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Was there a deal?
By Allison Morris
VETERAN reporter Ed Moloney has said that he warned Richard O’Rawe about an inevitable backlash from former republican associates if he went ahead and published his book.
O’Rawe’s claims that the Sinn Fein leadership sabotaged a possible resolution to the protest in order to further the party’s political fortunes has caused a storm of controversy which has gained momentum ever since.
Having covered the unfolding situation at the Maze prison as a journalist, from the blanket protest through to the first and later the second Hunger Strike on which 10 men died, the former Irish Times and Sunday Tribune northern editor said claims contained in Blanketmen came as no surprise to many.
“I not only read Richard’s book at an early stage I helped edit it and advised him strongly at the time not to publish it,” he said.
“I told him they, and by they I mean primarily the Sinn Fein leadership, would make his life very difficult.
“Knowing Richard, where he lived and the background he came from, I was aware from previous personal experience that it would get very rough for him.
“But I got the impression this had been eating away at him for some time.”
Mr Moloney, who lives in the US, is expected to reveal new material on the republican movement in a book due out early next year.
The book includes a series of interviews with top republican Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes before his death last year.
Hughes had been a former OC of the IRA’s Belfast brigade and was leader of the 1980 republican Hunger Strike in the Maze.
During his conversations with O’Rawe, Mr Moloney said he was aware that he had delayed publishing his book Blanketmen until the peace process was firmly embedded.
“He did this so he couldn’t be accused of causing the Sinn Fein leadership problems,” Mr Moloney said.
“Covering the Hunger Strike as a journalist, even back then at a republican grassroots level, there was a general feeling that it had just gone on for far too long,” he said.
“Ten deaths was excessive and went way beyond anything that they had previously asked their prisoners to do.
“To leave the decision up to the prisoners themselves was thought by some to be a tactical move.
“Each man carried the weight of the dead comrade who went before them on their shoulders and so the protest continued.”
Mr Moloney said it was fairly well recognised that the 1981 Hunger Strike was the Provos’ Easter Rising.
“So many horrendous horrible acts had gone before it that this supreme sacrifice and unfaltering belief was a kind of justification for the IRA’s campaign,” he said.
“It was also the very start of the modern peace process and the beginning of Sinn Fein’s electoral and political strategy.
“More recently, evidence uncovered by Liam Clarke [who reported details of British government documents which were released to The Sunday Times earlier this year following a freedom of information request], if not entirely settles the matter, then takes us to a point where explanations are certainly required.
“There have been changes to some people’s stories that are so significant it begs the question why?
“That is what in my opinion now needs to be cleared up.”
29 September 2009
More than 300 people attended the unveiling of a new monument to commemorate dead IRA volunteers from the Bogside and Brandywell area on Sunday afternoon.
The monument was unveiled in the republican remembrance garden on Lecky Road by Charlie McSheffrey and Conal McCool, relatives of two of the IRA men from the area who died during the Troubles.
The event was organised by the Derry Republican Graces Association and was attended by Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness as well as Foyle MLAs Martina Anderson and Raymond McCartney.
The commemoration was chaired by Caoimhin McGettigan and the main speaker was leading Derry Republican, William McGuinness, a brother of the Deputy First Minister.
Mr McGuinness said republicans involved in work to improve local communities should not be deterred by criticisms from dissident republicans. “Republicans are working hard in all areas of society to bring about justice and peace and to reach the ultimate aim of a 32 County Socialist Republic and to make these fitting communities for future generations. We need to participate in this vital work
“We are under no illusions that there are those who are trying daily to wreck that good work. They must not succeed,” he said.
Mr McGuinness also praised the IRA volunteers from the area who are commemorated on the new monument.
“They where ordinary people who lived in extraordinary times. People who sprang to the forefront of their communities in the Bogside, Brandywell and Bishop Street areas They were decent people and we grieve for them today as when they fell and we share the sense of loss with their families and friends and those who seek to vilify or criminalise them will never succeed,” he said.
During the ceremony, young people from the area stood on a hill overlooking the monument carrying pictures of the 16 IRA volunteers who died during the Troubles. It ended with a lament sung by Sara Griffin.
By LIAM CLARKE
29 September 2009
I’M looking forward to reading Bertie Ahern’s forthcoming autobiography, but, judging by the excerpts serialised at the weekend, he may be retailing a few myths about Northern Ireland which don’t quite bear scrutiny.
He asserts, for instance, that the peace process would have moved farther and further if Mo Mowlam had remained Secretary of State and not been replaced by Peter Mandelson. He regarded Mandelson as formal and standoffish and in terms of temperament I can see what he meant.
Charlie Haughey famously described Ahern as “the most skilful, the most devious, the most cunning” Irish politician of his generation. Coming from Haughey, it was a compliment. It was something Ahern had in common with Mandelson who, in terms of political skill, stands head and shoulders above most politicians in Britain, Ireland and almost anywhere else you can think of. He is a man who can get things done, and he got a lot done here in Northern Ireland.
He once told me that his basic job in Northern Ireland was to keep the unionists on board for policing reform and devolution without losing the republicans. His success in this was a major political achievement and without it we could well have slipped back into violence. It is impossible to point to anything to match it in Mowlam’s career here.
Mo was far more personable. She did me several personal kindnesses. She offered my wife Kathy Johnston and I her support after we were arrested for writing a biography of Martin McGuinness containing embarrassing transcripts of taped telephone calls between Mowlam and the Sinn Fein leader.
Her resilience and vivacity in the face of terminal illness and the loss of her figure and good looks is an inspiring example of courage in adversity. “I look like a Teletubby with my handbag … Tinky Winky,” she once joked.
She was hard not to like and it is easy to see why Bertie Ahern warmed to her. He shares her easy, clubbable temperament but her fatal flaw was that she lacked his judgment.
She didn’t keep her distance from the Irish government, republicans or even journalists. Where Ahern had the politician’s knack of convincing you that he was your best friend, Mowlam also seemed to convince herself.
Take what she actually said on those calls to Martin McGuinness, which were made on a line whose tapping she had personally authorised as Secretary of State. She called McGuinness “babe”, flattered him, confided her differences with Tony Blair and said she was “fighting like f***” to stay on as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. She also came perilously close to saying that Ahern could speak for her on subjects like the formation of the Executive and decommissioning. “If you are speaking to Bertie you should be OK” she told McGuinness ahead of a meeting on these subjects.
Mo’s problem was that, unlike Mandelson or Ahern himself, she gave those she was meant to be negotiating with the impression that she had no bottom line. Under her stewardship, very little actually came to a head, she always left the impression that there was a little more to be got out of her.
29 September 2009
Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) have issued a chilling death threat against a man they claim is a major drug dealer in the city.
It’s believed that the man – who RAAD named in a statement to the Journal – is currently out of the country and has been for some time.
However, the organisation say that, if he returns to the city, he will be “executed on sight”.
It’s believed that property owned by the individual on the cityside has been targeted by RAAD in recent weeks.
The organisation – which has carried out a series of punishment-style attacks on people they claim are drug dealers – told the ‘Journal’: “If this death dealer resurfaces from living the high life abroad, he will be executed on sight.
“We said before that, if we cannot get to the dealers themselves, we will target their assets.”
Last night, when contacted by the ‘Journal’, the man’s family said they were aware of the allegations and were “making efforts to resolve the situation.”
The man’s father – who didn’t want to be named – said: “While it is hard to accept, we do not refute the allegations.”
Visibly upset, he added: “I never knew what he was involved in – this is a horrible revelation. He left the country a year and a half ago and, as far as I’m aware, he has been living a good life. I’ve asked him repeatedly if he has been telling me the truth – and I believe he is.
“I am now trying to resolve the situation so my son can return home safely. In fact, I am trying to encourage my son to meet with the people who issued this death threat.”
A tale of two parliaments
29 Sept 09
Although there will be a UK general election next year, there is little or no appetite for a parallel contest to elect a new Northern Ireland assembly
On either side of the Irish border, there exists, at present, an electoral version of the cold war doctrine of mutually assured destruction.
In the pre-1989 world, MAD signified the nuclear stalemate between the US and the Soviet Union – that there was peace for more than four decades, despite the world being split into two competing ideological camps, because of the threat of each side being obliterated by the other.
Terrified by the knowledge that their nuclear armed missiles could destroy life on either side of the divide, Moscow and Washington sought detente rather than outright war.
In the post-Celtic Tiger, peace-process Irish world, the island’s mini-MAD may just keep the electoral peace for a few months, possibly even for a couple of years.
Although there will be a general election in the UK by spring 2010, which will of course mean competition between the Northern Irish parties for 18 Westminster seats, there is little or no appetite for a parallel contest to elect a new Northern Ireland assembly.
The only party that may be tempted to pull the plug on the four-party power-sharing coalition at Stormont is Sinn Féin.
At present, its main nationalist rivals, the SDLP, are in disarray, having lost their leader, Mark Durkan, in mid-September and having no direction as to where to go in the future.
In these circumstances, there are some in Sinn Féin who argue that now, or at least in early 2010, the party should bring down the power-sharing executive and force assembly elections. Moreover, the gamblers in Sinn Féin look across the cabinet table to the largest unionist force, the Democratic Unionists, and see a party deeply fearful about shipping votes to the rightwing and anti-power-sharing ultras of Traditional Unionist Voice.
In the European elections in June, for example, tally results from Ian Paisley’s North Antrim stronghold revealed that the TUV’s leader, Jim Allister, had a huge percentage of votes and, translated into a Westminster contest, would be in with a fighting chance of taking the seat the Paisley dynasty have held since the 70s.
On these two factors alone, strategists in Sinn Féin are wondering whether now is the time to force an election to the devolved assembly and become the No 1 party in Northern Ireland.
The final reason why many in Sinn Féin will find the prospect of an assembly election appealing is out of frustration with the DUP.
The two parties are currently inching ever closer to a deal that would transfer policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont.
However, the pace of movement towards putting the final piece of the devolution jigsaw in place is slow because the DUP leader and first minister, Peter Robinson, has to sell the deal to nervous backbenchers who worry about having to face the TUV and a hardline loyalist backlash on the doorsteps.
Some republicans complain that the DUP is putting the brakes on devolution’s progress and deserves to be punished.
Yet, according to DUP and British government sources, the prospect of that very election may be the one thing that persuades Robinson’s party to finally agree to a policing and justice deal.
They argue that Robinson can go to his assembly members with a warning that, unless they work out an agreement with Sinn Féin, elections are inevitable and, in the current climate, many of them will be out of a job.
Paradoxically, Sinn Féin’s canny leaders, such as the deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, know they need the DUP’s continued cooperation in government because the transfer of policing and justice powers can be sold to the republican electorate as a kind of mini-victory over central British state power.
Across the border, the coalition in Dublin also faces a few nerve-jangling months ahead. Even if, as now seems likely, the Irish vote yes to the Lisbon treaty this weekend, there are even greater hurdles for the Fianna Fáil-Green party government to overcome.
The largest of them is, of course, the Republic’s budget in December, in which it is inevitable that there will be deep cuts in public sector pay and services as Ireland tries to plug the billions and billions in the black hole of its public finances.
The Greens are planning to hold a delegate conference to ratify what will be one of the harshest budgets in modern Irish history.
Some commentators predict they will run from government rather than implement the cuts that most economists say are vital and necessary to save Ireland’s economy from in effect being taken over by the IMF.
Yet, inside Fianna Fáil, there is some optimism that the doctrine of MAD, Irish style, will prevail.
Fianna Fáil strategists argue that if the Greens brought down the coalition and precipitated a general election in the winter, the minority party would be decimated in the polls.
Although the opinion polls for both Fianna Fáil and the Greens make grim reading at present, there may be no way back for the smaller party in a real contest.
And, while the government is hugely unpopular due to the recession, rising unemployment and tumbling house prices, there is a view inside Brian Cowen’s administration that if the tough measures contained in the 2009 budget work, and the economy recovers, the coalition will be rewarded for standing firm, taking brave decisions, and working in the national interest.
The prospect of two winter elections in 2010 fills no one with any enthusiasm.
MAD playing in the minds of political strategists on either side of the border might just ensure that the two fragile coalitions in Dublin and Belfast survive for longer than many expected.
30 September 2009
Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has told a panel of international legal experts in Paris that any truth recovery process in the North must be entirely independent.
Ms Anderson made the remark when she spoke at a gathering of top lawyers at the Assemblé Nationale in Paris recently.
The Foyle MLA said that all of those involved in the conflict here must be involved in a truth process if it is to have the confidence of the people.
“To be legitimate, any truth process must be fully independent, treat victims on all sides equally, involve the full co-operation of all parties, and expose violations by all parties. Moreover, one of the purposes of any future truth process must be to examine the causes, nature and extent of the conflict. This is not optional,” she said.
Ms Anderson also said the Eames and Bradley led Consultative Group on the Past did not go far enough in its report.
“For its part, the Consultative Group on the Past has refused to recommend an independent international truth commission, on the basis that the British Government and unionists would never agree to it. Instead, they recommend a highly problematic ‘Legacy Commission’ that would not be independent from the British Government.
“The Consultative Group on the Past appears to have ignored the experience of international models that examine a fuller spectrum of human rights violations and take account of criminal justice agencies’ involvement in patterns of abuse arising from the conflict.
“Sinn Féin fully supports the establishment of a truth process that complies with recognised international standards. Indeed, we have campaigned and negotiated for this, and will continue to do so,” she said.
The deputy first minister has suggested the first minister might be taking “cold feet” on the proposed deal over the devolution of policing and justice.
Martin McGuinness expressed anger about the failure of Peter Robinson to meet the PM this week to discuss the matter.
Mr Robinson was speaking after a meeting with the PSNI chief constable
Mr Robinson said there were differences between the estimates of the Treasury and local criminal justice agencies over future budgets.
He said there was no point in having a meeting while the differences remained.
Mr McGuinness rejected Mr Robinson’s argument and said the DUP should explain why they were not prepared to have more meetings this week.
“The people want to see local politicians provide for them through local accountability a first class policing service,” he said.
Meanwhile, asked if he would stand again for Westminster, Mr Robinson said the DUP were determined to phase out dual mandates.
However, he said his own position would be discussed with party officers.
Mr Robinson said some in his party believed the leader of unionism should be represented both at Stormont and Westminster during the fledgling years of the Assembly.
Also on Wednesday, Nigel Dodds, the DUP deputy leader, said the £8m cost of the latest Assembly expenses reinforced the DUP’s argument for reducing the number of MLAs and streamlining the Stormont bureaucracy.
A DUP delegation met with PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott on Wednesday to express concerns about the future of the police reserve and the difficulties former members of the security forces have faced in obtaining personnel protection weapons.
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
One of Northern Ireland’s most prominent victims’ campaigners has secured a US congressional hearing into his son’s murder.
The hearing next month at the House Subcommittee on International Organisations, Human Rights and Oversight will examine the 1997 killing of 22-year-old Belfast man Raymond McCord.
His father Raymond snr has long campaigned to expose police informers at the heart of the UVF gang that committed the murder.
Central allegations in the case were vindicated by an explosive report in 2007 by Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan.
Mr McCord last night warmly welcomed the congressional hearing news. He paid tribute to Fr Sean McManus of the US-based Irish National Caucus, who took him to Capitol Hill earlier this year to lobby for his son’s cause.
Mr McCord said he was a Protestant and a unionist, but had been ignored by churches and the state, and let down by unionist politicians.
“Fortunately for my family a stranger, who happened to be a Roman Catholic priest, decided to help,” he added.
“My family and I will be eternally grateful to Sean, as I call him, and to the U S Congress and Irish-Americans. I only hope I have done my son proud.”
Fr McManus said: “I know how much this hearing will mean for the McCord family and so I am really pleased for them.”
29 Sept 09
Lord Tebbit has said Labour should not have allowed Martin McGuinness to attend its conference in Brighton.
He said it was “inappropriate” for the Sinn Fein deputy leader to be in the town just weeks before the anniversary of the IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel.
Lord Tebbit was injured and his wife permanently disabled in the attack during the Tory conference in 1984.
The IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in 1984
Mr McGuinness attended a party organised by the Guardian newspaper at the Grand Hotel on Monday night.
Five people were killed in the Brighton bombing.
One of the best-remembered images of the night was that of Lord Tebbit, who had to be rescued from the rubble.
Asked whether Mr McGuinness should be participating in events in Brighton this week, Lord Tebbit replied: “I do not think it is appropriate that he is not in prison.”
He went on: “I assumed he had gone there to have a look to see why the plan failed. I would imagine that he is curious.
“He has been made a minister in the government of part of the United Kingdom, by the Labour Party, by the Labour Government.
“They presumably love him and admire him.”
Mr McGuinness has admitted being in the IRA and politicians in Britain and Ireland believe he was a leader of the paramilitary organisation.
On Tuesday morning he spoke at a conference fringe event.
29 Sept 09
A bomb warning has led to the cancellation of a District Policing Partnership meeting in County Antrim.
The meeting was due to begin at 1900 GMT on Tuesday at a community centre in the village of Mosside.
No organisation was mentioned in the bomb warning which was received at 1815 GMT. The area was cordoned off and a controlled explosion was carried out.
Moyle DPP chairman Oliver McMullan of Sinn Fein said he believed loyalist paramilitaries were responsible.
“I am very disappointed as I have been looking forward to giving the people of Mosside the opportunity to engage with the DPP at a public meeting for the first time,” he said.
“This would have allowed the community to feed their concerns and opinions into the Area Policing Plan, as other local communities have done before.
“We will not be deterred by the actions of those who have no support or mandate and will rearrange the meeting at the earliest opportunity.”
Up to 14 homes were evacuated at one stage, and some residents took shelter in a church hall.
District Policing Partnership meetings have been often disrupted in the past. Last week, dissident republicans forced their way into a meeting in a Derry hotel, blowing whistles and throwing stink bombs.
The partnerships were set up in 2002 under reforms resulting from the Patten Report.
The partnerships fall under the auspices of the Policing Board, which holds the PSNI as a whole to account.
They are made up of councillors and members of the local community, who work alongside police District Command Units in trying to meet policing needs.
By Ashleigh McDonald and Andrea McKernon
Speculation is mounting over the future leader of Republican Sinn Fein after Ruari O Bradaigh announced he is to step down as party president.
Mr O Bradaigh, who turns 77 next month, cited age and health grounds for his decision.
Possible successors include vice-president Des Dalton and Mr O Bradaigh’s son Ruari Og.
A former chief of staff of the IRA, the Longford man was president of Sinn Fein between 1970 to 1983 before being replaced by Gerry Adams.
He has held the position of president of the breakaway Republican Sinn Fein since its inception 23 years ago.
The party was established after Mr O Bradaigh and other hard-line republicans walked out of Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis in Dublin in 1986 after a majority of delegates voted to drop the policy of abstentionism if elected to Dail Eireann.
Since the mid-1950s, Mr O Bradaigh has played a key role in the Irish republican movement.
The child of Irish Republican veterans, Mr O Bradaigh has led IRA raids, been arrested and interned, and even spent a period of time on a hunger strike.
He has at different times been excluded from Northern Ireland, Britain, the United States, and Canada.
He was a key figure in the secret negotiation of a bilateral IRA-British truce.
Educated in St Mel’s College and University College Dublin, he was elected to the executive of the military council of the IRA in 1954.
In February 1962 it was Mr O Bradaigh who called the end of the 1956 to 1962 IRA campaign.
Throughout the 1960s he taught in Roscommon and was an active member of Sinn Fein.
In 1972 he was arrested under the Offences Against the State Act and immediately went on hunger strike. After two weeks the charges against him were dropped and he was released.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Mr O Bradaigh said: “I will not be standing for the position of president of Republican Sinn Fein at the forthcoming ard fheis for reasons of age and health.
“I will, however, be going forward for membership of an ard chomhairle and for the office of patron of the organisation.
“I wish to record my appreciation and thanks to all who worked with me over the past 60 years.”
It is understood, though Mr O Bradaigh is not seriously ill, he has been advised by doctors to reduce his work commitments.
Asked yesterday about who was likely to run for leadership of the party, a spokesman for Republican Sinn Fein said: “Nomination papers will have to be sent out now and it remains to be seen who will be nominated and who will accept the nomination.”
29 September 2009
Hardline republicans in Derry have embarked on a recruitment drive, prompting fears that dissident paramlitaries could be preparing for a new offensive.
The 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM) has launched a campaign to attract new recruits by putting up posters in various areas around the city and posting recruitment notices on its website.
The move has sparked concerns that some of the prospective recruits to the 32CSM could end up in the Real IRA. Security sources believe the two organisations are linked – a claim denied by the 32CSM.
The 32CSM is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in the US because of its apparent links to the Real IRA. In April this year, masked members of the Real IRA in military dress appeared at an Easter commemoration organised by the 32CSM and delivered a veiled threat to Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness.
In recent weeks the Real IRA has become more active in Derry and it claimed responsibility for planting explosive devices under cars belonging to family members of a PSNI officer in the Shantallow and Hatmore areas of the city.
29 September 2009
Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuinness has said claims that the lives of six of the 1981 hunger strikers could have been saved are motivated by a desire to attack his party.
The Deputy First Minister said he finds ironic the attempt to present former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher as someone who wanted to resolve the prison dispute.”In 1981 we were dealing with a ruthless, hypocritical enemy, personified by Margaret Thatcher. I find it quite ironic that in their desire to get at Sinn Féin our opponents are attempting to portray Thatcher as someone who was anxious to resolve the hunger strike. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
The controversy over the hunger strike began when former blanketman Richard O’Rawe claimed in a book that a deal which would have ended the hunger strike was accepted by the prisoners but rejected by the IRA leadership outside the prison. Sinn Féin have continually denied that any such deal was made.
Earlier this year, the relatives of the Derry hunger strikers Patsy O’Hara and Michael Devine called for an independent inquiry to be held into the events of the hunger strike.
29 September 2009
PROMINENT dissident republican pressure group éirígí has said that it will not protest at Saturday’s Antrim parade for the returning colleagues of the two soldiers murdered in March.
The group – which protested at last November’s huge homecoming parade for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – denied a Sunday newspaper report that it was planning to protest in Antrim at the parade for 38 Engineer Regiment.
In a statement, éirígí said: “éirígí has no plans to protest at the British military parade in Antrim on Saturday, October 3.”
On Saturday, South Antrim DUP MP William McCrea claimed that dissident republicans had lodged an application with the Parades Commission to hold a protest at the Saturday morning parade, which the MoD has said is “not a homecoming parade”.
But a spokesman for the commission, which dissident republicans do not recognise, said that it had received no such notification.
29 September 2009
ULSTER’s new chief constable Matt Baggott has vowed to treat dissident republicans as criminals.
Speaking in Dublin after his first meeting with his counterpart in the Irish Republic, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, the police chief argued that terrorism and criminality are interlinked.
“I think it’s very helpful to see it as a criminal enterprise,” he said.
Both senior police officers, in the aftermath of the discovery of a 600lb bomb in south Armagh recently, deemed the dissident threat to be “substantial”.
The PSNI are continuing a high visibility operation in response to the ongoing dissident threat.
Meanwhile, Mr Baggott, a week into his new job, is facing his first controversy linked to his role as former head of the Leicestershire Constabulary.
The force have been partly blamed for the death of a mother and her disabled daughter.
Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her daughter Francesca Hardwick in 2007 after repeatedly asking for help with bullying and anti-social behaviour.
Ms Pilkington is claimed to have made as many as 30 calls to the local police.
UUP Policing Board member Basil McCrea has called on Mr Baggott to apologise.
By Seamus McKinney
TONY O’Hara last saw his brother Patsy alive two days before the Derry man died on the 61st day of his hunger strike on May 21 1981.
At the time O’Hara was an INLA prisoner at the Maze serving a sentence for possession of arms.
He died on the same day as IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh from Camlough, Co Armagh.
“For the entire duration of the 61 days I got to spend two hours and 15 minutes with Patsy. Even though I was in jail I was brought in handcuffs from H5 to the prison hospital – a short trip,” Mr O’Hara said.
Two days after seeing his brother Mr O’Hara, whose first cell mate was Bobby Sands, heard of his younger brother’s death on a crystal radio set smuggled into the jail.
“Another prisoner came to his window and shouted but I sort of knew. I was waiting for it when news came,” he said.
Mr O’Hara was given 12 hours compassionate parole to attend his brother’s funeral and just two months later he was released.
“When Patsy died I just felt numb. I remembered what it was like when Bobby Sands died,” he said.
“On the night he was elected there was elation. We just, everyone just, celebrated and cheered.
“But on the night he died there was just silence. The whole of Long Kesh went silent.”
Although any deal, real or not, would not have saved O’Hara’s life, the INLA man’s family is one of those demanding an inquiry into the Provisionals’ management of the Hunger Strike.
Mr O’Hara’s concern is that the Sinn Fein version of events has changed too often since Richard O’Rawe published his account of a possible deal in 2005.
He is also concerned that the INLA leadership was never told of the possible deal despite the fact that two of its members -– Kevin Lynch and Michael Devine –- died after it was alleged to have been made.
“It could have been a propaganda coup for the blanketmen and we could have said the Brits reneged on a deal,” Mr O’Hara said.
He believes the Provos tried to manipulate the Hunger Strike to exclude the INLA as much as possible.
“Patsy was to be the second to go on strike after Bobby Sands but Francie Hughes created such a rumpus that he went second,” Mr O’Hara said.
He accepts there could be a number of reasons for the Sinn Fein leadership deciding not to accept the deal.
“There is a lot of speculation and I don’t know the reason but that is one of the big questions that must be asked,” Mr O’Hara said.
He disputes the various statements put forward by the Sinn Fein leadership in recent months, not least a claim that all prisoners were told of the deal in 1981.
Mr O’Hara is adamant that only a full inquiry, chaired by an international human rights figure, will get to the truth.
The Monday Column
I once attended an evangelical meeting where a “hymn” written by a hunger striker was occasionally sung.
Thomas Ashe was a 1916 leader who died after force feeding went wrong in 1917.
His “hymn” was an amended version of one of his poems written in Lewes Gaol in England. It included the following lines: “Let me carry your cross for Ireland, Lord: the hour of her trial draws near. And the pangs and the pain of her sacrifice will be borne by comrades dear. But Lord, take me from the offering throng, there are many far less prepared, though ready and all as they are to die, that Ireland may be saved.”
Early last century Dublin-based evangelical Christians Eva and Clara Stuart Watt encouraged people to emulate the resolve of republicans in the service of Christ.
Self-sacrifice was not, however, to be taken literally. They found inspiration in Thomas Davis’s A Nation Once Again especially the words, “and righteous men must make our land a nation once again”. For a righteous person violence was not an option.
Killing for any earthly cause was repudiated. Yet the need for bloodshed was accepted but applied only to the “blood of Christ” whose suffering and death was the sacrifice to end all sacrifice.
The horror of human or animal sacrifice was rejected. The kind of “reasonable service” that evangelicals were called upon to make was, in the words of St Paul, a “living sacrifice”, meaning a life lived for God and one’s fellow man.
In contrast so many animal sacrifices took place in the Jerusalem temple before AD70 that blood spilt into the Jordan River was used by local farmers as fertiliser.
Hunger strikers fasting onto death were sacrificing their own lives. This act may be respected as courageous, revered as an example of dedication or perhaps deemed as wasteful.
On the day Bobby Sands died a deep hush pervaded the whole camp. Loyalists respected his courage. They had also wanted changes in prison conditions and led the way in support of political status in 1972 while some republicans were hesitant.
Loyalist aims were obscured somewhat by their demands for segregation.
The idea that prisoners deserve humane living conditions is of ancient vintage and perhaps derives from the Quaker emphasis on “that of God in everyone”.
Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) was a Quaker who dedicated her life to the welfare of prisoners.
Support for humane prison conditions even reached into the heart of the Orange Order.
A friend in my dad’s Orange Lodge was secretary of the Prisoners’ Aid Society who gave occasional talks at Orange functions about prisoners’ needs.
The idea that people might die for the right to wear certain clothes or for certain “privileges” was highly questionable.
The violence of the IRA campaign had caused revulsion while unhelpful rumours that Long Kesh was a home from home did not help. Some students were angry that prisoners should gain qualifications at the taxpayers’ expense while they lived with financial difficulties.
It was not fasting itself that was considered repugnant but fasting unto death that even some republicans baulked at.
Any hint of manipulating people’s deaths for private or political ends was regarded as repulsive.
When some loyalists participated in the early dirty protests and hunger strikes, this went against the grain. They were criticised for “lending support to republicans” and became pariahs, demonised by republicans while demeaned and ostracised by many of their own people. Progressive loyalists were sometimes damned as “rotten Prods”.
This was especially difficult given that it was the oratory of unionist leaders that led many of them to take up the gun in the first place. When militant clergy disowned their proteges, this fostered cynicism. Loyalists usually hailed from the most deprived sections of the community but they could see that hunger strikes to the death were extremely emotive events that could raise dark and deadly ancestral voices.
To associate the dying hunger striker with Christ was a form of dangerous idolatry. This might explain why even progressive loyalists remained uneasy about a museum associated with the hunger strikers’ deaths.
Yet those who died in this way could be seen as in some sense Christ-like. They were victims, even if it was at their own hands. However, to manipulate their deaths for party political ends, if this is what happened, was surely the ultimate abuse of human suffering.
Yet strangely the final outcome proved to be a political path which had the capacity to free us from the ways of death.
THE HUNGER STRIKE
THROUGHOUT Irish history Britain attempted to legitimise its actions by criminalising those native forces who opposed them physically, or in conscience. At one time it was Catholicism which was penalised, later it was nationalism and republicanism.
After 1969 the prison population here multiplied, not from an outbreak of criminality but due to the failure of government, street resistance and, latterly, IRA activity.
The first British secretary of state, William Whitelaw, recognised this political reality within the rising prison population and granted special category status (that is, political status) as a result of a republican hunger strike in 1972 before any prisoner lost his life.
Although tensions remained and republicans continued to attempt to escape and thwart imprisonment, by and large a quid pro quo existed within the jails. No prison officer, in those days, lost his life.
All this changed when the British went for wholesale confrontation and picked on what they mistakenly thought was the most vulnerable section of the republican movement – our imprisoned comrades.
They arbitrarily ended political status on March 1 1976, declaring that anyone involved in physical force after that date was a criminal.
But they had several problems, not least that IRA volunteers were politically and community motivated and, unlike loyalists, would not accept the Orwellian dispensation.
Britain’s other ‘criminalisation’ difficulty was that their own laws recognised IRA activities as ‘the use of violence for political ends’.
As we know, emboldened by the sacrifices of the hunger strikers, the H-Block prisoners went on to establish full political status, eventually acknowledged in the early release of prisoners under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Some weeks ago Gerry Adams met with all but two of the families of the hunger strikers. Bridie Lynch, sister of Kevin, couldn’t make the meeting but telephoned her solidarity for the group.
The meeting was private, though later misrepresented by others. It was the first time that many of the families had met since those heart-rending seven months in 1981.
The allegation that a ‘deal’ by the Sinn Fein leadership was squandered was given short shrift. The families appealed to those who were perpetuating their ongoing grief to cease, though they have persisted, motivated by a variety of reasons.
In 1981 we were dealing with a ruthless, hypocritical enemy, personified by Margaret Thatcher. I find it quite ironic that in their desire to get at Sinn Fein our opponents are attempting to portray Thatcher as someone anxious to resolve the Hunger Strike.
Nothing could be further from the truth. According to our critics, the hunger strikers, on whose behalf we were acting, should have accepted an ‘offer’ which came to the prisoners and us, via a phone-call from a British official in London, through the intermediary (since identified as Brendan Duddy – an honourable man), to myself, to a phone-call to Gerry Adams, and in a verbal message to Danny Morrison to the prisoners.
Clearly, they have chosen to forget of what mettle the hunger strikers were made, of their experiences of British deceit in December 1980.
Sinn Fein had political and ideological differences with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP).
We and the prisoners suspected that it would sell the prisoners short. Despite being a vehicle for the British government delivering a compromise and avoiding direct negotiations, even the ICJP’s expectations/demands that the British would send in someone to stand over what London was implying in messages was refused six times in the hours before Joe McDonnell died.
This year the British government selectively released documents about this period under the Freedom of Information Act and our critics have seized upon their release, but not their content, as some sort of proof.
That the republican leadership was in contact with the British was revealed long ago, not least in the 1987 book Ten Men Dead.
I would encourage people to read this book and the documents released in 2009 and compare it to the allegations of those who never visited the hunger strikers in the prison hospital, never dealt with the prison administration and the British government or liaised with the ICJP (which, on its terms, to be fair, was attempting to resolve the situation).
Out of the five demands the only thing the British were offering to the hunger strikers after four men had died was that they could wear ordinary clothes, “provided these clothes were approved by the prison authorities.”
The prisoners would have to do prison work or else they would be ‘punished by loss of remission, or some similar penalty’.
Ironically, Thatcher was without human compassion until her own son, Mark, was lost in the Sahara desert during a car rally in 1982 and as a mother begged God to deliver her son from hunger and thirst in the desert. Mark Thatcher was saved but not our 10 men dead. Nevertheless, their stature is unassailable and increases with every passing year, those men whose memory we will always honour, whose sacrifice triggered such a confidence in the nationalist community that things were changed utterly.
By Allison Morris
Left Kieran Doherty’s parents Alfie and Margaret with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
Kieran Doherty, known as ‘Big Doc’, was on hunger strike for 73 days before his death on August 2 1981, the longest of any of the 10 men who died.
He was 25 years old.
Elected as a TD to Cavan Monaghan in June 1981, for the last 16 days of his life members of the Doherty family kept a round-the-clock vigil by his bedside in the hospital wing of the Maze prison.
His mother Margaret, now 82, said until the very end he remained adamant that he was not to be taken off the protest until the five demands were not only achieved but copper fastened.
A convert to Catholicism, Margaret Doherty had moved from the staunchly Protestant Shankill Road to Andersonstown after marrying her now late husband Alfie.
She says that her son’s belief in what he was doing left the family with no option other than to give him their support.
“Kieran knew he was likely to die. He told us that from the start,” Mrs Doherty said.
“He was a great son. He had a very strong faith; he never missed his Mass no matter what.
“When he knew he was near the end, he told his father not to worry. ‘It’s only a wee step over to the other side’, he said.
“And he made us give our word he wouldn’t be taken off unless the demands were met.
“Up until then you should have seen the way they were being treated. As a mother it just tore at your heart.
“Before the Hunger Strike started he had spent a week in hospital, he had been beaten so badly during a search.
“Kieran knew the Hunger Strike wasn’t going to benefit him because he was going to die. He did it for the other lads because they couldn’t have survived much longer in conditions they were living in.
“I feel him all around me every day. God love him, he’s always been there.”
Representatives of the Doherty family attended a recent meeting in Co Derry with Gerry Adams and Bik McFarland to discuss the controversy surrounding the Hunger Strike.
In a statement, they told The Irish News: “These totally untrue allegations have caused untold hurt and anguish to our family and we feel sully the proud memory of Kieran and his comrades.
“What hurts more is that the nasty and spiteful allegations come from people who should really know better – former comrades and people who claim to be republicans.
“We were at Kieran’s side throughout what was a traumatic time for our family.
“Kieran was determined to see the protest through until the five demands had been achieved. ‘Set in concrete,’ were his very words.
“Due to the position of Margaret Thatcher and the British government a deal was not secured; we knew that at the time and we know it now.
“We would like to state this is hurting our family, especially our elderly mother, and call on those responsible to stop pushing this agenda for whatever personal reasons they may have and allow Kieran to rest in peace.”
The other families
The families of Francis Hughes and Thomas McElwee (who were cousins) from Bellaghy declined to take part in this investigation. Following individual family discussions, they said they believed the issue had been dealt with.
The families of the five other hunger strikers who died were approached by The Irish News but also declined to take part.
Families of the strikers are divided over O’Rawe claim
By Seamus McKinney
Top from left: Michael Devine’s children Michael Og and Louise, former blanketman Dixie Elliott, Patsy O’Hara’s mother Peggy O’Hara and the hunger striker’s brother Tony O’Hara, Willie Gallagher of the IRSP, Richard O’Rawe and former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins. (Photo: Margaret McLaughlin)
MICHAEL Og Devine was just eight years old when his father, also Michael, became the final hunger striker to die on August 20 1981 after 60 days without food.
The INLA prisoner told Tommy McCourt, a friend who visited him just days before his death, that he could not come off the Hunger Strike.
Mr McCourt has recalled how the two men discussed Devine’s funeral arrangements.
His dying friend told him if he came off the Hunger Strike — and thereby ended the protest — his life would not be worth living in the H-blocks.
His son, Michael Og, recalls that although very young he was fully aware he was seeing his father for the final time during their last visit days before his death.
Had the British government’s offer to make a statement conceding some of the hunger strikers’ five demands been accepted by the Provisional IRA leadership and had the protest ended, Devine (26) would not even have gone on hunger strike.
He commenced the protest on June 22. But like his fellow INLA prisoner Kevin Lynch and the INLA leadership, he was never made aware of the negotiations prior to the death of Joe McDonnell on July 8.
The funeral of Joe McDonnell
Michael Og believes the version of the deal and events put forward by Willie Gallagher of the IRSP.
“I believe Willie would not tell me lies. He has been working on this for three years,” Mr Devine said.
As to whether his father would have declined to go on hunger strike if he had known a deal was offered and rejected, the Derry man says that is too difficult a question to answer.
“If there was a deal there, I don’t know how he would have reacted,” he said.
Following a private meeting between Hunger Strike families and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in Gulladuff, a statement was issued saying most of the families, including the Devines, accepted the Sinn Fein version of events.
But the statement was signed on behalf of the Devine family by members of the hunger striker’s extended family.
However, Michael Og is adamant that he did not and does not support the statement.
He said he is not angry at present about the controversy, but he believes all the facts should be revealed and that this can be done only through an independent inquiry.