July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Sinn Fein’s ‘negotiating skills’ seem to get rusty with time

Sinn Fein’s ‘negotiating skills’ seem to get rusty with time

Irish News, letters page
Carmel Hanna MLA SDLP, South Belfast

Jim Gibney (June 18) is being self-serving when he writes about ‘Sinn Fein’s proven negotiating skills’ – ‘‘under the SDLP’s Sunningdale the RUC was left intact”.

Provisional Sinn Fein did not negotiate the ending of the RUC.

That came from the Patten Commission which was set up as a result of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).

The GFA was primarily negotiated by the SDLP on behalf of northern nationalists and is based on SDLP ideas.

Even Ian Paisley acknowledged that.
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Irish News: Former Blanketman Joe McNulty

blanketmanSinn Fein talked tactics while hunger strikers died

Joe McNulty, Dungannon

The revelation that Brendan Duddy confirmed a document from the British conceding demands on clothes, remission, work and other areas in early July 1981 (before Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson died) came as a total shock to me as a blanket man (The Irish News article May 25).

As a prisoner in H-block 3 I was never asked what my opinion was on these concessions and, in fact, I never knew that the document ever existed.

Why were the blanket men not consulted as a complete group about this critical development?

The contents and concessions in this paper would have been sufficient to have ended the hunger strike successfully and, in my estimation, 90 per cent of blanket men I was in contact with would have accepted this.

The accusation that the leadership let the hunger strike continue for political gain, is a huge charge without producing firm evidence.

So I reread a lot of books on the hunger strike.

On page 334 of David Beresford’s book Ten Men Dead, I came across the following communication from BIK (Brendan McFarlane) to Brownie (Gerry Adams).

‘‘The climate now is ripe to make significant progress and establish a firm base down there (free state) which is a necessity for future development and success in the final analysis. To allow opportunities to slip by (opportunities which may not present themselves again) would be a grave mistake’’.

This comm was dated July 26 1981 and at this date six hunger strikers were already dead.

These two leaders were discussing a new electoral strategy and plan, in the middle of the hunger strike (six had already died).

Tragically Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom Mc Elwee, and Micky Devine were to die in the coming weeks.

So the hunger strike was seen as an ‘opportunity’ which it would be a ‘grave mistake’ not to take advantage of.

To be discussing electoral tactics while hunger strikers were dead – and dying – was callous in the extreme.

I rest my case with anger and a sad and heavy heart.

Joe McNulty, Dungannon

SF to meet hunger strike families over deal ‘myth’

SF to meet hunger strike families over deal ‘myth’
By Seamus McKinney
Irish News

The Sinn Fein leadership has organised a meeting with families of the 1981 hunger strikers to discuss recent controversy about the period.

Families of the 10 men who died were notified this week about the meeting at Gulladuff in south Derry on Wednesday.

It is understood Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and others connected to the 1981 protest will attend.

The discussion follows a number of claims in recent months about a possible deal which might have saved the lives of five or possibly six of the hunger strikers.

The meeting will be the first time the party leadership has held direct talks with the families since the controversy arose. It is being seen as a bid to stop the issue gaining further momentum.

Claims that a deal could have saved lives first arose in 2005 when Richard O’Rawe – who acted as publicity officer for the 1981 hunger strikers – published his account of the period.

In his book, Mr O’Rawe said a deal was sanctioned by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher hours before Joe McDonnell died.

However, Mr O’Rawe alleged it was rejected by the IRA leadership outside the prison because it wished to capitalise on political gains.

This was rejected by the Sinn Fein group which managed the hunger strike from outside the prison, insisting the deal was not guaranteed.

The dispute continued this year when a number of documents released under the Freedom of Information Act appeared to confirm details of a deal being offered to the IRA on July 8 1981.

Next week’s meeting has received a mixed response from families of the hunger strikers.

Tony O’Hara, whose brother Patsy died before the alleged deal, said his family and that of Michael Devine (both INLA hunger strikers) were considering whether to attend.

The IRSP claimed the meeting was “another attempt to mislead and confuse”.

Spokesman Martin McMonagle said a full inquiry into the issue – demanded recently by former hunger striker Gerard Hodgkins – was the only way forward.

“We have come to this conclusion because of the weight of evidence from wide-ranging sources who were directly involved which clearly contradicts the Sinn Fein version of events,” he said.

However, Oliver Hughes, a brother of Francis Hughes and a cousin of Thomas McElwee, supported the Sinn Fein leadership.

He said while he could not attend because of business commitments his family would be represented.

Mr Hughes said he was angry that the pain of the hunger strikes was being revisited on the families.

“I would question what the motive is for bringing this up again 28 years on,” he said.

“I support the leadership of the republican movement in arranging this meeting. I believe Adams and his colleagues feel they must make some reply.”

Sinn Fein last night confirmed that a “private meeting” had been organised.

A spokesman said the issue was raised a number of times during recent meetings organised by the party leadership.

“As a result of these meetings it was decided that we should organise a meeting for all the relatives of the hunger strikers to allow them to come together as a group and discuss issues both amongst themselves and with the Sinn Fein leadership,” he said.

Sourced from Fenian32

Irish News: Hunger Strike Deal Must Be Disclosed

Hunger Strike Deal Must Be Disclosed
Seamus McKinney, Irish News

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

The first IRA hunger striker to speak about a possible deal which could have saved the lives of five or possibly six of his colleagues has called for the full facts of the initiative to be made public.
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Brendan Hughes: O’Rawe Told Me His Concerns (2006)

O’Rawe Told Me His Concerns

Brendan Hughes • Irish News, 19 May 2006

IT is not my intention to take sides in the ongoing debate over the claims made in the book Blanketmen by its author Richard O’Rawe.

I am not in a position to speak authoritatively on the matter.

I was in the same block as Richard O’Rawe at the time of the events he refers to but not on the same wing.

However, there has been some attempt to present O’Rawe as a person who made no effort to tell any former prisoner of his suspicions over a 24-year period. This is simply not so.
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O’Rawe responds to Gibney (2006)

Former Blanketman Speaks Out Against ‘Vitriolic Attack’

Richard O’Rawe, Irish News • 15 May 2006

A fellow republican said to me last week that over the period of Bobby Sands’ anniversary, the republican movement had done everything except paint the Star of David on my windows and daub Juden Raus on my front door.

I laughed when he made that analogy but when I had time to think about it, I don’t think he was too wide off the mark.

The recent attempts to demonise me from on high, the vitriol, raw hatred and the ferocious endeavours to destroy my integrity have, in terms of sheer viciousness, been unprecedented within the republican family.

The same republican pointed out that Freddie Scappaticci had not received such a ‘battering.’

Sinn Fein’s silence on the question of this super-tout contrasted sharply with their crazed attacks on my character. An agent, it seems, is better thought of than a blanketman. Scap apparently had both the republican movement’s blessing and its promise of ‘omerta’ as he made haste from Dodge, his saddlebags full of Brit money.
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Jim Gibney (May, 2006)

Tragic period clouded by ‘set of proposals’

(Jim Gibney, Irish News)

The protest for political status in Armagh Women’s prison and the H-Blocks of Long Kesh lasted for five years between September 1976 and October 1981.

At no time before the first hunger strike in October 1980 did the British government try to end the protest by any means other than brutalising and degrading the prisoners.

The first hunger strike involved seven men in the H-Blocks and three women in Armagh jail.

It lasted 53 days.
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Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane: “It did not happen” (2005)

Former comrades’ war of words over hunger strike

(Steven McCaffrey, Irish News)

The man who led IRA prisoners inside the Maze jail during the 1981 hunger strike has dismissed a controversial new book on the period as fictitious.

Brendan McFarlane speaks to Steven McCaffrey about a period that still stirs deeply held emotions among republicans.

In his book, Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike, Richard O’Rawe fondly re-calls his former republican comrade Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane.

Describing him as “six feet tall and full of bonhomie”, a “striking character” and a “great singer”, the author writes that both men were avid fans of Gaelic football and that they “whiled away the time dreaming of the day when the Antrim football team would grace Croke Park in an all-Ireland final”.
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McFarlane denies Hunger Strike deal was struck (2005)

McFarlane denies Hunger Strike deal was struck


Brendan McFarlane, the leader of the H-Block prisoners during the hunger strikes of 1981, has rejected any suggestion that a deal was rejected before the death of Joe McDonnell.

The North Belfast man said the claims in Richard O’Rawe’s book entitled Blanketmen: The Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike had caused distress among the families of the hunger strikers.

In his book O’Rawe claims the final six men to die were sacrificed for political reasons and to help the election of Owen Carron to Bobby Sands’ Westminster seat.

“All of us, particularly the families of the men who died, carry the tragedy and trauma of the hunger strikes with us every day of our lives.

“It was an emotional and deeply distressing time for those of us who were in the H-Blocks and close to the hunger strikers,” said Brendan McFarlane.

“However, as the Officer Commanding in the prison at the time, I can say categorically that there was no outside intervention to prevent a deal.
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Hunger strikers’ lives not sacrificed — family (2005)

Hunger strikers’ lives not sacrificed — family

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

The family of a dead hunger striker last night (Tuesday) hit out at claims that the IRA sacrificed the lives of republican prisoners in negotiations with the British government during the 1981 dispute.

The family of Francis Hughes last night rejected the claims from former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who earlier this week stated that the British government had been prepared to agree to four of five prisoner demands during the 1981 hunger strike.

However Mr O’Rawe claimed that while IRA leaders in the prison were prepared to accept the deal, they were overruled by the army council on the outside.

Six other hunger strikers died before the end of the protest in October 1981.
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‘Dying wasn’t their decision’

‘Dying wasn’t their decision’

Controversy persisted last night (Tuesday) over allegations in a book that the IRA army council may have allowed some hunger strikers to die. Former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe has claimed the paramilitary leadership blocked an acceptable deal from the British government to end the 1981 protest before six of the 10 men had died.

The allegation has been dismissed by former IRA jail leader Brendan Bik McFarlane.

Mr McFarlane insisted “no deal was offered to the hunger strikers whereby they could say it was acceptable”.

However, a woman connected to one hunger striker, who did not want to be named but said she had attended family meetings surrounding the hunger strike, last night backed Mr O’Rawe’s claims.
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Allegations of a rejected deal spark fury among republicans

Allegations of a rejected deal spark fury among republicans

(Catherine Morrison, Irish News)

Senior republicans last night (Monday) rejected controversial claims in a new book that Sinn Féin and the IRA blocked a deal which could have saved the lives of six hunger strikers.

Richard O’Rawe, spokesman for the Provisional IRA in the Maze prison during the hunger strikes, said he accepted a British government deal just days before the fifth hunger striker, Joe McDonnell, died in July 1981.

In Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike, Mr O’Rawe claims fellow prisoners’ leader Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane had shared details of a “substantial” offer from Margaret Thatcher’s government, conceding four of the five IRA demands.

The only point the British had refused to concede was the free association of prisoners on the IRA wing.

Mr O’Rawe, who was serving eight years for robbery, claimed both men agreed that the offer, which was tabled by a mysterious middleman called the Mountain Climber, was sufficient to call off the hunger strike.
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Monsignor Faul regrets his ‘late intervention’ (2005)

Monsignor Faul regrets his ‘late intervention’

(Catherine Morrison, Irish News)

A key player in the 1981 hunger strikes last night (Monday) said he regretted not intervening earlier in the protest.

Monsignor Denis Faul, was a regular visitor at the Maze prison at the time and a supporter of the prisoners’ families.

Mgr Faul described how, by the end of June 1981, he believed the strikes were all but over.

Four prisoners had died agonising slow deaths from starvation, but unbeknownst to Mgr Faul at the time, six more would die before the protest was brought to an end.
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Was my father’s death PR exercise? (2005)

Was my father’s death PR exercise?

(Seamus McKinney and Catherine Morrison, Irish News)

The son of a Derry hunger striker has voiced concerns over claims that the republican leadership could have allowed his father to die for political gain.

Michael Devine, whose father Mickey was the last of the 10 men to die in the 1981 protest, was speaking after publication of Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-block Hunger Strike.

The book’s author, Richard O’Rawe, was a public relations officer for the hunger strikers in the Maze. Along with IRA prisoners’ ‘OC’ Brendan Bik McFarlane, he was closely in-volved in the day-to-day events of the hunger strike.
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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.