at the meeting online: Liam Clarke (Part 2) speaks at the truth behind the hunger strike debate (relevant part starts @2mins in)

Statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

1. In the light of discussions which Mr Michael Alison has had recently with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, during which a statement was issued on 4 July on behalf of the protesting prisoners in the Maze Prison, HMG have come to the following conclusions.

2. When the hunger strike and the protest is brought to an end (and not before), the Government will:

I. extend to all male prisoners in Northern Ireland the clothing regime at present available to female prisoners in Armagh Prison (i.e. subject to the prison governor’s approval);

II. make available to all prisoners in Northern Ireland the allowance of letters, parcels and visits at present available to conforming prisoners;

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;

IV. ensure that a substantial part of the work will consist of domestic tasks inside and outside the wings necessary for servicing of the prison (such as cleaning and in the laundries and kitchens), constructive work, e.g. on building projects or making toys for charitable bodies, and study for Open University or other courses. The prison authorities will be responsible for supervision. The aim of the authorities will be that prisoners should do the kinds of work for which they are suited, but this will not always be possible and the authorities will retain responsibility for decisions about allocation.

3. Little advance is possible on association. It will be permitted within each wing, under supervision of the prison staff.

4. Protesting prisoners have been segregated from the rest. Other prisoners are not segregated by religious or any other affiliation. If there were no protest the only reason for segregating some prisoners from others would be the judgment of the prison authorities, not the prisoners, that this was the best way to avoid trouble between groups.

5. This statement is not a negotiating position. But it is further evidence of the Government’s desire to maintain and where possible to improve a humanitarian regime in the prisons. The Government earnestly hopes that the hunger strikers and the other protesters will cease their protest.

Transcript of Willie Gallagher’s opening speech, appended with post-meeting observations:

“What is the truth behind the Hunger Strike 23-05-09-The Gasyard in Derry”

In early 2005 Richard O Rawe’s book ‘Blanketmen-An untold story of the H-Block hunger strike’ was published. In that book he made an explosive and controversial claim that he and Bik, on behalf of the jail IRA leadership, accepted a British offer made on 5th July 1981 to end the hunger strike. He claimed that four of the five demands were in effect conceded and that these were passed to him by Bik, who received them from Danny Morrison. He claimed he studied the comm for a number of hours and then shouted to Bik, who was two cells away, that there was enough there. Bik agreed and stated that he would comm outside accepting. The following day a comm from the outside IRA leadership rejected their acceptance.

Richard’s claims were immediately rubbished by SF leaders mainly Danny Morrison, Jim Gibney and Bik McFarlane in TV and radio interviews and also in the press. There was a multitude of interviews and press statements from them in what seemed an uncoordinated manner as there were glaring contradictions in their various positions on the claims.

Bik on UTV live on 1st March 2005 denied that any offer of any sort was ever made by the British at any point. Also in March 2005 in an interview with the Irish News Bik stated ’There was no concrete proposals whatsoever in relation to a deal.? He goes on to deny that the acceptance conversation with Richard ever took place.

Danny Morrison in the Irish Times on 5th February 2005 said ’It is telling that not once in 24 years has the NIO stated that before Joe McDonnell’s death it made an offer to the hunger strikers which was turned by the IRA’s army council.? Even though Danny contradicted Bik by saying that there were offers being proposed by the British but he stated that none of them were concrete. Bik later retracted his earlier claim in other press briefing that there were no offers and said he meant to say no deals.

Jim Gibney said in the Irish News on 12th May 2006 that ?Joe McDonnell died on 8th July –the British did not offer an agreement before he died.?

Those are just some of the multitude of examples of SF’s public position on the O Rawe claims and the debate turned into one of semantics of what constituted an offer or a deal. They steered the debate away from the IRA jail leadership’s acceptance claim and focussed instead on semantics over the definition of deals and offers but maintained that there were no concrete offers and because there were no concrete offers therefore the IRA jail leadership could not have had, in Bik’s words, ?accepted something that didn’t exist.?

During this period there was a demonisation campaign waged by SF against Richard using their old and tested tactic of demonising and smearing the messenger in order to rubbish the message.

During this period of 2005-2006 the IRSP, at first, were merely interested observers but were also very sceptical about the claims. We did not want to believe O’Rawe: we did not want to think that the IRA leadership would undermine the authority of the prisoners and reject the offer. Even more importantly we could see no concrete evidence that supported his claims despite the contradictory rebuttals by SF. A number of our ex-prisoners and some relatives of our hunger strikers began raising questions on the claims and asked us to investigate them. At that point we knew absolutely nothing at all and we set up a series of meetings with senior members of the IRSP and INLA Army Council members who were involved in the strike at that time as well as with Rab Collins, the INLA H-Block OC. All of them stated that they had no knowledge whatsoever about a substantial offer being made, nor of the acceptance by the IRA jail leadership or indeed of the mountain climber initiative.

The turning point in the controversy for the IRSP came after a publicised interview by Anthony McIntyre with Richard O Rawe which appeared on a website called ‘The Blanket’ on the 16th May 2006. A key paragraph in that interview jumped out at a number of us who were closely following the debate and it is worth quoting here again-

’‘Q: Indeed. I think you realise there is a bit more than that. As you know I have enormous time for Bik. It goes back to the days before the blanket. But I can only state what I uncovered. I am not saying that it is conclusive. These things can always be contested. But it certainly shades the debate your way. If Morrison and Gibney continue to mislead people that there is no evidence supporting your claim from that wing on H3 I can always allow prominent journalists and academics to access what is there and arrive at whatever conclusions they feel appropriate. That should settle matters and cause a few red faces to boot. We know how devious and unscrupulous these people have been in their handling of this. They simply did not reckon on what would fall the way of the Blanket. Nor did I for that matter. A blunder on their part.’‘

ELABORATE. IRSP/confidentiality agreement. ***Last night I done this part from memory but will give a summary here of what was said – WG ***

There was contact between the IRSP and those who had possession of this evidence and after some negotiations we agreed to certain preconditions that were being placed upon us. Bear in mind that we did not believe O Rawe at this point, did not want to believe him and wanted to report back that there was no real evidence so that we could go round our Hunger Strikers families and say ?ignore what you hear and read about O Rawe’s claims—they’re not true.? We thought we would put the controversy to bed and little did we realise the opposite would happen. Jimmy Bradley, a senior IRSP person from Belfast were presented with this evidence which turned a sceptic and a non-believer in believing that there were indeed serious questions to be answered. In fact we believed Richard was telling the truth. We agreed beforehand that we could not talk about the content or nature of the evidence, until given permission to do so, but could only sum up whether we believed O Rawe or not. We believed him! We reported back to our leadership who instructed us to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate further.)

In June/July 2006 the IRSP met with Colum Scullion, Richard’s cell mate, in the presence of Mickey Devine for over an hour. He sated a number of times that he could neither confirm nor deny the claims that Richard made. He said that there were some things about the Hunger Strike that he couldn’t talk about and that was one of them. I pointed out to him that if what Richard claimed was untrue then it was an outrageous slanderous lie which was having an adverse impact on Mickey, his family and all the other families and that could he not now reassure Mickey that the claims were untrue. He again stated that he would neither confirm nor deny the claims.

We then briefed the INLA Hunger Strikers families as to our investigation but due to our hands being tied with the confidentiality agreement we could not tell them the nature or content of the evidence that was presented to us.

The controversy then remained out of public viewing until March 2008 when Eamon McCann in a radio interview verified Richard’s claims. Eamon based his claims on conversations he had with Brendan Duddy who he describes as the mountain climber and Colum Scullion. This time SF learnt lessons from 2 years prior when they were full of contradictions and untruths. They remained silent but were able to produce Colum Scullion to counter the claims. Scully inadvertently, despite rubbishing the acceptance conversation, added weight to Richard’s claims by saying Bik did indeed make Richard aware of an offer on July 5th.

In March 2009 we became aware of documents that were released under the Freedom of Information Act prior to their publication in the media. Put together, these documents suggest that Margaret Thatcher proposed a deal with the IRA to end the hunger strike. This was first given “privately to the IRA on July 5th” according to the documents.

A further message was approved by Thatcher on the evening of July 7th and communicated to the IRA on the afternoon of 8th July. The documents further suggest that the IRA was cool at first but later in the day said that only the tone, and not the content, of the offer was unacceptable. As a result, a further draft statement, enlarging upon the previous British statement, was communicated to the IRA for their consideration. The documents say the IRA was advised that if they accepted this statement and “ordered the hunger strikers to end their protest” then the statement would be issued immediately. Otherwise a statement would be issued re-iterating the British government position of June 30th.

On the afternoon of July 18th the IRA asked for an official to go into the Maze to meet the hunger strikers. The British intention was that the official would explain the offer on clothes set out above and clarify a previous private offer on work. However, after some discussion, the British decided not to proceed without a prior indication of acceptance by the IRA. The documents clearly support Richard’s version of events and disputes the SF version of no offers of substance.

We once again spoke to senior members of the 1981 IRSP/INLA, the H-Block OC and the families of the INLA hunger strikers families and briefed them all on the documents. The IRSP executive then drafted a press release based on all the information uncovered in their investigation and stated that the 1981 leadership of the IRSP/INLA and the H-Block OC would have ended the INLA involvement in the Hunger Strike if they had have had this information at the time. All of them claimed that they were kept totally in the dark about the Thatcher negotiations or acceptance by the IRA prison leadership of an offer made on July 5th.

On the 6th April SF in the Irish Times denied the Sunday Times claims and bizarrely stated that the documents were a part of a British military intelligence conspiracy. The IRSP on the internet pointed out that the only evidence of a British intelligence intervention was that which SF promoted with the John Blelloch interview who they claimed was an MI5 agent. SF quickly done a U-turn on this claim and welcomed the documents claiming, again quite bizarrely, that they supported their version of events.

SF’s position is now shifting from ‘no offers whatsoever’ to ‘no concrete proposals whatsoever’ to according to Barbara de Bruin on 2nd May 2009:

?There were negotiations, there was an offer, in fact a number of different offers but as the British refused to sign anything or give a public commitment to move before the hunger strike ended there was no ‘deal’. Due to the way the British government had acted in the wake of the first hunger strike the hunger strikers wouldn’t end their fast without some form of public guarantee.

Indeed, the timeline published by the Bobby Sands Trust also shows that the British government refused to meet the hunger strikers and stand over their offer.?

It is worth rewinding back to Jim Gibney’s public statement on March 2004 when during a speech on the anniversary of Bobby Sands 50th birthday he said, ?I was shown a comm written by Bobby Sands that had come out of the prison the previous day(the day the first Hunger Strike ended). The following sentence stuck out: “I will begin another hunger strike on the 1st January.” SF’s position now seems to be relying on British duplicity at the end of the first Hunger Strike by claiming that the British reneged on a deal therefore it was imperative that the Brits stand over any offer they made. Why would Bobby Sands be writing a comm on the night the first Hunger Strike collapsed about going on another Hunger Strike if there was an alleged deal? Danny Morrison appeared on RTE, the same day Jim received this comm, saying that Bobby was ?jubilant.? All the main players including of course the Brits knew that no deal was reneged on so why maintain this pretence and preconditions over an alleged deal that didn’t exist.

The day following the Sunday Times exposes Danny Morrison inferred that Kevin McQuillan knew about the mountain climber initiative as did Kevin Lynch and Mickey Devine. This was strongly denied publicly by Kevin as well as by Tommy McCourt and Seany Flynn, senior members of the 1981 IRSP who were in constant contact with the INLA Hunger Strikers, Liam McCluskey a former Hunger Striker and Rab Collins who was the INLA prisoners OC.

On the 7th April 2009 another ex-blanket prisoner confirms over hearing acceptance conversation. Elaborate *** Again last night I gave this account last night from memory but will give the following summary – WG ***

An ex-blanket man phoned me the Tuesday after the Sunday Times article and confirmed Richards account. We met on Easter Sunday and in the presence of others once again confirmed Richard’s account of and stated that he heard the conversation between Richard and Bik accepting the offer and agreed to meet the families and others if they wished. He is in this hall tonight and perhaps he may want to talk about this later during the debate or I can arrange a meeting with some family relatives in private.

Part of the evidence presented to the IRSP on June 2006:

Extracts from a taped conversation

I am going to reference four separate segments of this conversation. There are more which are just as powerful. These quotations, we believe, more than confirm Richard O’Rawe’s assertions. It should be borne in mind that the IRSP leadership had hoped that this day would never come; it was our honest desire that we would have been able to report that O’Rawe was either lying, or that his memory was playing tricks with him. While our investigation is still ongoing, clearly it is getting increasingly difficult to dismiss what O’Rawe is saying. Here are the quotes. Make your own minds up:

Mr A: I have said to people, yes… it’s true enough. A couple of people around here got at me about it, and I said ‘Well, I don’t want to get involved in this, but I do recall that conversation’.

Mr A: I can verify it, it fuckin happened; I don’t want f*ck all to do with it. It did happen. O’Rawe’s telling the truth.…..

Mr A: Well, I can verify the first part of it, the offer …except I thought it was three points rather than four and I know it was rejected – but I don’t know who – and neither I do…

Mr A: The reply, the reply… well, I know it was turned down – but I don’t know by whom.

The IRSP are very conscious of the pain and hurt that has been revisited upon the families and wider republican community. We have had a number of lengthy meetings with four of the families in relation to this controversy which have been both heartbreaking and head-wrecking experiences but also very humbling experiences. If we, the IRSP, added any further pain and distress to the families then I unreservedly apologise for doing so but I must add that we were duty bound to fulfil the requests of the relatives who did ask us to investigate these claims and to tell them the truth. I hope others are likeminded and give us all the truth and finally closure to this controversy.

On a final note, we in the IRSP would like to salute the memory of the Hunger Strikers and praise the dignity and courage of the families.

Post script:
(Last night Brendan Duddy, the Mountain Climber, verifies that the latest document Liam Clarke recieved last week is indded the offer that was sent in to the prisoners on the 5th July 1981 and also confrimed that 4 of the 5 demands were in effect conceded. He also said he would not dispute O Rawe’s version of events.

The IRSP released a small portion of the evidence that Jimmy Bradley and I were presented with in 2006. Another ex-blanket man, the one we met on Easter Sunday, Gerard ‘Cleeky’ Clarke publicly confirmed Richard’s account and claimed he heard the acceptance of the offer conversation between Bik and Richard. Other relevant information also came out last night an I will give further details as others can later-this is just a quick response. The debate was videoed and those who didn’t get an opportunity to attend last night can get access to the debate when it goes online. – WG)

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Anthony McIntyre: A Shifting Narrative

Saturday, May 23, 2009
A Shifting Narrative
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

Sometime during the week I listened to a lively BBC Radio Foyle debate between former Provisional IRA prisoners, Richard O’Rawe and Raymond McCartney. The discussion focussed exclusively on the events of early July 1981 when the republican hunger striker Joe McDonnell was close to death. O’Rawe’s position has been consistent in that he has never deviated from his claim that the Provisional leadership rejected a decision by the prison leadership to accept a British offer that would have ended the strike, thus ensuring no further loss of life. McCartney, a member of the 1980 hunger strike team, has been no less consistent than O’Rawe in his rejection of this account. For him any offers that were made were fatally compromised by the refusal of the British government to provide adequate specification for the means of their enactment.

Before the debate started I was firmly of the opinion that O’Rawe’s version of events was correct. I have long felt that there was a more authentic ring to his claims than to the dismissal of those claims by his critics. Not just because on other issues I have heard many of those critics not infrequently deny the most obvious and try to argue that black was white, but because on all of the occasions that I have discussed the matter with O’Rawe over the past decade he was so thorough and methodical in his marshalling of the evidence and appeared to have no reason to make it up as his detractors sometimes like to suggest. I have also had the opportunity to discuss the matter with some of those opposed to him. And while I never sensed that they were being dishonest in what they said to me I was never with them frequently enough to allow their arguments to grow on me. And some of those who waged their critique of O’Rawe on radio and TV tended to sound like hectoring bullies more intent on silencing him than allowing him to make any case.

In spite of that I tried not to let my prejudice shape my hearing of the Radio Foyle exchange. I could not deny that I knew from experience that McCartney would put party before accuracy. He did this in AP/RN comments hostile to both Tommy Gorman and me after we had accused the Provisional IRA of killing Joe O’Connor of the Real IRA in October 2000. He made the charge that we were guilty of fabrication. Yet I remained willing to listen as fairly as I could to any case that he might make against O’Rawe and judge it on its merits and not on the baggage and bias from yesteryear.

After the debate I concluded that nothing had emerged during it that would cause me to rethink my view on it. If persuasiveness was to be measured in points awarded for content, tone and conviction, then O’Rawe won the exchange. His argument had an internal coherence not so pronounced in McCartney’s. His delivery was weak however and McCartney scored significantly in the way listeners heard things rather than what they actually heard. In the end conviction gave O’Rawe the majority verdict. He spoke as if he was genuinely convinced of what he was saying. This corresponds to a wider view out there which holds that O’Rawe, rightly or wrongly, memory serving him or failing him, at least believes what he has to say. McCartney while presumably believing his own account seemed to lack the passion of O’Rawe in making the argument. He came across more like a politician defending a position which may have been right or could have been wrong but which needed defending nonetheless.

Central to McCartney’s critique was reiteration that O’Rawe’s argument had been persistently demolished by almost anyone challenging him. Hyperbole has long been a feature of McCartney’s discourse, at one time making itself manifest in a suggestion that Ian Paisley serving as First Minister in the Stormont Executive was a gigantic step toward a united Ireland. On this occasion the paradox seems to have escaped him that he is taking part in a radio debate seeking to demolish an argument that he feels was demolished four years ago. Moreover, if the dissection of O’Rawe has been so thorough that it has effectively demolished him, why has the haemorrhaging of support been away from the McCartney perspective and not from O’Rawe? No one, we are aware of, who believed O’Rawe at the start disbelieves him today. The same cannot be said for those who initially believed his detractors. There is a growing body of opinion rowing in behind O’Rawe – who initially fought his corner without much help from seconds – in stating that the Sinn Fein leadership has a case to answer.

Another dubious assertion employed by McCartney is his dismissal of O’Rawe on the grounds that his book Blanketmen was serialised by the Sunday Times which according to McCartney was behaving atrociously during the hunger strike. The very fact that his own party is in the executive bed with the DUP means that positions held by people in 1981 have little bearing on how they are to be viewed today. The DUP’s problem in 1981 was that all of us in the H-Blocks did not die. None of that has prevented Sinn Fein from aligning with the Paisleyite outfit.

In recent months Danny Morrison has argued robustly about the sequence of events that took place in and around the H-Blocks on the 5th of July 1981. And because Morrison has been so precise he has unwittingly helped narrow the debate down, for those trying to make sense of claim and counter-claim, to one issue. That is whether the conversation that O’Rawe claims took place between him and the IRA’s prison leader Brendan McFarlane did in fact happen. It was in the course of that conversation, if O’Rawe is correct, that both men agreed to accept an offer from the British government conveyed to them via Morrison. If O’Rawe establishes that the crucial conversation took place it is effectively game over in terms of any argument against his credibility and motives. Raymond McCartney seems to be the only person in the opposition camp so far capable of grasping this. During his debate with O’Rawe he moved to offset any credit that might accrue O’Rawe’s way in the event of evidence supporting the Blanketmen author’s claims regarding the conversation between himself and McFarlane emerging.

My own view, given the evidence that I have seen, is that O’Rawe will be vindicated. Up until now O’Rawe’s shifting of the narrative pertaining to the 1981 hunger strike away from the Sinn Fein leadership has been incremental. That could change substantially if witness evidence in particular emerges from the wing O’Rawe was on at the time of the disputed exchange between himself and McFarlane. In that event there might follow a decisive shift in the battle for control of the hunger strike narrative which could see O’Rawe’s account move into pole position.

What a turn up for the hunger strike books that would be.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

“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

“Rusty Nail”: When in a hole…

Sunday, April 19, 2009

When in a hole…
Rusty Nail at the Slugger O’Toole website

The questions over the July 5th hunger strike deal still go on. Danny Morrison is very disappointed Liam Clarke did not have a full story about the issue in this week’s Sunday Times (don’t worry, Danny, this story is one that is set to run and run, as long as answers aren’t forthcoming; just because it may have been quiet one weekend does not guarantee silence the next!). He uses his position as the secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust to complain about Clarke’s handling of the story. One wonders would that handbaggery not be better suited to his own website rather than sullying the Sands Trust with it but, no matter, it’s out there now. And so to cast our jaundiced eye:

First, the good news: he has retreated from his ridiculous premise that the it was the British reneging on a deal over the first hunger strike that led the second hunger strikers to not accept the deal on offer in July 81. That assertion of his only made him look more foolish than not, especially as there was no deal for the British to renege on given the hunger strike was called off first. (See comments of Danny’s under Documents Still Withheld) Well done, Danny, that is a subtle but masterful retreat from an untenable position.

However, Danny Morrison has managed to escape one hole only to furiously dig himself into another bigger one. This one is to do with Sean Flynn’s running into him at at Long Kesh. Danny’s recollection and piqueish questions can be found in his self-referential article at the Trust site, Sunday Times Refuses to Publish Answers.

Morrison put to Clarke a number of questions.
“Did you ask him [Sean Flynn] how does he explain getting into the jail on a Sunday? The only way he could have gotten in was by arrangement with a representative of the British [which is how I got in]. He can’t on the one hand say that the IRSP knew nothing about contacts with the British and then be claiming that he got into the jail by arrangement with a rep from the British. It is a basic contradiction. Did you ask him who drove him to the prison? Did you ask him what entrance did he use? Did you ask him what business was he on?”
Clarke replied: “Yes I asked him all that. He is trying to get me the number of the person who brought him and has already given me the name. He says he was rung by the NIO to go to the prison after being told that there was the possibility of a breakthrough and seems to have assumed that was about the ICJP [Irish Commission for Justice and Peace]. He says he got in as a result of the NIO call that there was a possibility of a breakthrough. He says he did not know of any secret goings on beyond the ICJP though he says there was suspicion in IRSP circles that there might be something they weren’t being told about.”
Morrison again emailed Liam Clarke for Sean Flynn’s detailed replies to the questions he posed: “Well, if he has answered all those questions he will have said whether he asked the INLA hunger strikers what I was doing there and what I told them. So, what was his answer?”
Liam Clarke did not furnish Morrison with Flynn’s replies nor did he publish them in today’s edition of the Sunday Times. He merely tags on at the end of another story the following statement: “Last week I wrote that Danny Morrison visited the Maze prison twice on June 5, 1981 and that Sean Flynn, an IRSP leader, was with him on the second visit. Morrison says he only visited the prison once that day and did not see Flynn. Flynn is equally adamant that he met Morrison in the Maze that evening.”
“Sean Flynn’s allegations,” says Morrison, “explicitly claim that INLA hunger striker Kevin Lynch knew nothing about exchanges at resolving the prison crises, other than the ICJP initiative, despite my presence in the jail to apprise them of just that. It seems strange that Sean Flynn makes no mention of meeting Micky Devine, whom presumably he would have met given that he says the NIO phoned him to go to the prison hospital because of “the possibility of a breakthrough”. Could it be that this is an indication that he has got his days mixed up? I am asking Sean Flynn to release the answers to my questions which the Sunday Times has refused to publish. Furthermore, given that he claims he went into the jail with me could he tell us what we talked about? For example: ‘What are you doing in here, Danny? What do you think is happening? Do you know anything of the ‘breakthrough’ the NIO telephoned me about?’ and a host of other relevant life and death questions. I await a full response.”

These questions bring to mind the old quip about a good lawyer never asking questions he doesn’t already know the answer to (hold the jokes about good lawyers, please). Of course we presume Morrison knows the answers to these already but is doing a poor bluff thinking no one else does.

Fortunately for Slugger readers, Rusty has a copy of Jack Holland’s and Henry McDonald’s INLA: Deadly Divisions to hand, where the answers to all Morrison’s questions can be found.

First, on page 175 of the 1994 edition:

The IRSP leadership discussed the dangers of being swamped by the Provisionals. They were concerned about having to accept statements from the Provos on behalf of INLA prisoners. Sean Flynn, Gerry Roche and Osgur Breatnach arranged a meeting with the INLA’s bigger brother to straighten out such issues. It was agreed that the PRO of the strikers – Bik McFarlane – could deal only with issues of harassment of the prisoners, and that he could not make any deal as a result of negotiations unless the INLA’s representative had taken part in them. 

Let’s let that sink in a moment before moving on.

Next, on page 179:

The Provisionals not only lacked the will to co-operate on a united front basis but the IRSP suspected them of being engaged in secret negotiations with the British. 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.

Clarke could also ask Flynn for Danny which Provisional it was that he confronted about the secret talks at the time, couldn’t he?

While he is at it, he may want to ask Jake Jackson about this too, and perhaps Sid Walsh and Padraig O’Malley. Certainly O’Malley’s previous interviews have already proven helpful to this issue, what with his interview with MI5 agent John Blelloch getting so much play by Morrison. His interview with Jackson would likely be just as much if not possibly more illuminating to the question at hand, given this quote from his book, Biting at The Grave, 1990, page 96, where the events of 5-8th of July are discussed. Here we find another of Morrison’s questions to Liam Clarke answered:

According to Jake Jackson, the only people he could say knew for sure about the Mountain Climber initiative at that point were himself, McFarlane, block OCs Pat McGeown, and Sid Walsh and the PRO Richard O’Rawe, and the hunger striker Joe McDonnell. As for the rest, he says, it would have been on “a need-to-know basis”: the closer a hunger striker was to dying the more likely he was to know. Micky Devine and Kevin Lynch, the INLA members, wouldn’t have been informed, one way or the other, nor would the hunger strikers who were still on the blocks.

This has been confirmed elsewhere with Gerard Hodgins asserting had he any idea about this deal he wouldn’t have gone on hunger strike. From Slugger previously:

Former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins has said, “If I had had the full facts at the time — that there was a deal on offer — I definitely wouldn’t have had anything to do with the strike.”

Former INLA hunger striker, Liam McCloskey, who went on hunger strike after the secret deal fell through, according to the Sunday Times “believed the offer would have been enough for him if the leadership of the INLA, of which he was a member, had endorsed it.” This forms a picture of men going on hunger strike without being in possession of the full facts of what had gone on before they joined the strike.

So Danny Morrison today has questions he wants answered. Good. He’s not the only one.

 

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Bobby Sands Trust: Sunday Times Refuses to Publish Answers

Sunday Times Refuses to Publish Answers
April 19, 2009 · Bobby Sands Trust

On Sunday 12th April last the Sunday Times printed an allegation from Sean Flynn (IRSP) that he had visited INLA hunger striker Kevin Lynch on Sunday 5th July in 1981 and that Kevin Lynch “knew nothing” about behind-the-scenes attempts to resolve the prison crisis. Flynn, according to Liam Clarke, also claimed that he “went into the prison with him [Morrison] on the second of his [Morrison’s] two visits that day.”

Danny Morrison challenged Clarke’s report and Flynn’s account. Clarke had been in regular contact with Morrison in the days before he wrote his report yet never put the allegation to Morrison.
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“Rusty Nail”: What were the hunger strikers told?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What were the hunger strikers told?
Rusty Nail at the Slugger O’Toole website

Liam Clarke follows up on last week’s story about the 1981 hunger strike and secret deals in today’s Sunday Times. This week, it is members of the IRSP, including one former INLA hunger striker, whose memories of the time cast more doubt on the Sinn Fein denials and Morrison narrative of the hunger strike offer/deal. This follows the direct rebuttal earlier in the week from Kevin McQuillan clearly refuting Danny Morrison’s suggestion on Radio Foyle that he had told McQuillan of the secret deal while McQuillan was driving him to the prison: “This did not happen. If he had of appraised me of such a serious development, my first point of reference would have been to contact the National leadership of the Republican Socialist Movement, in particular those delegated with the struggle within the Blocks. At no point had I cause to.” Willie Gallagher’s statement last week on behalf of the IRSP also undermines Morrison’s claims: “…the IRSP has been speaking to relatives of the three INLA Hunger Strikers, ex-INLA Army Council members who were involved in the Strike at that time and also to the then OC of the INLA prisoners […] All have stated that they were not aware of the ‘back-channel initiative’ or of an ‘acceptance of the content of Thatcher’s offer but not the tone’ by the PIRA in July 8th 1981…Both the then INLA Army Council and the INLA prisoners OC have stated to the IRSP that if they had have been made aware of the content of these developments at that time they would have ordered the INLA prisoners to end their hunger strike.”

Former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins has said, “If I had had the full facts at the time — that there was a deal on offer — I definitely wouldn’t have had anything to do with the strike.”

Former INLA hunger striker, Liam McCloskey, who went on hunger strike after the secret deal fell through, according to the Sunday Times “believed the offer would have been enough for him if the leadership of the INLA, of which he was a member, had endorsed it.” This forms a picture of men going on hunger strike without being in possession of the full facts of what had gone on before they joined the strike.

This picture is fleshed out further:

“Sean Flynn, an IRSP leader […] met Kevin Lynch, an INLA hunger striker and friend of McCloskey, who was to die on August 1. Flynn is quite clear that Lynch “knew nothing about the Mountain Climber or that there was going to be a deal”.

Another then-IRSP leader, Tommy McCourt, also visited the prison: [he] “visited Michael Devine who died on August 20, the last hunger striker to expire. He told Devine that the hunger strike was unlikely to succeed and that if he came off it, the INLA would back him. Devine replied that to end the strike would represent complete defeat and moved the conversation on to his funeral arrangements. He was aware of no honourable way out.”

A clear picture is emerging that the INLA and IRSP were kept completely in the dark regarding the negotiations being conducted by the Adams team and the Mountain Climber. Given the amount of INLA prisoners on hunger strike, and that 3 of their volunteers died on the strike, 2 after the secret deal was claimed to have been accepted by the Provo prisoners’ representatives, O’Rawe and McFarlane, why were the IRSP and INLA kept in the dark?

What were the arrangements between the IRSP, INLA and the PIRA, Sinn Fein, in regards to negotiations with the British? Did the Provo representatives have carte blanche, and no need to keep the IRSP or INLA informed of developments or progression? Was it not required that they keep all hunger strikers, regardless of affiliation, informed? Given that the Provisional IRA Army Council was also kept in the dark regarding the complete activities of the Adams team’s negotiations with the British, the picture emerging of hunger strikers and their representatives also being kept in the dark, and allowed to proceed on hunger strike without being made aware of all that was on the table, is not one that should surprise anyone. It is, however, a terrible blow to the Morrison narrative of what had been, until O’Rawe’s book, the accepted version of the 1981 hunger strike.

 
Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Why Adams sticks to his Maze myth

From The Sunday Times April 12, 2009

Why Adams sticks to his Maze myth
Liam Clarke

Thatcher’s role in the offer of IRA concessions is no longer of any real importance – but Adams’s is

Sinn Fein was quite disorganised last Sunday after this newspaper published British government documents, released under the Freedom of Information act, about the 1981 hunger strike.

The documents showed that around July 5, 1981 Margaret Thatcher made a substantial offer to the IRA leadership through a secret conduit known as Mountain Climber. The prime minister conceded that republican prisoners could wear their own clothes, and gave ground on other issues.

The offer was not made public at the time and was officially denied after it was turned down. Had it been accepted, the lives of as many as six of the 10 hunger strikers who died might have been saved. The rejected offer was similar to what did actually happen after the hunger strike ended months later.

Sinn Fein wouldn’t comment on the documents before publication, and afterwards told The Irish Times “these allegations are not true. They emanate from British Military Intelligence”. Danny Morrison of the Bobby Sands Trust welcomed the release of the papers but accused me of misinterpreting them. “The British government documents, far from being incriminating, actually corroborate the account of what happened at the time by Sinn Fein [and] surviving hunger strikers,” he claimed.

Both interpretations cannot be true and, judging by the current edition of An Phoblacht, Morrison’s comments are now accepted by Sinn Fein. The documents are reproduced in full in the republican newspaper, while the Sinn Fein press office’s contribution has been quietly dropped.

Denial may still be a fallback position. The only comment on the Bobby Sands Trust website in response to Morrison’s interpretation reads: “Danny, it is just propaganda to drop the leadership into the ashes. Hold your heads up. We have faith in you and your words.”

The schizophrenic reaction shows how difficult this is for Sinn Fein. One of the problems was set out by the Northern Ireland Office as it explained the four years of denial, equivocation and delay in releasing these documents and why it was still withholding the most sensitive material. “Many of those involved in the original issue are still intimately involved in the ongoing political process,” it told me. “To release this information at such a sensitive time might have an adverse impact on the relationship between the British and Irish governments and consequently impact on the completion of devolution of policing and justice powers.”

The main people active in 1981 and still important to the political process are in the Sinn Fein leadership. British and Irish ministers are dead, like Charlie Haughey, or long retired, like Thatcher. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are still operating at a senior level.

As a result of the peculiar circumstances of Northern Ireland, and their own consummate skills, Adams and McGuinness have survived long enough to accumulate the political baggage and the skeletons in the cupboard that only retired political leaders usually have. This is the most obvious reason why Sinn Fein and the Northern Ireland Office have a common interest in dampening disclosure. While Thatcher was in active politics, it was expedient for the British government to deny offering the IRA concessions. Now it doesn’t matter to the Tories or the British government what she did, but it does to Adams, who received the messages.

For a time, British figures such as Sir John Blelloch and Sir Humphrey Atkins denied any concessions were offered. Now we have official records of discussions between Atkins and Thatcher on this issue, the denials are redundant.

Yet last week Sinn Fein relied on Blelloch’s 1980s denial to maintain its position that the Brits offered nothing worth talking about to Adams, who denies he was ever in the IRA. Since he is the party president, Sinn Fein has to back Adams even if his position makes no sense.

The blanket protest was started in 1976 after Kieran Nugent told prison officers the only way he would wear the garb of a criminal was if they nailed it to his back. The anthem of the subsequent protest, the H Block song, ran: “I’ll wear no convict’s uniform or meekly serve my time/that Britain might brand Ireland’s fight, 800 years of crime.” The issue of prison uniform was the rallying cry of the whole protest. That is why Thatcher’s offer was so significant.

Ending the strike in July 1981 might have spoiled Sinn Fein’s chance of winning the Fermanagh/South Tyrone by-election. As it was, Owen Carron’s victory secured its entry into electoral politics and paved the way for the IRA ceasefire 13 years later. Richard O’Rawe, part of the IRA prison leadership, revealed in Blanketmen how he and Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, the IRA’s prison leader, discussed the British government offer and agreed it could end the hunger strike. McFarlane denied there was any offer, while Morrison says there was but it was not pinned down.

In the face of these contradictory attempts to rubbish his account, O’Rawe appears to be winning the argument. Gerard Hodgins, who was on hunger strike when the protest was called off, is a recent convert to his point of view. When O’Rawe first published his claims, Hodgins sprang to the republican leadership’s defence. “The more I see his spurious accusations in the media, the more I am inclined to believe that he is following a political agenda through which he is happy to intensify and prolong the hurt and anguish the families of our dead friends and comrades endure,” he wrote to the press in May 2006.

Last week Hodgins courageously said he had changed his mind after weighing the evidence, including the recent papers. Describing the issue as a festering sore, he called upon both the British government and the Sinn Fein leadership to “come out with full details to set all this to rest”.

Another former hunger striker, Liam McCloskey, underwent a religious realignment of his life around the time of his 55-day fast and now repudiates violence. Like Hodgins, he went on hunger strike believing that defeat was inevitable. “I didn’t think it would work but I felt a duty to the others and I knew that if I didn’t go on it, someone else would have to take my place,” he said.

McCloskey believed the offer would have been enough for him if the leadership of the INLA, of which he was a member, had endorsed it. However the INLA, three of whose members died on hunger strike, was not given any say.

Danny Morrison is clear that he gave a full explanation of an offer to the hunger strikers on July 5, but Sean Flynn, an IRSP leader who went into the prison with him on the second of his two visits that day, recalls nothing of the kind. Flynn met Kevin Lynch, an INLA hunger striker and friend of McCloskey, who was to die on August 1. Flynn is quite clear that Lynch “knew nothing about the Mountain Climber or that there was going to be a deal”. Lynch died a few weeks later.

Tommy McCourt, now a community worker but then a leader of the IRSP, visited Michael Devine who died on August 20, the last hunger striker to expire. He told Devine that the hunger strike was unlikely to succeed and that if he came off it, the INLA would back him. Devine replied that to end the strike would represent complete defeat and moved the conversation on to his funeral arrangements. He was aware of no honourable way out.

The question is, were he and the last few hunger strikers in possession of all the facts when they made their decision to die? Protecting political positions is no reason to hold back information that could answer this question.

Sourced from The Sunday Times

Statement: Danny Morrison

An Phoblacht, Top Stories: British Government holds back documents on 1981 Hunger Strike‘Sunday Times’ H-Blocks story backfires

AN attempt by The Sunday Times last weekend (5 April) to call into question the republican leadership’s handling of the 1981 H-Blocks Hunger Strike by publishing British Government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act has actually boomeranged on the reporter who wrote the story, Liam Clarke. [Liam Clarke, after being challenged by the Bobby Sands Trust, had to admit last month that a quote he attributed to Bobby Sands and used in a lurid headline – “Sinn Féin is turning into Sands’s dodo” – wasn’t said by Bobby Sands.]

The British Government documents themselves, far from being incriminating, actually corroborate the account of what happened at the time by Sinn Féin, surviving Hunger Strikers, O/C Brendan McFarlane, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace and detailed research by authors David Beresford, Padraig O’Malley and Denis O’Hearn.
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“Rusty Nail”: Did Thatcher Kill All Ten, or only 4?

Did Thatcher Kill All Ten, or only 4?
Rusty Nail at the Slugger O’Toole website

The question over the deaths of the last six hunger strikers still remains. The debate has moved on since the publication of Richard O’Rawe’s Blanketmen, which raised the point that the prisoners had accepted an offer from the British which the outside Republican leadership overruled. When his book first came out, denials from the Sinn Fein camp abounded: there was no offer, there was no deal, there was no conversation, O’Rawe made it all up to sell books. Since then, however, more and more information and confirmation has come out that supports O’Rawe’s contention, and the SF position has moved from total denial to one of agreeing that there was a back channel with Mi6 via the ‘Mountain Climber’ and Brendan Duddy, and that an offer was made and conveyed to the prisoners. But the question still hangs – what happened with the prisoners’ acceptance of that offer/deal? All the irrelevant details explaining the timelines, the different strands of negotiations, who was driving who to the prisons when, avoids the crux of the matter. The prisoners said yes, there is enough there, and the outside said, not quite, which meant six other hunger strikers died. Each argument that the SF camp advances, in the main from Danny Morrison, who is reported to currently be back in their fold, unwittingly gives added weight to O’Rawe’s point. Sooner or later, however, they are going to have to stop the denials and confusion and answer in simple terms. Why were the prisoners over-ruled? And when that answer is given, it had better not be supported by yet more lies.

 
Update: Statement from Kevin McQuillan in response to Danny Morrison
Update: O’Rawe responds to Morrison, Irish News

Sunday:
‘Adams Complicit Over Hunger Strikers?’
NIO Documents on Sunday Times website
“The Thatcher Intervention”, Anthony McIntyre

Monday:
Irish News: Hunger Strike deal ‘must be disclosed’
Irish Times: SF denies claims on hunger strike deaths
Radio Foyle, The Morning Programme (link lasts a week): Willie Gallagher, IRSP and Danny Morrison, begins @ 8 mins

Statement from Kevin McQuillan in response to Danny Morrison’s comments on Radio Foyle:

During the period of the Hunger Strikes(s) I sat on the Belfast Executive of the H-Block, then H-Block/Armagh Committee.  I did so as the Republican Socialist prisoners’ representative. During this I time interacted and consulted with numerous senior members of the provisional movement in relation to the ongoing Prison campaign, and developments therein.

I wish to respond to claims made by Danny Morrison on Radio Foyle, yesterday April 6th 2009. I did take Danny Morrison (as I had other provisional representatives) to Long Kesh in July of 1981.

Whilst I have yet to personally hear the said interview, I am led to believe that Danny Morrison said that I was told of, or was already aware, of a set of proposals that were to be put to the prisoners, and that we had talked of this.

This did not happen. If he had of appraised me of such a serious development, my first point of reference would have been to contact the National leadership of the Republican Socialist Movement, in particular those delegated with the struggle within the Blocks. At no point had I cause to.

Clearly put…it did not happen.

Tuesday:
Irish News: Morrison rubbishes renewed claims of Hunger Strike deal
Bobby Sands Trust: Documents Still Withheld

Thursday:
Irish News: “Let’s have the whole truth about the Hunger Strike”, Richard O’Rawe response to Danny Morrison

IRSP Response to Downing Street Documents 02-04-09

The IRSP believe that these Downing Street documents, at face value, appear to vindicate Richard O’Rawe in the claims he made in regards to this crucial period of the Hunger Strike. These confidential 10 Downing Street letters, which were written contemporaneous, certainly contradict PSF’s version of events from that period. The IRSP have been investigating similar claims that are contained in these documents for quite some time and will be making their conclusions public after examining the evidence in its totality.

Over the past number of days the IRSP has been speaking to relatives of the three INLA Hunger Strikers, ex-INLA Army Council members who were involved in the Strike at that time and also to the then OC of the INLA prisoners about these particular documents. All have stated that they were not aware of the ‘back-channel initiative’ or of an ‘acceptance of the content of Thatcher’s offer but not the tone’ by the PIRA in July 8th 1981 which these documents clearly indicate.

Both the then INLA Army Council and the INLA prisoners OC have stated to the IRSP that if they had have been made aware of the content of these developments at that time they would have ordered the INLA prisoners to end their hunger strike.

Many questions now arise from these documents which only the NIO, PSF, the Mountain Climber and Brendan Duddy can answer and therefore the IRSP would call on all these parties to reveal all the documentation and information that are relevant to this period. The IRSP, on behalf of some of the relatives of the Hunger Strikers, will be seeking meetings with the relevant parties in the very near future.

Michael Devine Junior speaking this morning to the IRSP has stated that -“the families demand and deserve the truth about what really happened during this period. These latest disclosures have added substantial weight to previous claims that the last six hunger strikers lives could have been saved. Did my Father and his five comrades die because a number of individuals didn’t like the tone of Thatcher despite accepting the content of her offer? Why were the families or the prisoners themselves never told about the nature and content of these contacts? I would appeal to SF and the British Government, given their public positions on truth and reconciliation, to tell us the truth and give us closure.”
Willie Gallagher on behalf of the IRSP Executive 02-04-09

From the McIntyre interview with O’Rawe:

About the end of the first (1980) hunger strike:

Q: [Gibney] wrote one time that the peace process does not want truth and cannot function with it. Another time he claimed that Bobby Sands wrote out on the evening of the end of the 1980 hunger strike that he would begin a new hunger strike on the 1st of January. Which meant the Brits had no time to renege on the offer they supposedly made to end the first strike. This was an admission that the first strike collapsed and the Brits did not renege. It also means that Gibney is contradicting himself when he wrote in the Irish News that ‘the document could have been the basis’ to end the protest. Why otherwise would Bobby have written out stating his intention to start a new strike when there was absolutely no time to test the Brits for sincerity? I look for the faux pas rather than the intent in what he writes. I am waiting on you to be labelled a securocrat in that column. The problem is that you support the peace process.

A: Firstly, let’s look at what Gibney said in the first part of his 11 May article. In relation to the Brit document that was delivered to the hunger strikers after they had come off the 1980 strike, he said, ‘hours before the document arrived the strike was ended rather than let Sean McKenna die. The document could have been the basis on which the prison protests ended. However the document was an offer from the British to the prisoners not an agreement. There is a huge difference.’ How right he is! But if there was no ‘agreement’ between the two parties at the end of the first hunger strike, then how could the Brits be accused of ‘reneging’ on an agreement? That’s why Bob immediately wanted a second hunger strike. He knew there was no agreement. We all did. The first hunger strike collapsed. The Dark told the Daily Mirror, that the boys had indicated they were not prepared to die. So all this stuff that Big Laurny McKeown is going on about, you know, the ‘we wanted to avoid a repetition of what happened at the end of the first hunger strike, when the Brits reneged on a agreement/deal,’ is pure bullshit. Understanding that is crucial to removing the gobbledygook that Laurny, Morrison and Co. have thrown up to cloud the issue in the second hunger strike. They are talking what Mick Collins called ‘ballsology.’

Q: It seems that you are right and that once again Gibney has put his foot in it. I have written elsewhere that the need to have firm guarantees on any offer from the Brits was understandable but not because of what happened at the end of first hunger strike. 1980 failed before the Brits made any offer that needed to be guaranteed. If the leadership is inaccurate about the ending of the 1980 hunger strike then its account of the 1981 hunger strike depreciates in value.

About the chain of command between inside and outside the prison:

Q: I think there is some confusion that you could help clear up. It relates to the decision making process during the hunger strikes. What was the chain of command and what say if any had the prisoners in the decision making process?

A: Anyone listening to the likes of Laurny would think that the hunger strikers had the ultimate say in this. Let’s get real here. Laurny is trying to protect Big Gerry. The foot-soldiers in the trenches never dictate strategy. Why, even the majors and the colonels – in this case, Bik and myself – didn’t have that power. Tactics come from afar; from people who are removed from the field of conflict, but who have the power to determine strategy. People should read Bik’s comm to Adams on page 336, Ten Men Dead. On that page Bik told the hunger strikers that, ‘I explained the position about my presence being essential at any negotiations …’

Q: What is the significance of this? Would Bik not have a right, even an obligation to be there?

A: Let me give you an example which shows the real purpose served by Bik’s presence. It also illustrates their tactic of dictating the ground on which the debate will take place – and they’ve done this rather successfully, I think. Right, they have restricted the whole debate to the four days before Joe died. But 11 days later, the Mountain Climber came back with the same offer. Adams was on the blower to him. Adams told the hunger strikers about this offer when he visited the camp hospital on 29 July, so there is no disputing that this offer was genuine. Yet when the Mountain Climber came off the mountain for the second and last time, Bik didn’t even know what had been rejected on his behalf. This is evident from Bik’s comm to Adams, dated 22.7.81, written after the Mountain Climber had gone. Bik said, ‘you can give me a run-down on exactly how far the Brits went.’ (Page 330 Ten Men Dead).

Q: This seems to suggest that the prison leadership had a very tenuous grip on the actual negotiations. They left it to outside leaders.

A: Outside was always in control. Whoever claims otherwise is talking bullshit.

Q: It certainly reveals the true nature of the balance of power between the leadership and prisoners. I consistently argued within the prison in the mid-1980s that the jail leadership was a mere extension of the outside leadership into the ranks of the prisoners. Its primary function was to represent the interests of the leadership against the prisoners and then only to represent the interests of the prisoners against the regime. They did both quite well.

A: Bik was Adams’ man. When Bik spoke, Adams spoke. Everybody knew that. The hunger strike was in safe hands when Bik was in control. The frustrating part in all of this is that the likes of Laurny and Bik know the score. But rather than confront the leadership and ask for an account as to why their last six comrades died, they feel a perverse duty to defend that leadership. It’s part of the shameful cover-up to protect the leadership from acute questioning. The first four lads knew the score. They accepted that there was little chance of them surviving. But Joe reaching critical point was different. And this was eating away at me. What made it all the worse was that people were running around as if the history of the hunger strike was a beautiful box of chocolates wrapped in roses. I knew that the roses were nettles, there to jag your finger if you tried to open the box. Everyone could look at and admire the chocolate box but no one was ever really allowed to open it up and look inside to see what was really there.
Regarding the IRA Army Council’s role

Q: There are many memorable pages in your book. It is a moving account of how naked men for years defied a vicious and brutalising prison management working for the British government to brand the mark of the criminal on republicanism. But the real point of controversy is your assertion that the Army Council stopped a deal being reached that would have delivered to the prisoners the substance of the five demands. Army Council people of the time seem to dispute this. Ruairi O’Bradaigh, for example, is on record as saying that the council did no such thing although he does state that your claims must be explored further. It seems clear that he suspects you are right in what you say but wrong in whose door you lay the blame at. What have you to say to this?

A: At the time we had no reason to believe we were dealing with any body other than the Army Council of the IRA. What reason was there to think otherwise?

Q: And not a sub-committee specifically tasked with running the hunger strike?

A: Whether they called it a sub-committee or not, we were of the view that everything went to the Army Council. Nobody led us to believe any different. Did you think any different?

Q: At the time, no.

A: We all felt it was the Council. Brownie was representing the Council and he wrote the comms. Why would we think we were dealing with anything less than the Council when he was the man communicating with us?

Q: You might not wish to say it but for the purpose of the reader – and this has been publicly documented in copious quantities – Brownie is Gerry Adams, who was a member of the Army Council and the IRA adjutant general during the hunger strike.

A: I have nothing to add to that.

Q: But do you still hold to the view, despite the protests from O’Bradaigh, that the Council actually prevented a satisfactory outcome being reached?

A: No, I do not. Army Council was the general term I used to describe the decision makers on the outside handling the hunger strike. I was not privy to Army Council deliberations. But I believed they were the only people who had the authority to manage the hunger strike from the outside. So it seemed safe then to presume that when we received a comm from Brownie it was from the Army Council as a collective.

Q: But what has happened to lead you to change your mind and accept that the Council may have been by-passed on this matter by Gerry Adams?

A: I have since found out that people on the Army Council at the time have, after my book came out, rejected my thesis and refused to accept that the Council had directed the prisoners to refuse the offer.

Q: Bypassing the Council as a means to shafting it and ultimately getting his own way would seem to be a trait of Gerry Adams. Do you believe then that the bulk of the Council did not approve blocking an end to the hunger strike before Joe McDonnell died?

A: Absolutely. The sub committee managed and monitored the hunger strike. Given that comms were coming in two and three times a day it is simply not possible to believe that the Council could have been kept informed of all the developments. Could the Council even have met regularly during that turbulent period?

Q: Could they not be covering for their own role?

A: I have not spoken to any of the council of the day. But those that have claim that they appeared genuinely shocked that my book should implicate them. And they do allow for the possibility that the wool was pulled over their eyes by the sub-committee handling the strike.

Q: So what do you think did happen?

A: As I said in my book, Adams was at the top of the pyramid. He sent the comms in. He read the comms that came out. He talked to the Mountain Climber. As I said earlier, we know that he, and possibly the clique around him, decided to reject the second offer, at least, without telling Bik what was in it. Nobody knows the hunger strike like Adams knows it. And yet he is maintaining the silence of the mouse, the odd squeak from him when confronted.

Here’s what he said in relation to the Mountain Climber in the RTE Hunger strikes documentary,

‘There had been a contact which the British had activated. It became known as the Mountain Climber. Basically, I didn’t learn this until after the hunger strike ended.’

He didn’t learn what? About the contact and the offers, or the Mountain Climber euphemism? If he’s saying he didn’t know about the offers, then why did he show the offer to the Father Crilly and Hugh Logue in Andersonstown on 6 July 1981? And if he’s saying he didn’t know of the Mountain Climber euphemism, I’d refer your readers to Bik’s comm to Adams on pages 301-302, Ten Men Dead, where Bik tells Brownie, who is Adams, that Morrison had told the hunger strikers about the Mountain Climber: ‘Pennies has already informed them of “Mountain Climber” angle…’ So he knew about the Mountain Climber euphemism, and he knew of the offers. As a defensive strategy, this lurking in the shadows, this proceeding through ambiguity, can only work for so long. At some point academics and investigative journalists are going to ask the searching questions and Gerry Adams is not going to be up to them.

Q: Are you now suggesting that Adams may have withheld crucial details from the Army Council?

A: I don’t know the procedural detail of the relationship between Adams and the Army Council. What I do know is that my account of events is absolutely spot on. You said yourself on RTE on Tuesday that there was independent verification of the conversation between myself and Bik McFarlane.

Q: Indeed. I think you realise there is a bit more than that. As you know I have enormous time for Bik. It goes back to the days before the blanket. But I can only state what I uncovered. I am not saying that it is conclusive. These things can always be contested. But it certainly shades the debate your way. If Morrison and Gibney continue to mislead people that there is no evidence supporting your claim from that wing on H3 I can always allow prominent journalists and academics to access what is there and arrive at whatever conclusions they feel appropriate. That should settle matters and cause a few red faces to boot. We know how devious and unscrupulous these people have been in their handling of this. They simply did not reckon on what would fall the way of the Blanket. Nor did I for that matter. A blunder on their part.

A: If the Army Council say they received no comm from us accepting the deal, and also say that they sent in no word telling us effectively to refuse the deal, then I think the only plausible explanation is that those who sent in the ‘instruction’ to reject the Mountain Climber’s offer were doing so without the knowledge or approval of the Army Council.

Q: When you say ‘those’ you presumably mean Adams and Liam Og who was also sending in comms coming to the prison leadership?

A: Yes.

Q: Liam Og has been identified by Denis O’Hearn, author of the biography of Bobby Sands, as Tom Hartley. It appears that Hartley was privy to every comm between the leadership and the prisoners.

A: That would be the case.

Q: How can we be sure that Adams rather than Liam Og was responsible for withholding information from the Army Council?

A: Because, while we might not know the procedural detail, Adams had a relationship with the Army Council that was vastly different from Liam Og. You point out that this is well recorded in public.
Regarding the crux of the matter:
Q: If you absolve the Army Council of the day, as a collective, of responsibility for sabotaging a conclusion to the hunger strike that would have saved the lives of six men, who do you hold responsible?

A: Maggie Thatcher had the responsibility for bringing this all to an end.

Q: But given that she made an offer, which would have brought it to an end, and which was sabotaged, who then on the republican side, if not the Council, was responsible?

A: You are trying to tie me down.

Q: I should not have to. You should be telling us directly if as you say you believe in our right to know.

A: Let’s put it like this. The iron lady was not so steely at the end. She wanted a way out. The Army Council, I now believe, as a collective were kept in the dark about developments. The sub-committee ran the hunger strike. Draw your own conclusions from the facts.

Q: What could be the possible motive for Adams and the sub-committee wanting to prolong the hunger strike?

A: I don’t know for sure. I can only speculate and this time it would be wrong for you to try to nail me down on what is only opinion.

Q: Yet one way of reading your book is to see the decision to sabotage a successful conclusion to the hunger strike in the context of Sinn Fein needing to strike while the electoral iron was hot.

A: I floated it as a possibility, yes.

Q: John Nixon from the 1980 hunger strike team was very forthright in asserting this perspective on the RTE documentary.

A: John Nixon demonstrated that it is probably the most persuasive argument made in relation to the longevity of the hunger strike. The absence of an Army order to end the hunger strike, when it was blatantly obvious that nothing more was to be got from the Mountain Climber, reinforces this opinion. It is impossible to believe that Gerry Adams did not see the bigger picture and did not realise how omni-important Owen Carron’s election was to the future of republican strategy. He would have been a fool not to. And Gerry Adams is no fool.

Q: But being a fool not to see the electoral opportunity does not mean that it is ethical to follow such a premise to the point of allowing six comrades to die in order to fulfil the potential of that opportunity?

A: It would be an absolute disgrace if it were the case that six men were sacrificed to bring Sinn Fein onto the constitutional altar. I just find it impossible to believe that any republican would let six of their comrades die so they could work partition.

Q: But the logic of your book is precisely that?

A: It is one of a range of possibilities. I am not going to be dogmatic on it. I can only state what I know and anything after that is speculation. I know that there was an offer made and somebody outside rejected it.

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Anthony McIntyre: The Thatcher Intervention

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The Thatcher Intervention

Sunday, April 5, 2009
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

Two weeks ago I commented on an interview that appeared on the website of the Bobby Sands Trust. The view of the Trust, my own also, was that the document was valuable in that it purported to shed light on some of the issues associated with the hunger strike era. All such documents, flawed as they may be, are coveted nuggets; the building blocks of historical reconstruction, which whether challenging to or supportive of our pre-existing perspectives, should be welcomed for their ability to enlighten us.

The interviewee was John Blelloch, a key NIO official and alleged MI5 operative. The Trust rightly felt that this placed him on the inside track from where he was pivotally placed to fully understand the governmental processes at play. It would also enable him, were he so inclined, to misrepresent the same processes. At no point did the Trust issue a health warning to indicate that Blelloch’s account, because he was what Sinn Fein had longed termed a securocrat, should be treated with some scepticism. It was sold as a fixed proof of an equally fixed British state position in 1981. No allowance was made for the possibility that it might have been a self-serving fiction aimed to conceal rather than reveal.

For the Trust, Blelloch was presented as confirming that there was no hint of flexibility on the part of the British government during the strike and in particular in and around the time of the death of Joe McDonnell, the fifth striker to die. For my part, I felt the Blelloch document was an important addition to our understanding of how the British five years after the strike were still intent on withholding the truth from us.

Because I had serious reservations about the purpose of Blelloch’s interview and had solid reason to believe that in terms of documents it was not the most important one available to researchers, I concluded my article with the comment that ‘it will hardy even make the 7 day wonder category. 7 days is a long time in politics, long enough to see perspectives turned completely on their head.’

Today, 14 days later rather than the magical 7, the Blelloch perspective would indeed seem to have been turned on its head. The Sunday Times ran with a feature article in its prestigious Focus section which purported to show that the British prime minister of the day, Margaret Thatcher, had made serious overtures to elements within the leadership of the IRA aimed at ending the hunger strike. When informed by those IRA elements that the tone rather than the substance was the obstacle to a resolution Thatcher worked on more appropriate wording.

The Sunday Times based its findings on documentation supplied by the NIO to the journalist Liam Clarke. Because it is contemporaneous it has more weight than the Blelloch interview given five years after the event. Gerard Hodgins, an IRA hunger striker and the INLA leadership of the day both claim not to have been informed that such a settlement was on offer. Had they been aware of it the INLA would have intervened and ordered their volunteers, two of whom later died on hunger strike, to end their fast. Hodgins, for his part, armed with the same knowledge would not have embarked on hunger strike.

Today I looked at the Trust website in the hope that the documents featuring in the Sunday Times would have appeared there. They did not. Perhaps in time they will otherwise the Trust will leave itself open to the same allegation that, like Blelloch, it used his interview with a self-serving motive in mind. The documents available to the Sunday Times might not correspond to the Trust’s reading of events but deliberation on the era they address can not be definitively shaped by any one party with a dog in the fight, neither the Trust nor republicans such as Richard O’Rawe who challenge the official Sinn Fen narrative on the hunger strikes. If public understanding is to grow it needs to be informed – not managed and manipulated to produce stupification in the place of understanding – and all documents of relevance should be made available. There is no need for the Trust to remove the Blelloch document even though its value has rapidly diminished as a result of today’s revelations. It should stay there as a historical trace from one of the most difficult and contentious issues in modern Irish history. But the Trust should add the NIO documents so that people can weigh up for themselves the strengths and weaknesses of two distinct accounts.

The NIO documents reinforce the contention of Richard O’Rawe, author of Blanketmen, that just before the death of Joe McDonnell the British government made an offer which was acceptable to the prisoners. O’Rawe’s claims that the army council figure responsible for the day to day management of the hunger strike overruled the prisoners is now even more weighty than before. For his efforts O’Rawe was maligned, harangued, vilified, and described as having penned a scurrilous book. Par for the course in the suffocating world of Sinn Fein wherever an alternative voice is raised.

Prior to O’Rawe’s book there was one republican narrative of the hunger strike. Thatcher was vindictive and vengeful, alone bearing responsibility for the ten deaths. When the book emerged, the hostile way in which O’Rawe’s critics tried to neutralise him and denigrate his account, caused the pixellation in their own narrative to look a bit blurred. Nevertheless, if somewhat tarnished, it remained the dominant account. O’Rawe was out there but the picture he offered was far from focussed. It would take a lot of time before the mind’s eye could sufficiently adjust itself to take in what was being shown. With each passing gambit in the struggle for interpretation the narrative of the hunger strike has gradually slipped from Sinn Fein’s control and into the hands of O’Rawe. The hunger strike is no longer mentioned without O’Rawe being introduced as an alternative voice; one that increasingly draws more listeners. His critics have sought to depict him as pissing in the well. Others saw him as an anti-pollutant dispersing the mud that had gathered in the well, allowing us to peer into it even more deeply than before.

The hunger strike is now a sharply contested event in the history of republicanism giving rise to sharply divided opinions. Ten men died and the only thing we can be sure of is that Thatcher bears culpability for the deaths of the first four.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

Sunday Times: Was Gerry Adams complicit over hunger strikers?

From The Sunday Times April 5, 2009

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

Liam Clarke
Read the documents here

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

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

These are the explosive questions raised for Sinn Fein by papers released to The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act.
Read the rest of this entry »

Anthony McIntyre: The Blelloch Interview

Sunday, March 22, 2009
The Blelloch Interview
Anthony McIntyre, The Pensive Quill

A couple of days ago I received an e mail from a friend with a link which took me to the well designed website of the Bobby Sands Trust. Once there I found myself looking at what appeared to be a valuable historical document and one that any researcher of the period in time referred to would want archived. It was an interview recorded by the US academic and author Padraig O’Malley with John Blelloch, a key British official central to events pertaining to the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981. The interview took place in 1986 and O’Malley was interested in bringing more light to bear on the era of five to six years past. He later went on to write a book about the hunger strike Biting At The Grave, which while dubious in terms of the analytical method used to explore and explain motivation was nevertheless packed with useful insight and information.

Why the interview has just appeared is not explained. Nor are we told who supplied it to the Trust or when it came into its possession. If Blelloch’s side passed it on we are not aware of it. Nor are we sure that it came from O’Malley. It might well have been stumbled upon as so often happens. The Trust has a responsibility to find these things and would be foolish not to seize upon them whenever the opportunity arises and from whatever the source. While knowledge of the pathway from donor to recipient is useful for allowing a more finely tuned appreciation of where the debate is at, for now the matter of origins is a secondary issue. More than a quarter century after the hunger strikes it is inevitable that people will be more forthcoming and the presumption of an underhand agenda on their part may be misplaced. What is important is that the widest possible range of information be brought into the public sphere so that people can arrive at their own judgements. The Bobby Sands Trust is to be commended for placing this important transcript in the public domain.

According to the Trust:

What is important about the interview is that it represents an insight into the psyche of the British at crucial periods in the hunger strikes, particularly at the time of mediation attempts by others, including the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace [ICJP] … O’Malley twice interviewed Blelloch: in September 1986 and again on 23rd November 1988. Below is an unedited extract from the September 1986 interview dealing with the death of IRA Volunteer Joe McDonnell, and is followed by Blelloch’s analysis of the first hunger strike. It is illuminating in that the interview was conducted long before the publication of Ten Men Dead, which reveals the republican analysis, and it shows the intransigence of the British government throughout both hunger strikes.

Having finished reading the interview this morning, like the Trust I concluded that Blelloch – whom the Trust claims was a member of MI5, a view I have no reason to dissent from – sought to present a very unyielding position. What puzzled me is why he chose to conceal the initiative by his sister spook agency MI6 which seems to have been involved in a more conciliatory approach just prior to the death of IRA volunteer Joe McDonnell. Blelloch had to have known of that initiative but restricted his comments to the efforts by the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, an intervention already well documented. What was not in the pubic domain Blelloch was clearly not going to place there. O’Malley clearly did not know of the MI6 mission otherwise he would have tested the Blelloch perspective against it. Blelloch chose not to enlighten him.

It was not until the following year that David Beresford brought the MI6 role to the attention of the public with his fine book Ten Men Dead. He only discovered it because, according to Richard O’Rawe, a comm from the period referring to the MI6 operative Mountain Climber that was not supposed to make its way to Beresford evaded the Sinn Fein filter. Sinn Fein knew of MI6’s involvement but for its own reasons decided not to make the matter public. We can only speculate that this was because the party felt there was no point in allowing the British to don the mantle of compassion and flexibility when it seemed clear to everyone that they were unbending throughout the period. Indeed Sinn Fein’s most consistent theme has been that the British Prime Minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher, was totally hostile to any bridging of the gap between her government’s position and the demands of the dying prisoners. Sinn Fein, or people close to it, also relied heavily on this inflexible trait of Thatcher in their effort to refute the charge by Richard O’Rawe that the British through MI6 made a substantial offer to the prisoners which the prison leadership accepted but was overruled on by elements within the outside leadership responsible for day to day management of the hunger strike.

In 1986 both Sinn Fein and the British, then on opposite sides of a bitter armed conflict, had their own reasons for wanting to portray the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher as being resolute and determined not to bend in the face of pressure. The British for ideological and then current strategic reasons wanted to maintain an image of a prime minister not for turning as she and the Conservatives set about rolling back the social democratic state. Any suggestion that Thatcher might have wilted in the face of determined republican opposition at the centre of which was the IRA for whom she had a visceral hatred, would have undermined that position. Sinn Fein, for it part, always found it easier to get its message across if its opponent was effectively maligned. In Thatcher it found an easy albeit willing target.

Whether Thatcher was as unbending as has been suggested by Blelloch is called into question by his unwillingness to disclose information that would permit the development of an alternative narrative of the hunger strikes. That narrative has since been developed by Richard O’Rawe in his book Blanketmen and has maintained an elongated stage life despite attempts to force it into the wings. Blelloch’s account does nothing to reinforce O’Rawe’s perspective but at the same time fails to undermine him largely because it declined to trespass on an area then marked ‘prohibited’. By withholding vital information Blelloch has undermined his own ostensible commitment to be forthcoming. Why the Bobby Sands Trust failed to draw attention to this is something best explained by itself.

Blelloch’s account is so flat and delivered in typical British mandarin style, that if it were to be integrated into any assault aimed at exploding the O’Rawe thesis it will produce the blast of a damp squib. It will hardy even make the 7 day wonder category. 7 days is a long time in politics, long enough to see perspectives turned completely on their head.

Sourced from The Pensive Quill

“Rusty Nail”: O’Rawe & the Derry Journal

O’Rawe and the Derry Journal
April 18, 2008

FAO Those following the hunger strike controversy: As noted yesterday, the Derry Journal had carried a rather confused piece quoting Richard O’Rawe’s cellmate, Colm Scullion, in the wake of the claims by Eamon McCann. Today, they refer to complaints made by O’Rawe and carry an instant rebuttal from Greg Harkin.

The heart of the matter comes down to semantics over the words “deal” and “offer”, as Harkin writes, “Mr O’Rawe’s entire argument rests on what constituted a ‘deal’ or ‘offer’”.
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“Rusty Nail” – Hunger Strike Controversy Has Not Gone Away, You Know

Hunger Strike Controversy Has Not Gone Away, You Know
April 17, 2008

Eamon McCann’s Belfast Telegraph article and Radio Free Eireann interview about Richard O’Rawe’s account of the prisoner acceptance of a deal which would have saved the lives of six hunger strikers has created more questions than answers. McCann’s pieces were firm in his conviction that “Richard O’Rawe is telling the truth”, based on confirmations he had from the “Mountain Climber”, former prisoners on the same wing and Richard’s cellmate. Richard’s cellmate, Colm Scullion, was then quoted by the Derry Journal – in a confused piece, which, for example, referred to the Derry based INLA hunger strikers as being IRA, and also ran without a by-line – saying there was no deal but agreeing there was an offer. This was followed by a letter from Scullion to the Irish News, which Richard O’Rawe has answered today.
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“Rusty Nail”: O’Rawe’s account confirmed: Hunger Strikers Allowed To Die

O’Rawe’s account confirmed: Hunger Strikers Allowed To Die
Friday, March 28, 2008

Eamon McCann verifies Richard O’Rawe’s account of the 1981 hunger strike in which he alleges that six of the hunger strikers need not have died as the prisoners had agreed to accept an offer from the Mountainclimber, only to be over-ruled by Gerry Adams.

Evidence which has now become available helps clarify a dispute sparked three years ago by the assertion of former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe that terms for ending the strike, accepted by the prisoners’ leadership in the Maze/Long Kesh, were rejected by IRA commanders outside. The implication is that the lives of six of the hunger strikers might have been saved if the prisoners hadn’t been overruled.
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Eamon McCann – “Richard isn’t a liar. He told the truth in his book.” (2008)

Will IRA ever admit truth over hunger strike?

Eamon McCann, Belfast Telegraph,
Thursday, 27 March 2008

New light has been shed on reported republican reaction to a British offer which might have ended the 1981 hunger strike after four deaths. Ten men were to die before the strike ended.

Evidence which has now become available helps clarify a dispute sparked three years ago by the assertion of former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe that terms for ending the strike, accepted by the prisoners’ leadership in the Maze/Long Kesh, were rejected by IRA commanders outside. The implication is that the lives of six of the hunger strikers might have been saved if the prisoners hadn’t been overruled.
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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.