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6 May 2012
OFFICER COMMANDING IRA political prisoners, H-Blocks, Long Kesh. Born 9th March 1954, died 5th May 1981 after 66 days on hunger strike for the restoration of political status.
Twenty-seven-year-old Bobby Sands, after enduring years of solitary confinement and beatings, led the 1981 Hunger Strike, during which he was elected as MP for the constituency of Fermanagh & South Tyrone.
Bobby became an international figure whom to this day continues to inspire
Bobby became an international figure who to this day continues to inspire not just Irish republicans in their pursuit of freedom from British rule but people around the world struggling for their rights.
ConorBobbyThere were white-line pickets, vigils and events held across republican areas of Belfast, in Dublin and other places yesterday in memory of Bobby Sands, who died 31 years ago.
Events over the weekend included a parade in Tyrone by Dromore Memorial Committee. In 1981, Dromore was then part of the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone which elected Bobby as its Member of Parliament that April when he was 40 days on his hunger strike.
On Sunday night in the Andersonstown Social Club, prominent republican Gerry Kelly (himself a former hunger striker) will be giving the annual Bobby Sands Lecture.
Also on Sunday night, in the Felons’ Club, there will be another opportunity to see ‘1981’, a drama written and performed by Tony Devlin and produced by Brassneck Theatre Company. The play starts at 8pm.
18 April 2012
THE Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) have repeated claims that the Provisional IRA leadership prolonged the 1981 hunger strike to gain political capital.
A series of public meetings were held in north Belfast last week and amongst those on the panel was Strabane IRSP spokesman, Willie Gallagher and former public relations officer for the IRA in the Maze in 1981, Richard O’Rawe-who in recent writings has claimed the British Government offered a ‘deal’ which satisfied the majority of the hunger strikers five demands.
Bobby Sands’ son grew up without his father
The claims from the IRSP and Mr O’Rawe claim that the deal apparently offered by the British side would have saved the lives of five of the hunger strikers.
Willie Gallagher said the results of a seven year long IRSP investigation now conclusively reveals that a deal was on offer.
He said: “The seven year IRSP investigation into the revelations, first disclosed in 2005 in the book Blanketmen, has conclusively found that Ricky O’Rawe has been consistently telling the truth. There is now no doubt on the factual existence of a substantial deal offered by British Government negotiators that could have saved the lives of many of the hunger strikers and met most of the prisoners’ five demands. It is now a matter of fact that a substantial ‘deal’ from the British representatives did indeed go into the H-Blocks on the 5th July, 1981.
“The provisional IRA leadership in Long Kesh, during the 1981 hunger strike, accepted the offer as it met most of the H-Block prisoners’ five demands.”
But he added that the committee “known as ‘the Kitchen Cabinet’ rejected and overruled the jail leadership’s acceptance of the deal.”
“The INLA and IRSP leadership outside the jail were kept completely in the dark about the ‘Mountain Climber’ initiative, as were the INLA prisoners in the H-Blocks and the hunger strikers themselves,” he said.
At the end of the series of public meetings the IRSP restated their position that only a transparent and independent enquiry into the events surrounding the 1981 hunger strike and secret negotiations would satisfy the broad republican community.
‘The Pensive Quill features guest writer, Thomas Dixie Elliot, commenting on the hunger strike debate.’
Click the above link to read.
5 Feb 2012
Ex-Provo Richard O’Rawe has challenged leading republicans to take a lie detector test over claims Sinn Féin rejected a deal that could have saved the lives of IRA hunger-strikers.
The former prisoner said a secret Sinn Féin committee rejected a British government offer that would have prevented the last six hunger-strikers dying.
But senior republicans have branded him a liar and denied that the H-Block death fast – which made headlines across the world – descended into a cynical PR exercise to win Sinn Féin votes.
Now O’Rawe has agreed to take a polygraph to prove he’s telling the truth. And he’s challenged Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison, and Bik McFarland to do the same.
“It will end the controversy about the hunger-strike for once and for all,” the former Blanketman declared. “It will show who is being honest and who isn’t.
“They’ve been calling me a liar for years. This is their chance to put their money where their mouths are. Let’s all take a polygraph.
“Our accounts of what happened in 1981 will be thoroughly tested and the republican community and everybody else will conclusively know the truth.”
O’Rawe claims the hunger-strike is “the biggest cover-up in the history of Irish republicanism”.
The idea that both sides in the bitter dispute take a lie detector test comes from the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), the INLA’s political wing.
Contact has been made with a well-respected firm which carries out polygraphs, although the IRSP said any other company, agreed upon by all taking the test, could be used.
Each participant would be asked a lengthy series of pre-agreed questions about their role in the hunger-strike negotiations.
An IRSP spokesman said: “Three INLA volunteers died on hunger-strike so we’ve every right to ask people to take polygraphs.
“An independent inquiry into the hunger-strike would be better but Sinn Féin will never agree to it. That’s why a lie detector test is a speedy and cheap way of sorting out the argument.”
The proposal is supported by Louise Devine who as a five-year-old girl watched her father Mickey endure an agonising death on hunger-strike. The last time she saw him, he was blind and covered in bed sores. He held his children’s hands and said goodbye with tears streaming down his face.
Devine called on Danny Morrison, Gerry Adams and Bik McFarlane to agree to the test.
“It’s a great idea and I’m asking these three men – if they’ve an ounce of compassion in their hearts – to take the polygraph. Knowing the truth about the hunger-strike would end the mental torment I’m in,” she said.
The hunger-strike was run on the outside by a clandestine committee headed by Gerry Adams.
In the H-Blocks, the IRA prisoners were led by Brendan McFarlane, their commander, and Richard O’Rawe, their PRO.
On July 5 1981, the British made an offer effectively granting the prisoners’ five demands except free association.
O’Rawe says Morrison visited the jail and briefed McFarlane. Later, McFarlane told O’Rawe and they accepted the offer believing no more men should die.
But, O’Rawe claims, the IRA prison leadership were over-ruled by the Adams’ committee. McFarlane initially denied discussing the offer with O’Rawe.
When other prisoners said they’d overheard it, that refreshed his memory. He agreed telling O’Rawe it was “amazing … . a huge opportunity”.
O’Rawe says the hunger-strikers went to their deaths totally in the dark about the life-saving offer. Danny Morrison insists the prisoners were always informed and in charge of their own fate.
If agreed, Morrison would be questioned on the alleged offer he brought into the jail and whether the hunger-strikers themselves were informed.
Adams would be quizzed on claims he over-rode the prison leadership’s acceptance of the British proposal. He’d also be asked about his meeting with the hunger-strikers on July 29 in the H-Blocks.
Kevin Lynch was just three days away from death and Kieran Doherty four. Adams has been quoted as telling them there was “nothing on the table, no movement from the British”.
February 6, 2012
This article appeared in the February 5, 2012 edition of the Sunday World.
Suzanne Breen’s Interview with the daughter of Mickey Devine
By Suzanne Breen
15 January 2012
THE daughter of an H-Block hunger-striker has slammed the Sinn Fein leadership, claiming they let her father “die for nothing.”
Louise Devine says she’s “sickened” that the party top brass allegedly rejected a secret British offer which could have saved the last six hunger-strikers’ lives, including her father’s.
Mickey Devine, the tenth hunger stiker to die
The claim that a substantial British proposal was on the table – first made by ex-Blanketman Richard O’Rawe – was confirmed by recently released British state papers.
Louise Devine is now demanding an urgent meeting with Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and other key republicans who ran the hunger-strike from the outside.
“I want answers. I’m asking them to meet me face-to-face. They owe me that at the very least,” she told the Sunday World.
“I was just five years old when I watched my daddy die in agony in a H-Block slum. I sat on his bed and he couldn’t even see me and my brother because he was blind. I remember the tears running down his face as we left him for the last time.”
The Devines are the first family of a dead hunger-striker to denounce the Sinn Fein leadership following recent revelations.
Louise and Michael on the anniversary of their father’s death
“There’s now a mountain of evidence backing Richard O’Rawe’s claim that the British made an offer effectively granting four of the prisoners’ five demands and that this offer was accepted by the IRA’s prison leadership but rejected by the outside leadership,” Louise says.
“Had the British proposal been accepted, my father would be alive today. Instead he spent 60 agonising days as his body wasted away on hunger-strike. He died for nothing because the British were already willing to meet nearly all the prisoners’ demands.”
Sinn Fein strongly denies allegations an offer existed which could have saved the men’s lives, and it unnecessarily prolonged the hunger-strike for electoral gain. But Louise (35) says she’s “beyond anger” at those republicans who reportedly rejected the offer: “How do they live with themselves? They knew the suffering the hunger-strikers endured and the filth and squalor in which they lived. They’re cold, heartless men.”
Mickey Devine, a 27-year-old father of two – known as ‘Red Mickey’ because of his bright red hair and left-wing politics – was the last of the 10 hunger-strikers to die.
Louise claims Sinn Fein didn’t inform her father, nor the INLA of which he was a member, of the secret British offer. “Had daddy known, he would have ended his hunger-strike. He was a young man with two children he adored and less than two years left to serve in jail. He’d everything to live for.”
Mother-of-five Louise stresses she’s “very proud” of her father and his sacrifice: “He died for his comrades. But the knowledge that he didn’t need to is destroying me.”
She’s calling for an independent public inquiry into the hunger-strike: “Sinn Fein demands inquiries into everything that suits them. Let’s see if they agree to this.”
Louise was just five months’ old when her father was arrested for arms’ possession in 1977.
“As a baby, the prison officers searched my nappy on visits to Long Kesh. When I was older, I hated visiting the jail. The screws were very aggressive to Blanketmen’s children.”
Louise’s parents’ marriage broke up when her father was in prison, but she and her brother continued seeing him.
“When he was on the dirty protest, I was afraid of him at first,” she admits. “Here was this skinny, smelly man with a beard wearing an old army blanket – and people told me he was my daddy. I cried and threw a tantrum, refusing to sit on his knee during one visit, and he looked so sad.”
But Louise says her father did everything possible to reach out to her and her brother, Michael og: “He couldn’t buy us presents in jail so he made us hankies. They were all he could give us.”
She breaks down in tears as she shows the Sunday World one hankie. On it, her father has drawn Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, the Seven Dwarfs and other cartoon characters. “To Louise and Michael from Daddy,” Mickey Devine has lovingly written. Another hankie shows her father and his comrades with faces like monkeys.
FAMILY: Louise with her children (left) at home in Derry; (right) the cartoon drawing her father sent her from jail
“Despite everything he was suffering, he was trying to make his kids laugh. He loved us that much,” Louise says.
She remembers, in graphic detail, visiting her dying father in the prison hospital. She was only five and her brother was eight. “Daddy was lying in bed, covered in bedsores, and in terrible pain. I climbed onto the bed to be near him and my Aunt Margaret said, ‘Get down; you’ll hurt him.’ But daddy said in this wee weak voice you could hardly hear, ‘She’s all right; let her be.’ He was just delighted I wasn’t scared of him anymore. He held me close and I was so happy.”
But Louise is riddled with guilt too: “I remember somebody feeling sorry for me and giving me a bag of cheese and onion crisps when I was on the bus going to the jail. I visited daddy stinking of those crisps. How selfish that was of me when he was starving. Terrible.”
“The prison authorities kept a bowl of fruit by his bed. I longed for the big red shiny apple. I knew not to take it but I feel guilty for even wanting it.”
Her last visit to her dying father was heart-breaking: “Daddy’s organs were collapsing. There was a terrible smell of his rotting flesh as his body broke down. He was blind so he couldn’t see me or my brother. We sat beside him and he was told, ‘Michael is on your left and Louise is on your right.’ He held our hands and then he reached up and felt the shape of our faces. I remember his cold, skinny hand on my flesh. He mumbled words to us which I couldn’t understand. He was drifting in and out of consciousness. His eyes were half open. As we left, tears streamed down his face.”
“Michael and I should have been allowed to stay with him to the end. At his wake, I wouldn’t leave his coffin.”
The children were woken at 8am on August 20 1981 to be told that their father was dead. They were terrified as the INLA fired shots over his coffin. At the graveside, they threw red roses on his coffin. The rest of Louise’s childhood was “hell,” she says: “Michael and I were bullied at school. ‘Your daddy rubbed shit on his cell wall’ [and] ‘Your da starved himself to death,’ other kids shouted. We’d come home crying and not go back to school for a week.”
On her birthday, first communion and Christmas, she’d envy other children “with their intact families and perfect lives.”
Mickey Devine’s own life – even before prison – was tragic. When he was 11, his father died of leukaemia. A few years later, he came home to find his mother dead from a massive brain tumour.
“Daddy had no family,” says Louise. “I’ve five children. My wee boy Caolan is the image of his grandfather with his red hair and sense of humour. I just want daddy here now to be part of my family. But we’ve been robbed of him and he’s been robbed of us.”
16 January 2012
Two pages from Brendan Duddy’s ‘Red Book’ which is now available online.
The full text of the ‘red book’ – Brendan Duddy’s handwritten account of the 1981 hunger strike negotiations – is now available online.
The document is held as part of the Brendan Duddy Archive at the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway.
A transcript of the handwritten diary, originally created in 2001 by a relative of Brendan Duddy’s in consultation with him, has also been placed online.
Mr. Duddy passed secret messages between the British government and the IRA for 20 years.
Dr Niall O’Dochartaigh, Lecturer in Politics at NUI Galway, said the documents – when set alongside recently released official papers from the UK National Archives and the account originally outlined in the book ‘Ten Men Dead’ – added significantly to knowledge of the 1981 hunger strike negotiations.
Dr. O’Dochartaigh said: “This fractured and occasionally very personal handwritten record provides us with a sense of the intensity of these contacts and the biting tensions at this intersection between the British government and the Provisional Republican leadership.
“It provides an informal record of these contacts from the perspective of the intermediary that adds significantly to our understanding of the dynamics of these backchannel negotiations.
“It highlights, in particular, the importance of struggles over deadlines and the timing of moves by both parties.”
Deposited at NUI Galway in 2009, the papers of Brendan Duddy provide a unique insight into the resolution of the ‘Troubles’. The archive includes coded diaries of contact as well as messages exchanged between the British Government and the Provisional Republican leadership.
• Documents can be viewed at: http://archives.library.nuigalway.ie/duddy/web/
Deaglán de Bréadún
9 Jan 2012
Every year I am assigned with colleagues to peruse the newly-released State Papers. It’s a pity to have to absent oneself from the current political scene for a while, especially when there is so much happening in the contemporary world. But it is also quite informative to read through the internal government documents of yesteryear and you frequently gain a fresh insight into events that, in the present writer’s case, you actually lived through.
As expected there is a mountain of documentation on the Maze/Long Kesh hunger-strike. I have already filed a post on this issue but it is worth taking a second bite at the cherry.
The first thing that should be said is this: Hunger-striking is a deadly and fearsome act. You damage yourself and bring pain to all your loved ones. It is not something to be embarked upon lightly. It is generally accepted that even the IRA leadership did not want their associates in the H-Blocks to set out on that fateful fast. Hunger-striking is an action that is very hard to justify under most circumstances.
The Long Kesh hunger-strike was somewhat different from other such fasts one has read about. The prisoners were not being oppressed in the normal sense, as conditions appear to have been good for conforming inmates. The problem here was the denial/withdrawal of political status, exemplified primarily in the right to wear one’s own clothes at all times.
There was a document in the Irish archive about a senior Vatican diplomat expressing wonderment to a British representative that Her Majesty’s Government would not allow the prisoners to wear what they liked. What was the big deal?
Perhaps it was a reflection of the obsession with status in British society which was then mirrored by a counter-obsession on the part of the prisoners.
There has been controversy over the visit by Father John Magee, the Pope’s Secretary, to Bobby Sands, shortly before the IRA prisoner died. An internal British document – the claim is also reported in the Irish archive – tells us Fr Magee informed the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins, that Sands was prepared to suspend his fast for five days to allow direct negotiations.
The reaction of republicans has been shock and denial. They insist their friend Bobby would never have offered a concession like that. But what’s the big deal?
Sands was insisting on fellow-prisoners being present (IRA commanders in the Maze), the document states. So that bit of what one might call republican protocol was being preserved. He would have had direct negotiations with the British – a major propaganda coup. Even if the talks fell through, he would still have emerged a winner and might even have come through the whole thing alive. As an aside, one can say that a person of his determination and strong will could have made a significant contribution to the peace process and subsequent political developments.
Fr Magee gave what amounted to an order from the Pope of Rome that Sands should give up his fast. That has to have made a strong impression on a young Belfast Catholic, unversed in the ways of the world and in a very weak state physically. It is amazing that he did not obey.
But it may have been as a concession to the head of his church – a personage regarded as infallible in matters of faith and morals – that he offered to suspend his fast in return for direct talks.
Atkins turned down the offer. HMG could not be seen to be in direct public talks with an IRA man. Status again.
Yet we know that the British were in direct contact with senior republicans through the later-to-be-famous Michael Oatley. We know that even Margaret Thatcher was not as hardline in private as she proclaimed herself in public.
There was a serious lack of trust, arising from the previous hunger-strike of 1980 where the prisoners thought they had won the right to wear their own clothes but, in fact, were offered “civilian-type” clothing. The republicans were all over the place and pretty confused, judging from the documents. Securing Red Cross or European Commission of Human Rights intervention would have been an international propaganda victory; haggling over any issue other than clothing was essentially irrelevant.
There is controversy, too, over last-minute contacts between the British and the republicans shortly before Joe McDonnell died in early July. A row has been going on for years now as to whether or not the republican leadership turned down an offer that was acceptable to the prisoners, so that Sinn Fein’s Owen Carron would retain the Westminster seat won by Bobby Sands. This argument will probably never be settled, as there are differing political perspectives as well as contrasting versions of events involved.
Now we have the Boston College imbroglio. Republican and loyalist activists gave interviews about their past deeds on the basis that these would not be published in their lifetimes. This promise now appears to have proven unsustainable, at least in the case of one interviewee.
The past may be another country but we keep making involuntary visits there.
“…the point has to be made that until bodies like Sinn Fein and the IRA (or former members) come clean on their contribution to the events of the last four decades, to the level of transparency that they are demanding of the State, the history of the period will remain incomplete and speculative.”
9 January 2012
AT least King Lear was allowed the best part of a millennium before the fall from power, the loss of faculties, the desertion by friends and the descent into madness were recycled for public entertainment. Margaret Thatcher has not been so lucky.
There is a savage poetic irony in the release of state papers for 1981 portraying a dominant and domineering figure at the height of her intellectual and political power virtually simultaneously with the release of a film in which she is powerfully, and movingly portrayed as a sad prisoner of dementia. Incidentally, the papers do much to qualify the received Irish view of Mrs Thatcher as impervious to advice and persuasion, implacably waiting to claim victory when the last hunger striker had died or surrendered. For a variety of reasons, she is seen to have modified her attitude and to have been prepared for compromise in the end.
The recent papers do not tell us much about the period of the hunger strikes that was not already known, or intuited — a situation that no one had really wanted, which all sides had blundered into and could not find a way out of. Accidentally or otherwise, it proved to be the game-changer, the turning point in an intractable struggle that fundamentally altered the direction of modern republicanism and the face of contemporary Irish politics. The papers are better seen less as revealed truth than as raw material for further analysis and investigation by historians, journalists and others. They were not generally written, as some historians seem to think, with an eye to being read by them in 30 years’ time.
Mostly, they are working papers compiled under the pressure of events and the inability to cope with or even explain them adequately. In the blizzard of commentary in the media there is very little recognition of the fact that the documents were created by civil servants, mainly senior civil servants, a class that is currently the butt for every disgruntled hack looking for a headline.
And yet it was these men who patiently held the fort, who grappled with issues of life and death in the course of a bloody conflict that threatened to engulf the nation. For a small band who are inordinately represented in these current papers, this was the cause of finding peace in Ireland and stable relations between Ireland and Britain — and a settlement of conflict which was consistent with the national interest and with basic human rights. One voice more than any other resonates through the Irish papers, that of the late Dermot Nally, as a calming influence on the impetuosity of ministers and others, focused always on the national interest and the wider picture.
In attempting to make sense of the hunger strikes, even in the avalanche of paper now becoming available, there is one gaping hole — the absence of anything from what might be called the other side, the non-governmental actors. In the various fields of activity, governments in both jurisdictions may lay bare their secrets (or as much of them as they are prepared to divulge at present), revealing doubt, uncertainty, ignorance, prejudice or lack of judgement; while the others get away with reconstructed, sanitised memory, unsupported by, or unassailed by, contemporaneous documentation.
It is too much to expect that paramilitary organisations or ad hoc bodies operating under threat of arrest should achieve the same level of documentation as state agencies. But the point has to be made that until bodies like Sinn Fein and the IRA (or former members) come clean on their contribution to the events of the last four decades, to the level of transparency that they are demanding of the State, the history of the period will remain incomplete and speculative.
Another hole in the narrative, at least in the papers reviewed in the media, is the lack of any account of the role of the prison officers and their union in prolonging the hunger strike, or preventing a compromise settlement.
The prison officers had been engaged in a bitter attritional struggle during the dirty protest, in which both sides had become brutalised, and were subject to a campaign of murder of off-duty officers.
There is a strong argument that had they not forced the prison authorities to welsh on the terms of settlement of the first hunger strike, the second might not have occurred. For those who had lived with the problem at the level of government this might have seemed like the end, the collapse of all their hopes and efforts.
For a less committed and idealistic politician than Garret FitzGerald, it might have been the time to throw in the towel. And yet, with patient diplomacy, and the work of Dermot Nally and his colleagues and British civil servants led by Robert Armstrong, there emerged the ground-breaking Anglo-Irish Agreement five years later.
Like Koestler’s “active fraternity of pessimists” they would wait in the trough of the historical wave, ready to take advantage of any new horizontal movement. 1981, post the hunger strikes, was one such occasion. Oddly enough, among the first to recognise it as such were those in the republican movement who later engineered the shift from armalite to ballot box. In retrospect, they might have got more out of it than most.
We should be told why the basis of an offer to end the hunger strike was never put to the prisoners, says Eilis O’Hanlon
8 January 2012
A FEW years ago, Danny Morrison was interviewed for a BBC documentary on the Brighton bombing.
Later he expressed dissatisfaction with the programme because it failed to include comments by him which, Morrison said, placed the attack in context, not least his belief that “the bombing was a direct response to 1981, the hunger strike and what our community experienced under Thatcher”.
His problem was that, even then, the idea that it was British intransigence alone that led the hunger strikers to their graves was already becoming unstitched.
Two years previously, Richard O’Rawe, who had been the IRA’s second-in-command inside the Maze prison during the hunger strikes, published Blanketmen, one of the most detailed analyses yet of the republican prisoners’ struggle for political status. O’Rawe’s central contention was that there was an offer on the table from the British in early July 1981, which would have been acceptable to the prisoners had they been fully apprised of it, and which would have saved the lives of six of the hunger strikers. O’Rawe also argues that the prisoners were deliberately kept out of the loop by an outside cabal which, despite peddling the line that the prisoners’ fate was in their own hands, decided to reject it.
When Blanketmen was published, it caused uproar in republican circles. Versions of these allegations had been circling for years; but O’Rawe couldn’t be dismissed as one of the usual anti-republican suspects. He had been there at the heart of one of the Provos’ most iconic events; as close to its martyred saints as it was possible to get. Many of the figures around at the time backed up his memory of that time, including fellow prisoners and others who had acted behind the scenes to secure a deal.
Morrison, in particular, started to feel the heat, because it was he who had acted as a bridge between the two camps, one inside and one outside the prison, in that period. He insisted that O’Rawe was wrong to say he had brought a possible deal to the prisoners on Sunday, July 5 — a date that continues to be the focus of intense argument.
The release of the state papers from 1981 in London and Dublin this month was bound to reignite the debate as both sides sought to find further evidence for their respective positions in the now published secret documents. Morrison was quickest off the blocks, pouncing on a Downing Street memo which showed, in his interpretation, that the British did not formulate a final offer until the day after he went into the Maze. He went so far as to state that this “demolishes” O’Rawe’s claims.
O’Rawe, in turn, said the state papers confirmed his own analysis, which was that a deal was there to be had
that weekend, following the deaths of the first four men and with the life of the fifth man, Joe O’Donnell, hanging in the balance. Indeed, he points out, Danny Morrison had previously conceded in interviews that he delivered an offer to the prisoners that day. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, fellow members of that IRA cabal outside the Maze which O’Rawe had accused of rejecting the offer, are on record as conceding the same. They’re merely downplaying the significance of the offer now in order to counteract possible criticism of their own role, with their stories changing accordingly.
So the stalemate remains. Morrison is a sociable chap who has influential friends in the Irish media happy to peddle his version of events. He’s been given a fair wind. O’Rawe is having a rougher time of it. He’s cycling uphill against a strong gale of Sinn Fein propaganda. But his story needs to be told. Maybe too much has been written already about the 10 men who died on hunger strike and not enough about the more than 60 victims killed by the IRA that year as violence escalated on the back of the H Blocks protest, whose lost lives were no less precious. But the characters of the actors involved in that terrible period matter.
Northern Ireland came closer to civil war that year than at any time during the Troubles. Down here, the atmosphere was no less febrile and overheated. Two hundred people were hospitalised after violent protests outside the British embassy in Dublin; the country came to within a whisker of deploying the army against its own citizens. The idea that this atmosphere was deliberately stoked for political advantage is not only shocking, it remains relevant.
Sinn Fein rose to influence on the back of the hunger strikers, and continues to commercially exploit their iconic image (Bobby Sands’ tea towel, anyone?) They are people for whom headstones are more like stepping stones to where they want to get; not even the prospect of civil war reins them in; and they’re ruthless when challenged.
Most of the fiercest critics of Sinn Fein from within the republican movement have been forced to leave Belfast because the atmosphere for their families became too unpleasant. Richard O’Rawe stuck it out. It can’t be easy. A private man, he has been accused of seeking some kind of glory with his claims.
I even remember, when his book was published, the absurd whispers going round Belfast that he was only saying what he did because he needed the money that a sensationalist bestseller would bring. It was a reminder of Sinn Fein’s attitude to dissent. History has different versions, those involved have conflicting memories, but for them only the single officially sanctioned version must be the one to prevail, because it remains as useful to them now as it ever was.
They can change and refine and fine-tune their stories as often as they like, but they’re merely playing semantic games. What they’re clinging to now is the line that there was no “final” deal on offer before Joe O’Donnell died, but O’Rawe never said that there was, only that there was the basis for a deal which, with clarification, could have ended the hunger strike sooner. His enemies are engaged in the classic rhetorical tactic of refuting things he never said.
Morrison leapt upon the newly released State papers with all the smartaleckery of a student debater who thinks that by unpicking minor details in his opponent’s case he can thereby render the whole argument invalid. The main thrust of O’Rawe’s argument was confirmed by the state papers, which showed the Irish and British were not only increasingly convinced that the hunger strikers were being used as pawns in a political game, but also well aware of tensions between the leadership inside and outside the Maze.
They also confirm the most important point of all. There was an offer. The details may have remained to be thrashed out, but there was the bones of an offer that may well have been acceptable to the prisoners, but for some reason it was rejected by an inner circle in the republican movement which didn’t even clear its decisions with the IRA leadership, as Ruairi O Bradaigh, on the Army Council at the time, has confirmed.
Why that offer was rejected will be debated for a long time to come; more revelations may yet emerge; many state papers are still embargoed. But Sinn Fein did very well out of the decision to continue the hunger strikes through six further agonising deaths.
January 08 2012
IN THE summer of 1981, travelling on holiday from Belfast to Wexford, I recall being struck by the number of black flags in towns along the route.
On a hillside in Wicklow there was a huge ‘H’, made out of stones, for the H Block protest. The hillside monument remained there for years. In Northern Ireland, there were black flags in republican areas but not many, if any, in ordinary Catholic, nationalist areas where the IRA had little support. It was a surprise to see so many in the Republic.
It is forgotten now, or airbrushed out of Sinn Fein history, but the intention at the time of the hunger strike was to “seize power” not only in Northern Ireland but also in what the party termed until very recently the “26 Counties”. Danny Morrison, the Sinn Fein propagandist, told the party at its ard fheis that the intention was to seize power with an Armalite rifle in one hand and a ballot box in the other. The front cover of Christmas edition of the SF newspaper, An Phoblacht, was a cartoon depicting an Armalite coming out of a ballot box, bizarrely set in front of a decorated Christmas tree.
The IRA (Sinn Fein was a dormant entity until this stage) had been encouraged to believe it could actually mount a coup d’etat in the Republic based on a false hope generated by running hunger striker candidates in the 1981 general election which denied Charlie Haughey an overall majority and created the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government. The IRA hunger strike was gripping the public imagination in a way never seen before. In 1981, when Garret FitzGerald visited Tralee, all the statues in the town were covered in black plastic. On a visit to Dungloe in Donegal during the election campaign, he was physically attacked.
The challenge to the authority of the State came to a climax in July that year when a mass demonstration, involving the bussing of hundreds of IRA supporters from around the island, descended on Dublin. Around 500 gardai faced several thousand demonstrators who rained bricks and broken paving stones down on the garda lines.
This is an account, previously published in the Sunday Independent, by a garda officer who was present with Chief Superintendent John S Robinson who led the defence of the British Embassy: “He was the man in charge of the operation on the ground, and I hope history records with thanks what he did. The Government issued a direction to the Commissioner that [in] no way were the rioters to get to the British Embassy and perhaps burn it again like after Bloody Sunday. It is my understanding that the Government was anxious that if the gardai came under sustained attack that the matter be handed over to the Army at as early a stage as possible. This involved the signing of a request from the garda operations commander to the Army for aid. The Army drew up a simple but drastic plan. It involved taking up a position behind the garda line on Merrion Road and drawing a line across the road. They would then inform the rioters by loudhailer that gardai were withdrawing and they were taking over and if any rioters crossed the line, they would be shot.”
But Chief Supt Robinson was acutely aware, friends said, that giving way could diminish the authority of the Garda, and the country would be plunged into crisis if multiple gunshot deaths ensued.
“The necessary form was dispatched for Robinson to sign,” a source said. “Robinson blew a fuse and told him [to] ‘F’ off and wouldn’t sign. Instead he called a few big angry sergeants, inspectors and superintendents who were virtually buried in stones at this stage and ordered a charge.”
Although injured himself, Robinson rallied some 350 of his men who were still standing after 25 minutes of intense stoning and gave the order to draw batons and charge.
“That day was a turning point in that if the embassy had been burned, we would have been pariahs in the eyes of the world. No country can allow foreign embassies to be burned. I think the only other country in the world where that happened at that time was Indonesia. Anarchy would have prevailed,” one former senior officer said.
The funerals of the hunger strikers starting with Bobby Sands in Belfast and daily rioting attracted world media attention and created a real sense of crisis on both sides of the Border. The IRA killings continued apace. From the start of Sands hunger strike on March 1 to the death of the last hunger striker, Michael Devine, on August 20, the IRA killed 36 people, mostly Protestant policemen but also four Catholic civilians caught in crossfire during nightly gunbattles. Seven Catholics, including three children, Julie Livingstone, aged 14, Carol Anne Kelly, aged 12, and Stephen McConomy, aged 11, were killed when they were struck by plastic bullets fired by police and army during the riots. During riots in the republican New Lodge area of Belfast three days after Sands died, a milkman, Eric Guiney, and his 14-year-old son Desmond died after stones were thrown at their lorry, hitting Eric on the head and causing the lorry to crash.
The year had already started with some savagery from the IRA. Sir Norman Stronge, 86, former unionist speaker of the Stormont Parliament, was shot dead along with his son, James, at their home in Tynan Abbey in south Armagh by an IRA squad. Joanne Mathers, a 25-year-old Protestant mother of one, was shot dead in Derry as she collected census forms — the IRA campaign also called for a boycott of the census in Northern Ireland.
What was happening inside the Maze prison and at the top echelons of the IRA, who were directing the campaign on the outside, was at the centre of the debate prompted by the release of the mainly British government documents at New Year. The most intense debate was over whether or not the British had conceded the majority of the prisoners’ demands for ‘political status’, the wearing of civilian clothing as opposed to prison uniform and free association, that is not having to share wings with loyalist or ‘ordinary’ prisoners well before the hunger strike ended.
A former senior IRA figure in the prison, Richard O’Rawe, has written two books in which he has stated that a British offer after the death of the fourth hunger striker met those demands and that the subsequent six deaths were futile.
O’Rawe, who was effectively the second-in-command of the prisoners, says, “Thatcher and her government weren’t as rigid as they had been portrayed by Adams and co. She had made an offer on July 5th, 1981, to end the hunger strike (four strikers had died by that stage and Joe McDonnell was in the critical zone).” Sinn Fein’s Danny Morrison, a key figure on the outside campaign, contends that this offer was not made or was insufficient to meet the demands.
As the protest went on, however, it visibly began to lose momentum. Compared to the massive turnout for the funeral for Bobby Sands, there was a relatively small turn-out for the funeral of Michael Devine in August.
Also, the families of the remaining 11 prisoners, some of them close to death, stood up. They were helped by the prison chaplain and civil rights campaigner Fr Denis Faul who had a history of exposing ill-treatment of republican prisoners. He was also one of the original campaigners for the release of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four — the IRA and Sinn Fein had been silent on this.
Faul gathered the families and, adroitly using trusted contacts in the media, brought their views to public attention. He also publicly stated that the hunger strike was not “moral” at meetings which he made sure were given public coverage. Faul had unassailable credibility among the Catholic nationalist community and his public stance was of major significance.
The family of Paddy Quinn, from south Armagh, who was close to death after 47 days without food, were the first to move. As he slipped into a coma, his mother directed the prison medical authorities to save his life. Two other prisoners who had developed medical complications were also taken off the hunger strike. In all, before and after the death of Michael Devine, 11 prisoners were saved at the direction of their families.
On the outside, the IRA appeared furious at Fr Faul’s intervention. Once known in the British media as the ‘Provo priest’, Fr Faul was vilified by republicans. An IRA statement described him as a “conniving and treacherous man” and “reprehensible”, even “Mrs Thatcher’s priest”. (Ironically, the same UVF unit responsible for dozens of murders including members of the Miami Showband had once plotted to murder Fr Faul ).
The hunger strike was the springboard for Sinn Fein’s entry into politics. The party failed to gain significant ground until it finally dropped the ‘Armalite’ part of the dual-politics-and-terrorism strategy, eventually defeating the SDLP to become the biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein’s best hope of power in the Republic is some possible future part in a coalition government.
One of the great ironies is that from its poor and working class roots, it is now the richest party in Irish politics, raising more money among the Irish diaspora, particularly in the US, than all other parties put together. Prominent party members fly club class across the Atlantic on a regular basis. Last year, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the hunger strike, Sinn Fein hosted dinners in two expensive restaurants in New York.
7 January 2012
SENIOR civil servants believed that the IRA was hacking into secure government phone lines and intercepting radio messages, previously classified documents from 1979 reveal.
The revelation, on the eighth day of the News Letter’s coverage of the 1981 government records, comes from a file covering events two years before the hunger strike.
Northern Ireland Office officials believed that the IRA was even able to intercept telephone messages which used a security system they referred to as ‘the scrambler’.
That appears from one file to have been a classified military encryption system for telephones – Goliath Mark III – which had been installed on several lines, including one between the Maze Prison and Dundonald House which would be crucial in relaying messages during the hunger strike.
The document contains further evidence of the technical ability of some IRA operatives who were found inside the Maze with a commercial radio which had been radically altered to intercept security forces’ radio messages.
Another document gives further details of why the Government believed that the hunger strikers, contrary to what Sinn Fein insisted, were being controlled in their actions by the IRA leadership outside the Maze Prison.
Prison officers in May 1981 overheard the family of hunger striker Brendan McLaughlin, who broke his fast after 13 days when he suffered a perforated stomach ulcer, telling him that PIRA and Sinn Fein wanted him to seek medical treatment.
Sinn Fein subsequently admitted that it would have achieved little propaganda value from his early death of a stomach ulcer.
4 January 2012
In an article in the Belfast Telegraph last week republican spokes-person Danny Morrison said that the recently released British government papers “demolishes” the assertion in my books, Blanketmen and Afterlives, that the lives of the last six 1981 hunger strikers could have been saved had an outside committee of senior republicans not overruled the prison leadership’s acceptance of a British offer to end the hunger strike in early July.
I also wrote in my books that the committee, of which Mr Morrison had been a leading member, had run the hunger strike over the heads of the prison leadership and the hunger strikers. Mr Morrison refuted that in 2005, saying: “The prisoners were sovereign; it was their call.”
Clearly, Morrison is saying that neither he, nor the committee, bear any responsibility for the deaths of the last six hunger strikers.
In relation to the July 5 1981 offer, Mr Morrison said that he could not have relayed the offer to the hunger strikers, or to the IRA prison OC, Bik McFarlane, when he visited Long Kesh/Maze, because “…the British government had yet to formulate its position, never mind proposing a ‘deal'”.
That sounds fairly reasonable and straightforward … but was Danny Morrison always so sure that he did not tell McFarlane about the offer? Well, no….
On March 2 2006, Morrison and McFarlane confronted me during a TalkBack debate, which was chaired by the late David Dunseith. During that debate, Morrison said of his July 5 meeting with the hunger strikers: “After I had seen the hunger strikers, we all agreed that this [the British offer] could be a resolution, but we wanted it guaranteed.”
The question arises: what else, other than a British offer – obviously conveyed by Morrison – would have prompted the hunger strikers to seek a guarantee?
It gets worse for Mr Morrison … In an article on the Bobby Sands Trust website on April 7, 2009, he wrote: “…I went into the prison hospital on Sunday July 5, and told Joe McDonnell, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee, Micky Devine, and Brendan McFarlane, the leader of the prisoners, separately, that we were in contact and THE DETAILS OF WHAT THE BRITISH APPEARED TO BE OFFERING IN TERMS OF THE FIVE DEMANDS” (my emphasis).
I don’t think Danny Morrison could have put it any clearer than that: he knew what the British were offering, and he conveyed that knowledge to the hunger strikers.
Yet, just this week, when asked on RTE radio if he had been “in receipt” of an offer when he went into the prison hospital to see the hunger strikers, he said: “No, not on the Sunday [July 5 1981].”
Before moving on, I would like, for the sake of argument, to assume that Mr Morrison’s present position is his final one and that he isn’t going to flip again. Can he let us know if the hunger strikers were ever told the details of the British offer?
Or perhaps he can explain why his committee decided that the Secretary of State’s July 5 1981 statement that was passed to Gerry Adams by Martin McGuinness, and which contained the offer, was never shown to the hunger strikers, their relatives, or the prison leadership?
Bik McFarlane, who accompanied Morrison on the 2006 TalkBack show, fares little better than Morrison in this fiasco.
He was interviewed by UTV’s Fergal McKinney on March 2 2006.
McKinney: Who took the decision to reject [the British] offer?
McFarlane: There was no offer of that description.
McKinney: At all?
McFarlane: Whatsoever. No offer existed.
McFarlane, in numerous press interviews since then, remained resolute – Morrison had not conveyed any offer from the British at their meeting on July 5, 1981.
Then, during an interview with Belfast Telegraph reporter Brian Rowan on June 4 2009, he said: “The man from the outside [Danny Morrison] was allowed to explain the Mountain Climber contacts [Mountain Climber was the codename for the go-between] and the offer the British had communicated.”
The offer? What offer? I, and everyone who had followed this debate, thought Bik’s position had been that Danny had not relayed an offer!
In another astonishing volte-face, Bik told Rowan:
“And I said to Richard, this is amazing, this is a huge opportunity and I feel there’s the potential here [in the British offer] to end this.”
The hunger strike didn’t end – even though Bik and I accepted the British offer that Danny Morrison had brought into the prison hospital on July 5 1981.
But then, if the 30-year documents show anything, it is that the prison leadership and the hunger strikers were not ‘sovereign’; it was the committee that decided what was good for the prisoners – not their immediate leaders – and certainly not the hunger strikers.
The committee ran the hunger strike.
My father-in-law, Paddy ‘Skin’ Loughran was a deep-sea docker all his life and he was never known for his silver tongue, but he had old-style Belfast morals, and he had a saying: ‘Give a liar his head and he’ll stick it in a noose.’
It won’t be my head in any noose.
3 Jan 2012
New government information has raised more questions over whether the 1981 hunger strikes could have been stopped sooner.
Veteran republicans have continued to disagree over the release of classified government documents concerning the 1981 hunger strikes.
The papers suggest the government made an offer that could have saved the fifth man to die, Joe McDonnell.
Richard O’Rawe, the IRA’s second-in-command in the Maze Prison at the time, has backed the scenario played out in the government documents.
But Sinn Fein’s then publicity director Danny Morrison rejected that account.
The government papers were released under the 30 years rule and also appear to show that Margaret Thatcher was involved in negotiations with the IRA during the hunger strikes.
Speaking on Radio Ulster, Mr O’Rawe repeated allegations he originally made in his book Blanketmen in 2005, that the IRA leadership allowed men to die despite there being a considerable offer on the table from the British government.
Mr Morrison has consistently rejected this and said that at the time it was “unclear what they were proposing to do”.
The debate centres on and around 5 July 1981 and the supposed offer that was made. Mr O’Rawe said it was virtually identical to that which the republican prisoners ultimately accepted much later after 10 men had died.
Mr O’Rawe said it was “absolute rubbish” that the prisoners were made aware of everything that was happening.
“The prisoners were consulted about nothing, absolutely nothing,” he said.
Government papers Government papers reveal Margaret Thatcher made an offer to republican prisoners in 1981
“I was number two in the prison, effectively, as PRO (press officer) of the prisoners. Bik McFarlane was number one.
“I knew nothing about any of this. I knew there was telephone conversations but the first I have seen them in context was the release of government papers last week like everyone else.
Government papers reveal Margaret Thatcher made an offer to republican prisoners in 1981
“The prisoners knew nothing, the prisoners were told absolutely nothing and to suggest otherwise is nonsense.”
Mr Morrison was granted access to the Maze Prison in 1981 and Mr O’Rawe said he was involved in passing on the offer to the prisoners.
“The fact of the matter is that the prison leadership, Bik McFarlane and myself, accepted the offer,” he said.
“The offer which Danny Morrison brought in, which Brendan Duddy said he brought in, which I say he brought in on 5 July when he visited the prison hospital.
“Bik McFarlane came back to our wing and he and I accepted the offer. That’s the bottom line.
“After that, a communication came in from Gerry Adams rejecting our acceptance of the offer. If the prisoners were sovereign then the hunger strike should have ended.”
Mr Morrison, who helped lead the negotiations, said Mrs Thatcher was not prepared to do a deal with the IRA during the hunger strikes.
He said she had ultimately listened to her advisers who were opposed to any compromise.
“Humphrey Atkins, who was secretary of state, and Michael Ellison, who was the prisons minister, their advice to her throughout was ‘do nothing, don’t move’,” he said.
“If we go back to a document that was released, on the 18 July this is what the document says :’She (Mrs Thatcher) was more concerned about doing the right thing by Northern Ireland than to try and satisfy international critics’.
Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney talks about joining the IRA in the wake of Bloody Sunday, his 19 years spent in Long Kesh and reveals how he felt when he was finally acquitted
Tuesday 3 January 2012
Former IRA hunger striker Raymond McCartney pictured whilst on hunger strike in the Maze Prison.Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney and journalist Eamonn MacDermott were jailed for life in the 1970s for murder.They were later cleared on appeal.Two previous compensation bids by the Derry pair were refused. President of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips, said the new test should ensure innocent defendants are not precluded from obtaining compensation because they cannot “prove their innocence beyond reasonable doubt”. Raymond McCartney and Eamonn MacDermott were cleared on appeal after judges declared unease about the safety of the guilty verdicts. The Supreme Court ruling could have implications for dozens of former prisoners in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. (PhotopressBelfast.co.uk – Alan Lewis – 11-5-2011)
Raymond McCartney spent 19 years in Long Kesh, was 53 days on hunger strike in 1980 and watched friends die during the 1981 Hunger Strike but despite everything he has endured he still thinks of himself as a lucky man.
“My mother and father are still alive, my brother and sisters are all here and I have a fantastic wife and a great son – I am a very lucky man,” he says happily.
Raymond has been a Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle since 2003 when he was co-opted on to the seat when Mary Nelis decided to step down.
“I owe a lot to Mary [Nelis],” says Raymond. “Mary might be a small woman but I can tell you when she stood down in 2003 she left very large shoes to fill.”
Raymond was born and reared in 37 Orchard Row in November 1954. His parents are Liam and Bessie McCartney (nee Gallagher) and he has five brothers and two sisters.
“I have happy memories of growing up in Orchard Row. It was a mixed community back then and we would have spent the summers playing football and cricket – they were great days.”
He added: “My father instilled in all of us a great passion for sport. I played a bit of football but I was never any good. My older brother Jimmy was probably the best out of all us, he played for Derry Harps.”
Raymond attended Long Tower Primary School before moving on to St. Columb’s College where he enjoyed studying Mathematics, History and Geography.
“I enjoyed school as much as I could but with what was happening around me it was hard to concentrate on my education.
“When Bloody Sunday happened it changed the way I thought forever. Hope and idealism clashed with violence and force that day and hope and idealism were left on the road so I joined the IRA in 1972.”
Nationalism was common place in the McCartney household. Raymond’s maternal grandfather, James Gallagher, was interned in the 1920s and and was part of the Catholic Register Association.
“Until the Troubles I wasn’t overtly political. My parents would have been supporters of Eddie McAteer but everything changed for me when Bloody Sunday happened.”
Raymond, like so many of his generation, joined the IRA shortly after Bloody Sunday. He was first arrested in 1972 and later that year was sent to Long Kesh.
Raymond was then interned for 18 months and in January 1977 both he and fellow Derry man Eamonn MacDermott were arrested and charged with the murder of RUC officer Patrick McNulty. They were sentenced in 1979 and he remained in jail until May 1994.
“Eamonn and I were taken to Castlereagh [police station] where we were brutalised and evidence was fabricated. We were both sentenced to life in prison.”
Raymond joined other IRA prisoners in the H-Blocks in 1977 and he immediately joined his fellow prisoners on the ‘Blanket Protest’. After talks to secure political status failed he put he put his name forward to be selected for hunger strike.
It was suggested that the the hunger strike would coincide with the visit of Pope John Paul II’s to Ireland in 1979 but after careful consideration the IRA army council decided to put it off until the following year.
“I was in H5 at the time,” he recalls. “Deciding to go on hunger strike is one of the most surreal things I have ever had to think about.
“I had to do a lot of soul searching because ultimately what we were saying was that we were prepared to die in order to secure political status.
“I communicated to Brendan Hughes that I wanted to be considered to go on hunger strike and then a while later I received a com [communication] written on the back of cigarette paper saying that I’d been selected.”
Raymond was one of seven men who went on hunger strike on October 27, 1980. After the British Government appeared to act in good faith the leader of the strike Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes decided to call it off.
The British Government later reneged in their compromise and Republican prisoners demanded that another hunger strike go ahead in 1981.
“The 1980 hunger strike taught me that nothing is signed, sealed and delivered unless you can see the terms you’ve agreed to in front of you.
“We acted in good faith and because of that the British reneged and it was because of this that the 1981 Hunger Strike happened.”
Ten men from both the IRA and the INLA died during the 1981 Hunger Strike. Raymond was close to both Bobby Sands, who was the first to die, Kieran Doherty and Joe McDonnell. He said that as a result of the men’s deaths they ensured that republican prisoners moved toward political status.
“It was tough watching friends like Bobby [Sands], Kieran [Doherty] and Joe [McDonnell] go through what they went through but if it wasn’t for their sacrifice republican prisoners would not have achieved what they did.
“There was a great sense of togetherness inside Long Kesh. It taught me what could be achieved if everyone stood together.
“Yes, there was always going to be individuals who disagreed as a point of principle but there was always a great sense of comradeship.”
In the years leading up to his release Raymond was let out on parole twice a year and he said he was somewhat taken aback by just how much had changed from when he was imprisoned in 1977 until his release in 1994.
“It was a different place and it took a bit of getting used to. I studied for a degree with the Open University when I was in Long Kesh so when I got out I decided to go one step further and study for a Masters in Peace Studies at Magee.”
After completing his masters degree Raymond married his girlfriend Rose Sheerin in St. Columba’s Church, Long Tower in 1995. They have one son, Conchur, who was born in February 1996.
“I met Rose before I was imprisoned in 1977. She was also a political prisoner and was jailed in the women’s prison in Armagh.
“When I got out of prison I rekindled the relationship again and the year after we were married. Rose is an amazing woman and we have a fantastic relationship.
“Our son Conchur is growing up fast and I was really proud of him this year as he won the Irish Freestyle Wrestling Championships. He does wrestling and mixed martial arts – he’s very focused and I have no doubt he’ll win a few more medals.”
Soon after he finished his masters Raymond helped to set-up Tar Abhaile and Coiste (two ex-prisoners groups). He was also heavily involved with Sinn Fein and helped to run the local press office.
In 2003 he stood for election to the Assembly but was unsuccessful. However, after her husband was in a bad car accident Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle Mary Nelis stood down and Raymond was co-opted on to her seat.
“Although Mary stood down from public service she was always there in the background. She helped me so much during the early years. She was always there to offer advice and to be honest I’d have been lost without her.
“I’m honoured to represent the people of Derry. Along with people like Martin McGuinness, Martina Anderson and Mitchell McLaughlin, Sinn Fein and Derry have produced some fantastic public figures.”
On February 15, 2007 Raymond and Eamonn MacDermott were both acquitted of their convictions. Raymond and Mr. MacDermott then embarked upon a campaign for compensation and after failing on two previous occasions the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court in London, ruled in their favour earlier this year.
“I was at home when my solicitor Paddy MacDermott phoned me to say that our legal team had just gone in and then a few minutes later he texted me to say that we’d been successful.
“It was a whirlwind of a day but it was a tremendous feeling – we were totally vindicated.”
In his spare time Raymond watches cricket and attends every Derry City match at the Brandywell.
“We have a caravan at Tullagh and for the last ten years myself, Rose and Conchur have been going there for our summer holidays. In recent years we have taken a little girl called Dasha from Chernobyl with us – hopefully she’ll come with us again next year.
“I love nothing more than watching cricket on television and after my father took me to my first Derry City match when I was younger I have been hooked ever since. I’ll only accept the board’s offer to take over from Stephen Kenny if they let me do it on a player/manager basis,” he laughs.”
He added: “It’s an honour and a privilege to be an MLA. My Sinn Fein colleagues and I will work even harder in 2012 to make sure that we get the best for the people of Derry.
By Liam Clarke
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Ten prisoners died in the 1981 H Block hunger strike, but could the last six lives have been saved?
That debate has been raging for some years.
State papers released last week confirm claims by former inmate Richard O’Rawe, prisoners’ PRO at the time, that the Government made a substantial offer in July 1981 after four deaths.
Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike
It was personally approved by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and passed to the IRA.
Most people agree with that. The papers make it undeniable.
Mr O’Rawe said he believed it could have ended the strike and saved up to six hunger strikers.
He has also claimed that it was outlined to Brendan McFarlane, the IRA commander in the Maze, by Danny Morrison on July 5.
O’Rawe has said that he and McFarlane approved the offer, but were overruled on the outside. Mr Morrison has denied this.
He said that the papers “demolish” Mr O’Rawe’s case because they show the offer was made the day after he visited the jail.
But today O’Rawe has claimed vindication and has accused Morrison of changing his story. He quotes a 2009 article in which Morrison wrote that he visited the hunger strikers and gave them “details of what the British appeared to be offering”.
In a 2006 interview Morrison said hunger strikers agreed the offer was a “resolution but we wanted it guaranteed”.
McFarlane has veered between denying that there was any offer and saying he told O’Rawe: “This is amazing, this is a huge opportunity and I feel there is the potential there to end this.”
If Morrison’s earlier accounts are accurate, he had the gist of the offer when he visited the jail and then got further clarification from the British the next day.
If his recent version, that the Government “had yet to formulate its position” is nearer the truth, then the offer came a day later.
Either way, there was an offer which would have allowed the prisoners to wear their own clothes — a central demand.
The papers show that the British tried again on July 18, after two more deaths. Whatever the precise timing, prisoners continued to die without winning any improvement on the original offer.
Hunger strike war of words sparked by State files
The release of State papers under the 30-year secrecy rule have highlighted crucial differences between two republican spokesmen during the 1981 hunger strike when Bobby Sands and nine other prisoners died.
Richard O’Rawe was spokesman for the prisoners. Danny Morrison was the spokesman for outside the prison.
On July 5 Morrison visited the jail to brief the hunger strikers and Brendan McFarlane, the IRA’s overall prison OC, on secret contacts with the British Government.
In his book Blanketmen, O’Rawe claimed that Morrison outlined a substantial offer from the British.
O’Rawe added that he and McFarlane agreed it would be enough to settle the hunger strike with no further deaths, ids he overheard the conversation.
He said he was then overruled by an outside committee including Morrison and Gerry Adams.
Morrison has argued that the State papers show the British offer was not made until a day after his visit the next day. They also show it was personally approved by Margaret Thatcher.
In today’s Belfast Telegraph O’Rawe claims that Morrison is changing his story, and he brought details of the offer when he visited the jail.
Monday, January 2, 2012
HINDSIGHT CAN be an unreliable guide. In examining the past we see patterns which undoubtedly exist, but then we make the jump to believing that the overall picture was predetermined, when all that happened was that one move on the chessboard led to another. But in life, as in chess, people have choices and behaviour is not preordained.
That said, the dreadful events of 1981, now opened to closer scrutiny with the release of State Papers, do have a direct bearing on this island as it is today. The monumental clash of wills between paramilitary prisoners, principally the IRA, and the British government under Margaret Thatcher, directly led to the deaths of 10 men in prison on hunger strike. For those who remember, it was a bad time. A hunger strike is an exercise in shaming those in authority to bend their wills. The public had to endure widespread intimidation, with IRA supporters with black masks, armbands and batons appearing spontaneously on roads, erecting roadblocks, and behaving in threatening fashion. This became more acute during parliamentary elections when voters were exhorted to “put them in to get them out”. As the men came closer to death, the pressure to do something to save them became almost unbearable.
More than 100 people died during what was one of the worst years of the Troubles. And it is hard to justify this bloody outburst in terms of attempting to bring about greater democracy – 1981 was the year that the IRA murdered unionist member of parliament and Methodist clergyman, Rev Robert Bradford MP. The principal random factor was the byelection caused by the death of independent republican Frank Maguire who held the Westminster parliamentary seat for Fermanagh-South Tyrone. The winner was Bobby Sands, in the sixth week of his hunger strike. By year end, republicans had won seats on both sides of the Border, and the dual strategy of the “ballot box and the Armalite” was seen to yield results. From this we can trace the genesis of what became known as the peace process, with elected Sinn Féin members attending the Oireachtas and Stormont but not Westminster.
It takes great courage to starve oneself to death for a cause. Watching a son or brother or husband die takes a dreadful toll on the family and friends of the hunger striker. We have learned in greater detail about this in the papers released in Belfast this week. Some supported their men in their final struggle, others sought to save their loved ones. But as we acknowledge that bravery and sacrifice, we should not accept its inevitability. There were other ways to achieve the progress of the past 30 years. As we consider again those dreadful events we do well to remember that democratic pursuit of solutions to the problems of two traditions living on one small island was also under way. The 10 who died in prison, and all the other deaths, should not be seen across the gap of 30 years through a heroic green haze, as some kind of essential stepping stone to the more settled Ireland we enjoy today.
By Ed Carty
Friday, December 30, 2011
ONE of the top IRA prisoners in the Maze during the hunger strike wanted John Hume to act as an intermediary to end the protest, state papers have revealed.
A priest urged the then SDLP leader to act as go-between and liaise with the British government and inmates on an offer for new jail rules after nine men haddied.
Fr McEldowney, who had unrestricted access to the hunger strikers, said the proposal had come from “a prominent member of the Provisionals in the H- Blocks”.
Brendan “Bik” McFarlane was the officer commanding the IRA prisoners and the most senior republican inmate.
According to a memo to taoiseach Garret FitzGerald dated August 19, 1981, and released under the 30-year rule, Mr Hume told Fr McEldowney he would not take any action unless specifically authorised by McFarlane. He asked the priest to put this to the IRA chief.
The plan, the SDLP leader said, was to ask officials in London to inform himand the Irish government in identical terms what prison reforms were on offer.
Mr Hume said he would tell the hunger strikers the plan directly and confirm it had been passed to the Irish government.
The taoiseach, who had already warned Margaret Thatcher that her attitude to the hunger strike was divisive, urged Mr Hume to be the one to approach the British government with the plan.
The memo was written the day before the tenth death, 27-year-old INLA member Michael Devine from Derry. It would be about six weeks before the strike ended on October 3.
According to documents from files in the taoiseach’s office, the MP for Foyletold the Irish government that Gerry Adams had “sought a conversation with him” on or around May 14 after the death of Francis Hughes, 27, from Bellaghy,south Derry, the second to die.
The Sinn Féin chief told him IRA prisoners would call off the hunger strike if allowed to wear their own clothes and enjoy some free association.
After meeting Margaret Thatcher in London, Mr Hume phoned then taoiseach Charlie Haughey’s office to relay what he had told the British prime minister.
He said prisoners would call off the hunger strike if allowed to wear their own clothes and enjoy some free association.
He also had harsh words for Mrs Thatcher warning her that the Provos “held centre stage” and that she didn’t understand the meaning of Irish nationalism.
Elsewhere, papers confirm Bobby Sands offered to suspend his hunger strike for five days on or around April 30 1981 after meeting Pope John Paul II’s envoy John Magee, the former Bishop of Cloyne.
The offer was conditional on an official from the Northern Ireland Office coming to the Maze to negotiate with prisoners on their five demands in thepresence of “guarantors.”
According to the documents, the Northern Ireland Office would not discuss Sands’ offer.
Nearly every media outlet in the world had an opinion on Bobby Sands, the hunger strikes, the situation in the North and the British response. And most media were not on the side of Margaret Thatcher, writes Ryle Dwyer
By Ryle Dwyer
December 30, 2011
THE DEATH of Bobby Sands received saturation media coverage in the US, on radio, TV and the front and editorial pages of newspapers across the country. It was reminiscent of the 1969-1972 period; only this time there was more analysis and commentary on the political situation.
The New York Times had been critical of British policy on the North before, but not with the vehemence shown following the death of Sands. “Mrs Thatcher has allowed the initiative to pass to a miniscule army of implacable nationalists,” it complained in an editorial. “By appearing unfeeling and unresponsive she and her Government are providing Bobby Sands with a deathbed gift — the crown of martyrdom.”
Most of the informed comment was supplied by editorial writers and syndicated columnists. Regular columnists who wrote about Irish events were generally critical of both the IRA and the British prime minister. “Mrs Thatcher must be made to yield,” Michael Kilian wrote. “The veto power she gave the Protestants over any change in Northern Ireland’s status must be withdrawn.”
There were 13 US daily newspapers with a circulation of more than 500,000 and 100 others with circulation above 100,000. Most editorialised on the North following Sands’s death. The editorials concentrated on four areas: (i) the deaths were tragic but would not contribute to a solution; (ii) the British government could not grant political status to terrorists; (iii) Thatcher should be criticised for her handling of the affair and her lack of imagination; and (iv) London and Dublin should speed up their talks and the Protestant veto in the North should be removed.
The New York Times and New York Daily News both suggested that Thatcher should take a bold new approach in relation to Ireland. The only New York newspaper that came out strongly in her favour was the Wall Street Journal, which concluded that the initial decision to grant special category status was the real mistake.
The Chicago Tribune, on the other hand, lamented the potential for catastrophe. “Much of the blame for this can be laid on Prime Minister Thatcher and her obdurate refusal to work for reform and change. She has bowed to the wishes of Protestant firebrands like the Rev Ian Paisley so much that she almost seems a bit of a Paisleyite herself.”
The attitude was more balanced elsewhere in the US. “It’s a pity that Bobby Sands died,” the San Francisco Examiner wrote in a typical American approach, “but he was deluded if he confused nobility with violence, and thought that the latter could bring his land to a better day.”
There was also heavy coverage in the Canadian media, where the Montreal Gazette was extremely hostile to the prisoners’ case and to Sands in particular. The Toronto Globe and Mail editorialised in tones of general exasperation at the continuing violence.
IN AUSTRALIA, all of the major newspapers carried editorials on the death of Sands. It is most unusual for the regionally dispersed press to show such a degree of unanimity in selecting an editorial topic.
Many papers strongly opposed the granting of political status. Others skirted the issue. Almost all felt that there was room for flexibility and they were therefore critical of the British record in the North.
“The death of Sands will no doubt tilt the balance of emotional feelings against the Government of Mrs Thatcher, but it should be noted that there was a rational basis to its attitude,” the Adelaide Advertiser remarked. “It is completely unrealistic to identify as common criminals Irish nationalists fighting for what they regard, with some reason, as a just cause.”
The general trust of such editorials was significant because the Australian press had traditionally been very loyal to Britain. This time, however, there was a distinct edge to the criticism of British intransigence.
There was also extensive press coverage in Europe, especially in France and Germany. German editorials were either non-committal or supported the refusal to grant political status. The French press — from the conservative Le Figero and the Catholic La Croix to the independent Le Monde — were very critical of British inflexibility. The influential left-wing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, which strongly supported President Francois Mitterand carried a long article virtually reproducing the Provo line.
In Italy, despite their ideological differences, the major left- and right-wing dailies adopted a generally uniform approach in which Mrs Thatcher and her government were characterised as “inflexible, unsympathetic and unimaginative”.
Editorial opinion in Britain was unusually uniform across both the political spectrum and within the divide between “quality” and tabloid newspapers. All favoured the British government’s position in refusing political status and rejecting the demands for what amounted to political status.
The hunger strike was seen as a cynical and sinister propaganda device.” Even The Guardian — which had been critical of the British position in relation to the “dirty protest” — changed its attitude before Sands died. When he did die, it described the Government’s policy as “correct”, although it added that Mrs Thatcher’s “posture” had been disdainful and unhelpful to the taoiseach, Charles Haughey.
In the face of the attitude of the British press, it would actually have been more difficult for Thatcher to concede to the hunger strikers.
The NI prisons minister met with protesters’ families and within days the strike was called off
2 Jan 2012
A volley of shots is fired over the coffin of hunger striker Raymond McCreesh who died on May 21st, 1981, during protests at the Maze Prison. (Photograph: Pat Langan)
A SERIES of sensitive meetings between the prisons minister Lord Grey Gowrie and relatives of the remaining hunger strikers in September 1981 played a major role in ending the crisis.
Minutes just released confirm the proactive role played in the ending of the protest by the relatives, the SDLP leader John Hume and Gowrie, a member of an Anglo-Irish family who had just arrived in the North as Jim Prior’s deputy, with responsibility for prisons.
On September 21st, 1981, DJ Wyatt, a Northern Ireland Office official, contacted the secretary of state to say that Hume had seen Mrs McCloskey who had now made up her mind to authorise her son’s [Liam] resuscitation when he reached the point of death.
She was anxious to keep this decision secret because of the pressures from the Provisional IRA and INLA. Hume said that she would like to meet Gowrie and to be accompanied by Mrs Lynch, the mother of the dead hunger striker Kevin Lynch, who herself had fought hard to make her son call off his fast.
Lord Gowrie arranged to meet Mrs McCloskey and Mrs Lynch whose son had died on August 1st. The hour-long meeting took place on September 23rd and the minutes record that “although [the two women] were quite tearful at the start, the meeting proceeded amicably despite the difficult and distressing circumstances”.
Gowrie welcomed both women, expressing his sympathy for their “heartbreaking predicament”. On his recent visit to the prison he had seen Liam who had been asleep at the time. It was tragic that young men “who had such opportunities before them” should lay down their lives with evident but wholly misguided sincerity. Prior and himself wished to promote reconciliation but this process could not realistically begin under the duress of the hunger strike.
Mrs McCloskey said that her son had asked to meet the minister: he did not wish to die but could not go back and face his comrades unless he got “something”.
Only one of the five demands was discussed. Mrs Lynch strongly believed that “own clothing” would have solved the problem two years ago but that it was very difficult now.
Both women said they did not think they had any influence with the hunger strikers’ OC . This was the reason they were appealing to the minister.
This enabled Gowrie to hope that the relatives should help in their way – quite independent of government – to end the strike. He [Gowrie] would see Liam McCloskey once the latter had definitely abandoned his hunger strike.
Towards the end of the meeting Mrs McCloskey – quite unprompted – “left little doubt that she would in fact intervene if and when her son became irrational or unconscious”.
The meeting ended amicably with Mrs Lynch and Mrs McCloskey both thanking the minister. Mrs McCloskey gave Gowrie a small volume of Bobby Sands’s works. This was followed by a further meeting on September 28th, 1981 between Gowrie and the relatives of five of the remaining six hunger strikers, at Stormont Castle.
Gowrie told them that the government would not negotiate over the five demands. However, if the hunger strike did come to an end, he promised that the following things would happen. “First, the government would not claim a large public victory and crow about success. Second, as minister responsible for prisons he had absolute authority to build on and make further improvements to the prison regime for all prisoners. The decision to come off the hunger strike had to be taken by the strikers themselves, but thereafter ministers would try to be helpful.”
This meeting seems critical in the final resolution of the protest. The hunger strike was called off five days later on October 3rd, 1981, and on October 6th the secretary of state announced changes in the prison regime. All prisoners would in future be entitled to wear their own clothes; 50 per cent of lost remission would be restored for conforming prisoners and free association would be permitted within the H-blocks.
2 Jan 2012
It was a long summer of claims, counterclaims and negotiations to try to bring the IRA hunger strikes to an end
WHEN BOBBY Sands became MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone on April 11th, some British officials hoped his election might encourage the IRA to move away from violence and into politics.
Sir Kenneth Stowe, permanent under-secretary of state at the Northern Ireland Office, told cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong that there was “reason to believe that the PIRA have been thinking seriously about an end to the campaign of violence, but feel that they need a success and an avenue to pursue their aims politically”.
As more prisoners joined the hunger strike, however, officials concluded that the IRA was primarily interested in short-term political gain rather than a new departure. On April 29th, with Sands expected to die within a few days, an intelligence assessment suggested that IRA “tactics have been determined on a day-to-day basis to take advantage of opportunities as they occur and it is unlikely that they have any clear policy on what to do next”.
On May 11th, Dermot Nally, secretary to the Irish government, was visited in Dublin by Sir Robert Armstrong, his British counterpart. Both men agreed that the IRA was not, at that point, interested in an escape route from the strike. “The ‘wild men’ thought they were on to a winner and were determined to pursue their present line as far as possible,” Nally said.
The following day Francis Hughes became the second hunger striker to die. The British embassy in Dublin reported a growing feeling in Ireland that this yet was another instance “when British political sense and acumen are switched off when faced with Irish problems”.
On May 21st, Margaret Thatcher’s principal private secretary Clive Whitmore warned that the deaths of Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara (an INLA hunger striker) were imminent, after which there was likely to be a three- to four-week hiatus until the next striker would be close to death.
“There was no sign that the Provisional Irish republican leadership, which was controlling the strikes, would let them give up,” he wrote, adding that there was “no doubt that McCreesh’s family, including his brother, who was a priest, had specifically dissuaded him from breaking fast on 16 May.”
On May 26th, Thatcher hosted a high-level meeting with secretary of state Humphrey Atkins, RUC chief constable Jack Hermon and Gen Sir Richard Lawson, the GOC of the British army in Northern Ireland, at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence.
Both Hermon and Lawson emphasised their fears of the increasing alienation of the Catholic community. “If the government could dispel the impression of inflexibility and could get over instead that its policy was magnanimous and caring, these risks might be reduced,” they suggested.
Thatcher remained “rock solid” against concessions. At the end of May, when her civil servants wrote to the European Commission of Human Rights to reassure it that the government would be prepared to respond to “anything the other party may put forward”, she was furious. “No, no, no!” she wrote in the margins. “This implies that if they moved we would move.”
EARLY JUNE 1981
By June 12th, even Atkins, who had previously shared Thatcher’s hardline position, warned that in the perception of the outside world, “the line between firmness and intransigence is a narrow one”. In a memorandum entitled “The Need for Movement”, he wrote: “We may outface the hunger strikes, but we shall pay a heavy price for doing so.”
According to an intelligence- based analysis dated June 16th, some officials had previously believed that a consequence of increasing involvement in electoral politics by the Provisionals “might be a reduction in the amount of energy they put into their terrorist campaign”.
Now it was feared that “the Provisionals ‘gone political’ can succeed, where their terrorist activity has failed, in reversing the progress of recent years towards ‘normality’ and renewing for them a base from which a revitalised terrorist campaign could be launched”. As the hunger strike continued into mid-June, both the British and Irish governments became increasingly convinced that the hunger strikers were “pawns” in the strategy of the IRA leadership.
LATE JUNE 1981
On June 18th, 1981, senior Irish civil servant Dermot Nally called Downing Street on behalf of Charles Haughey to report that “there is at present some tension in relations between the parents of the hunger strikers, the hunger strikers themselves and the Provisional IRA controllers outside, which could be exploited”.
On June 23rd, 1981, the Irish ambassador in London, Eamon Kennedy, went to Downing Street to personally submit a letter from the taoiseach urging “another initiative”, on the back of a recent statement by Irish bishops criticising the strike.
Thatcher responded by telling Kennedy that while she welcomed the church’s intervention, the IRA was “in the hands of left-wing extremists who were not greatly interested in the views of the church” and “it was not easy to see what HMG could do”.
On June 25th, Nally called Downing Street again to suggest that “there is significant room for manoeuvre”.
Sir Robert Armstrong, the cabinet secretary, also believed that the IRA leadership might be amenable to a settlement. Although they had gained in terms of propaganda, “they must be apprehensive lest, if the succession of deaths is resumed, public opinion could swing against them and they might lose what they have gained”.
When Nally called back the next day, he told Armstrong “it was now a question of ‘percentages’”. Some “slight movement – not a major step”, might bring a resolution to the stand-off between the government and the prisoners.
Towards the end of June, the British government began tentative discussions with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), a body set up by the Catholic Bishops Conference, which had made proposals for improvements in conditions in the Maze Prison.
Following these discussions, in a policy statement on June 30th, Atkins stated that changes in work, clothing and association might be possible, while reiterating the government’s bottom line that political status would not be considered and that the prison authorities must retain full control of the H-Blocks.
On July 1st, new taoiseach Garret FitzGerald once again informed the British that there were strong indications that the prisoners themselves wanted a deal.
The following day, Atkins told a cabinet meeting that the Provisional leadership felt under pressure from a “combination of signs of weakening resolve among some of the hunger strikers, a desire among moderate Catholics to see a reasonable settlement related to the ICJP’s proposals, and a reaction to manipulation of the families”.
On Saturday July 4th, Atkins publicly raised the prospect of “general improvements” being made in prison conditions, while insisting that the government would not act “under duress”. In other words, the strike had to end before any changes were implemented.
The same day, a statement was telephoned to the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) on behalf of the prisoners which recognised “that not all five demands would be achieved”. The IRA however still required “firm guarantees” by the British government “before the prisoners considered a ‘move’.”
The statement insisted there was no discrepancy between the prisoners’ position and that of the outside leadership, although British officials did not believe this to be true.
At this point, the IRA leadership made direct contact with the British government through an established “channel of communication” which had been used at previous points in the 1970s. That channel is presumed to have run from Derry businessman Brendan Duddy and MI6 officer Michael Oatley. In this batch of British state papers, the figure believed to be Duddy is referred to as “Soon” or “the channel”.
According to Soon, the July 4th statement by the hunger strikers was “issued independently by the prisoners in the Maze and the timing came as a surprise to senior Provisionals outside”. Although “the content did represent what was previously agreed”, Soon said it had “caught the Provisionals unaware”, with the leadership “dispersed”.
Nonetheless, Soon was “optimistic” that the basis for a deal was in place. This would involve an end to the hunger strike, followed by immediate concessions on clothing (prisoners would be allowed to wear their own) and parcels and visits, to give the IRA a “face-saving way out”. The issues of work and association would be dealt with shortly afterwards.
When Soon called back on July 5th, he said the Provisionals did not like the ICJP acting as a “mediator” and took a “destructive” view of its proposals. They were also suspicious of the fact that the British had not contacted them directly if they were serious about a deal. In reply, the British stated that, when it came to “the channel”, they “had only ever initiated calls in response to queries for clarification”.
Soon said that Danny Morrison, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams were the only individuals of sufficient clout to offer the “persuasion, education and knowledge” to push through any deal. The British made special arrangements for Morrison to be allowed to enter the Maze to talk to the prisoners directly, although they rejected a request that McGuinness be allowed to join the delegation.
(Morrison has challenged the British account of these events, as reported in The Irish Times of last Saturday, December 31st, on page five, headline “McCreesh family deny British claim”.)
Soon also said he had managed to convince the IRA leadership that the government was “not interested in any settlement unless the hunger strike is called off first” and was “fairly confident that this was acceptable”.
At 11pm on July 5th, however, things seemed to turn for the worst. Morrison had returned from his visit to the prison with a series of “alarming reports”.
According to Soon, the situation “was now so bad that the possibility of any settlement was seriously in doubt”. There was “a complete feeling of hostility among the prisoners towards the ICJP . . . [which] had created an alarmist view of the sincerity of HMG, and every type of neurosis imaginable was surfacing within the Provisional leadership”.
“From an apparently enthusiastic position,” according to a summary of the conversation, “Soon had been called into an angry and hostile meeting of the Provisionals almost verging on a complete breakdown”.
There were “many incoherent abuses aimed at the Soon channel, with the implication that the time spent in discussion on the Soon channel had been a front by HMG to enable the ICJP to manoeuvre the prisoners into an impossible position”.
At 1am on July 6th, Soon rang back to convey the agreed position of the IRA leadership, which was that the prisoners’ statement was the only basis for a successful deal and that they insisted that they were given a draft response by the government before they called off the strike.
It was only at this point that Thatcher was told by Atkins that in conjunction with the ICJP efforts, the government had been “approached by a third party who is trusted by the Provisional leadership”.
He made it clear that “no negotiations have been taking place but it is obviously only sensible that if the Provisional leadership wish to communicate something to us indirectly about this critical problem, we should listen”. Their views were “important because so far they seem to be largely in control of the strikers”.
Meanwhile, other British officials reported that there were “indications that the PIRA leadership are concerned that one or other of the prisoners might give up; and also that the work of the ICJP might put them in a humiliating position”. They were also worried that “more pressure from the families” might tip things in the government’s favour.
On July 6th, Thatcher approved a message to be sent through “the channel” which outlined the terms of a deal. The clothing regime in Armagh prison would be applied to all prisons in Northern Ireland (allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes), restrictions on parcels, visits and letters would be lifted and there was “scope for yet further developments” on work and remission.
If there was a “satisfactory” response, the government was prepared to provide the Provisionals with an advanced text of the arrangement.
On July 7th, following a high- level meeting at Downing Street, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland told the prime minister: “Following the sending of the message which you approved last night, we have received, as you will know, an unsatisfactory response. That channel of activity is therefore no longer active.”
The Provisionals, he reported, “did not regard it as satisfactory and that they wanted a good deal more. This appeared to mark the end of this development and we made this clear to the PIRA.”
In a dramatic twist, however, just after midnight on July 8th, Atkins met Thatcher again to inform her that – following the shutting down of the channel – the IRA had told the government that it was “not the content of the message to which they had objected but only its tone”.
It had also hinted that a slightly revised statement “would be enough to get the PIRA to instruct the prisoners to call off the hunger strike”. For the moment, Atkins recommended that the government hold firm to its position (although another deal was to be offered 10 days later)
Later that day, however, public recriminations began as it became clear that the expected deal had not materialised. The ICJP accused the NIO of clawing back on previous offers and the British government became increasingly concerned about its international reputation.
On July 14th, a foreign office minister suggested that the only way to prevent any more deaths was to feed the prisoners intravenously, against their will. If this option was taken, the prison authorities would also have to restrict visitors because “any relatives and priests allowed in may well be fanatical enough to wrench out the drip and smash the equipment”.
The same day, the foreign secretary Lord Carrington raised the prospect of “force feeding” in a meeting at Downing Street because of the damage being done to Britain’s international reputation by the deaths. Others suggested surreptitiously inserting glucose into the water provided to those fasting.
LATER JULY 1981
Another document in the prime ministerial files, dated July 18th, reveals that the British made one last attempt to revive the deal. NIO officials confirmed that they offered the same deal but with “fuller words” and it was passed through “the channel” again. Once again, when a satisfactory response was not forthcoming, the channel was shut down.
At midnight on July 19th, however, FitzGerald called Downing Street to suggest that there might be an opportunity to “persuade the prisoners to overrule” Brendan McFarlane, the IRA leader in the H-Block, who was now seen as an obstacle to the settlement.
On July 19th, the priest of Kevin Lynch (an INLA hunger striker), told British officials that the relatives of Lynch and Kieran Doherty wanted an NIO official “to clarify the government’s position to Lynch and Doherty respectively, on the same basis as before – ie without McFarlane present”.
At this point, however, the strikers themselves seemed to have intervened and said they wanted McFarlane present. According to prison authorities, Lynch had previously stated that he did not want McFarlane there.
On July 21st, officials finally concluded that the Provisionals “are not prepared to accept our position about prison conditions”.
Intriguingly, they also claimed that “we have a clear acknowledgement from McFarlane (which we are already making use of) that the hunger strikers have no power to give up”, although they did not elaborate further.
On July 30th, Atkins noted that “external pressures from the families, from interested priests, from others concerned about the situation – will now be focused on Brendan MacFarlane as the ‘hard man’ who is apparently discouraging the hunger strikers from ending their fast”.
The following day, July 31st, is usually seen as the day in which the hunger strike began to break, after Paddy Quinn’s mother insisted on medical intervention to save his life, although there were to be four more deaths before the strike officially ended in the first week of October.