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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 hunger strikers’ PRO says he has been encouraged by the BAI’s response to Sean Gallagher, writes Willie Kealy
Sunday March 18 2012
THE former public relations officer for IRA hunger strikers, Richard O’Rawe, is to bring a complaint against RTE to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) over on-air discussions of allegations he made in his book, Blanketmen.
Mr O’Rawe claimed that an IRA Army Council committee, headed by Gerry Adams, prolonged the hunger strike for political reasons. In response, Danny Morrison, who was also on the committee, attacked O’Rawe’s book robustly on a number of RTE programmes, particularly the Pat Kenny radio show.
Mr O’Rawe claims that he has never been invited to discuss his criticisms of the Adams leadership in these programmes nor allowed to reply to Morrison’s attacks.
He said yesterday he had been “encouraged by the BAI response to the Sean Gallagher complaint” and would draw up his own formal complaint which he will submit shortly.
But a spokesman for RTE has rejected Richard O’Rawe’s complaint as “unfair to RTE, and wrong”. The spokesman said: “Richard O’Rawe featured prominently in the two major RTE productions in recent years that addressed the 1981 hunger strikes in the greatest depth. He was a filmed interviewee in the two-part ‘Hidden History’ documentary series, ‘Hunger Strike’, in May 2006 and made a substantive contribution that included his point of claimed IRA leadership manipulation of the duration of the hunger strikes. This was a landmark commission by RTE Television factual programmes marking and analysing the events on their 25th anniversary.
“Mr O’Rawe also featured more recently in the special documentary ‘Voices From The Grave’, a 70-minute feature documentary broadcast on August 31, 2010, on RTE One Television. The documentary centred on the secretly recorded memoirs of former IRA leader Brendan Hughes and former UVF volunteer and then leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, David Ervine. Both had given interviews to Boston College on the understanding that they would not be made public except by their consent or on their death. Mr Ervine died suddenly in 2007 and Brendan Hughes died in 2008. Mr O’Rawe was featured in the documentary made by Ed Moloney and Patrick Farrelly based on the Boston College recordings.
“Regarding his objections to RTE Radio programmes and coverage, RTE Radio was in touch with Mr O’Rawe by mail and phone in January last to attempt to explore his concerns and objections.
“Mr O’Rawe is entitled to engage with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s statutory complaints process and RTE will, as always, respond to any complaint received,” the spokesman said.
In support of his complaint against RTE, Mr O’Rawe makes the following claims: “1. On July 31, 2005, on Tom McGurk’s Sunday Show, Danny Morrison (DM) said that my book Blanketmen was ‘scurrilous’. No one from RTE offered me an opportunity to rebut what DM had said. This remark formed the basis of a libel action that I took against RTE but I had to abandon it because I didn’t have the money to follow through with it.
“2. On April 5, 2006, Aine Lawlor interviewed DM on RTE’s ‘Morning Ireland’ show. In that programme, Lawlor asked DM about my view that the Adams/Morrison committee allowed hunger strikers to die in order to gain access to the political process. DM replied as follows: ‘Well, first of all, that is demonstrable nonsense . . . if it is true, then that allegation is of such magnitude that if it is true it would destroy Gerry Adams, it would destroy SF, and it would destroy the IRA . . .’ DM went on to say: ‘Richard O’Rawe is a disgrace to himself’ and further on: ‘Richard O’Rawe cannot stand over these allegations, he just makes them, that is it, he cannot say, here is the proof’.”
“3. On August 15, 2011, on the ‘Pat Kenny Show’, SF MLAs Gerry Kelly and Pat Sheehan were asked about my claims. They both dismissed them out of hand. On August 17, 2011, I phoned up the ‘Pat Kenny Show’ and complained. The person on the other end of the phone said that they wouldn’t be coming back to the issue and basically told me that there was no avenue of redress open to me.
“4. On December 30, 2011, DM was interviewed on the RTE ‘Prime Time’ show. Predictably, he again advanced a position protective of the Sinn Fein leadership, and critical of my arguments. Although this attack could have been predicted from previous polemics by DM on the PK show, nobody from ‘Prime Time’ approached me to appear and counter DM’s attacks — or even to brief researchers to ask questions that would have put DM under pressure to support his attacks on my analysis.
“5. Contrary to their August 2011 statement to me — that they would not be returning to the issue — the ‘Pat Kenny Show’ team returned to the hunger strike on January 6, 2012. Once again DM was on the show, once again he predictably attacked my criticisms of Gerry Adams’s handling of the hunger strike, and once again I was not asked to participate to defend myself. DM was allowed to make his attacks with no counter argument from Pat Kenny, nor was anyone else present to challenge him.
“Shortly afterwards, I called the show and complained about the lack of balance. I was not offered a right of reply on the programme. Instead, in what I saw as a deflecting tactic, I was asked to outline my position. I declined as I had already outlined my position fully in my book Blanketmen, which I presumed researchers would have read. In retrospect, it seems a naive presumption.
“Conclusion: Each of the above incidents breaches the letter and spirit of the Broadcasting Act’s requirements for balance, impartiality and simple fair play.
“Excluding my criticisms of the Adams/Morrison Committee did not benefit me, nor the brave men who died on hunger strike, nor the people of Ireland who pay a licence fee to hear at least the two main sides of any matter of public controversy, but who were only allowed to hear the Adams/Morrison side of the story.”
The BAI will have to decide whether or not to hear Mr O’Rawe’s complaint. One broadcasting source suggested that he could face a difficulty in that normally complaints are supposed to be lodged within 30 days of a programme being aired.
‘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.
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.
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’.
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.
Richard O’Rawe says the release of secret 1981 government papers vindicates his claim that IRA leaders vetoed a deal
Henry McDonald and Owen Bowcott
30 Dec 2011
The Maze prison, where republican IRA and INLA inmates went on hunger strike in 1981. (Photograph: PA)
A former press officer for the IRA hunger strikers in the Maze has claimed that Margaret Thatcher’s offer of concessions to end the fatal 1981 strike supports his assertion that some of the republicans’ external leaders vetoed the deal.
Richard O’Rawe said the release this week of secret government papers from the period bolstered his claim that the prime minister had sanctioned a deal that could have ended the hunger strike earlier and saved the lives of up to four IRA and two INLA prisoners.
The documents have triggered a fierce debate within republican ranks over the precise sequence of negotiations conducted through a secret, MI6-operated channel of communication between the IRA and Downing Street.
Danny Morrison, one of the key Sinn Féin figures at the time, has claimed the newly declassified documents vindicate the IRA’s decisions because they show that the British government had not formulated a final position.
O’Rawe has been vilified in his native west Belfast over his allegations that a compromise was put forward by go-betweens that would have given the republican prisoners most of their five demands inside the top security jail.
The prisoners began the hunger strike to win political status and had five core demands, including not wearing prison uniforms as well the right of freedom of association on the H-Blocks. O’Rawe maintains that the 1981 papers provide fresh evidence that an offer was on the table in early July that would have been acceptable to the republican inmates in the Maze.
In the papers the go-between is codenamed “Soon” but has since been revealed to be the Derry businessman Brendan Duddy. Speaking at his west Belfast home on Friday, the former IRA spokesman in the H-Blocks said: “This was all confirmed in Duddy’s own papers last week [to the University of Galway] and now these archives from Kew confirm the same thing – there was an offer.
“There is no doubt about that now that on 5 July the British met the majority of the prisoners’ demands, which the prisoners accepted and Duddy has already accepted that to be the case.”
O’Rawe added: “Even the IRA army council was not told about this offer. These papers from Kew confirm and reinforce Duddy’s papers released to the University of Galway. In my opinion there was a secret cabal outside of the army council that vetoed the offer.
“They [certain republican leaders] played hardball with the Brits and the Brits called their bluff. In that period Joe McDonnell died. Was this stupidity or cynicism? Did they want Owen Carron elected as Bobby Sands’s successor or were they thick as champ? On 5 July that should have been it, over – the prisoners should have had the final say – but these guys on the outside cut us out. Even Thatcher had been prepared to offer a deal, as these papers prove today.”
For more than 20 years Duddy acted as a secret intermediary between the government and the IRA through his contacts with the MI6 officer Michael Oatley. The files released from the Kew archives include a log of a series of frantic telephone calls between Soon and his MI6 contact in the days leading up to the government’s offer. In one call Soon explained the IRA’s demands. “Immediately following the ending of the hunger strike, concessions would be required on clothes, parcels and visits. This, he said, would provide the Provisionals with a face-saving way out,” the log noted.
Others on the IRA army council in the summer of 1981 have confirmed they were not made aware of the offer and that a secret group based in Belfast took control of the negotiations in July. Ruaraigh O’Bradaigh, who would go on to break from Sinn Féin and form the hardline Republican Sinn Féin five years later, said he had been on the IRA army council during the hunger strike but had been kept in the dark about the British offer.
Morrison told the Guardian earlier this week: “We never got the final position [before] Joe O’Donnell [the fifth hunger striker] died. O’Rawe has written in his book that the republican leadership allowed O’Donnell to die to [build political support and] get Owen Carron elected [as MP].
“But the writ for the Fermanagh byelection wasn’t moved until 20 July, some time after O’Donnell died. O’Rawe’s book spends four pages saying what never happened.”
The Northern Ireland historian Dr Eamon Phoenix, writing for the BBC, disputed O’Rawe’s interpretation. “These documents show that the prospects of an early deal to end the hunger strike evaporated over that July weekend,” he said.
“The British never actually formulated their final statement while concessions were strongly opposed by senior NIO [Northern Ireland Office] ministers, led by Humphrey Atkins.
“This seems to contradict the former H Block prisoner Richard O’Rawe’s claims in his book of a clear British offer around 5 July.”
Professor Paul Bew, a leading expert on the history of the Troubles, said: “Some people will want to see this as proving O’Rawe’s thesis, but given the chaos of the time it’s difficult to go that far. It clearly does not disprove his thesis.”
Claims that the Sinn Fein president could have stopped the 1981 fast in July are vindicated by newly-released papers, says Carrie Twomey
20 December 2011
The controversial claim that Gerry Adams and his committee controlling the 1981 hunger strike from outside the Maze prison refused a substantial offer from then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – an offer accepted by the prisoners – has been proven true.
The allegation is substantiated in the notes of Derry businessman Brendan Duddy. Duddy, the ‘Mountain Climber’, was the messenger between the British Government and IRA during the hunger strike.
Duddy previously confirmed he delivered an offer from Thatcher’s Government to Martin McGuinness. Along with Danny Morrison and Jim Gibney, McGuinness was a member of Adams’s clandestine hunger strike committee.
The content of that offer was the same as was revealed in FOI documents obtained by the Belfast Telegraph’s political editor, Liam Clarke. These documents show most of the five demands prisoners were hunger striking for would be met.
In his books Blanketmen and Afterlives, Richard O’Rawe, PRO of the IRA prisoners during the hunger strikes, wrote of the acceptance of that offer by himself and Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane (in charge of the hunger strike inside the prison).
This claim was vehemently denied by Morrison and Sinn Fein. O’Rawe faced vilification, threats and intimidation for revealing this information, as it meant six of the 10 hunger strikers need not have died had the offer been accepted.
Duddy’s notes of talks between Thatcher and Adams over the weekend of July 4-5, 1981 conclusively prove O’Rawe’s account was true.
After a conciliatory statement from the prisoners, Thatcher sent Duddy details of an offer with the potential to end the hunger strike.
Danny Morrison went into the prison to convey this offer to McFarlane, who discussed it with O’Rawe. McFarlane then sent word out that they would accept it.
Written in code on the morning of July 6, Duddy’s notes reflect this significant movement.
Adams and his committee were the ‘Shop Stewards’, the prisoners were the ‘Union Membership’ and the Government was ‘Management’.
The message Adams wanted conveyed to Thatcher was: “The S.S. fully accept the posal [sic] – as stated by the Union MemBship [sic]”. In other words, the prisoners had endorsed the proposal.
The rest of the message added conditions to the acceptance that gave the Adams committee, not the prisoners, a veto over the deal.
Crucially, the message added, if the British published the offer without Adams having prior sight, and agreeing to it, he would publicly ‘disapprove’ it.
In spite of the prisoners’ acceptance of the offer negotiations continued over the next two days, with Joe McDonnell close death.
The demands the prisoners were seeking via hunger strike had effectively been granted. Before implementing the agreed proposal, the British were waiting for word from Adams that the prisoners would end their hunger strike. Once that word was given, the proposal would be read to the prisoners by the NIO and released to the Press.
It was not to be. On July 7, the Adams’ committee sought to alter the ‘tone’ of the agreement, not the content. The substance had already been met. Adams and his team were concerned with presentation.
Negotiations continued throughout the night. At 4.50am on July 8, while Adams was in mid-discussion with the British, Joe McDonnell became the fifth hunger striker to die. Five more were to die before the hunger strike’s end in October 1981.
All the proposals made by Margaret Thatcher in early July were implemented immediately after the hunger strike ended.
11 December 2011
An ex-Provo prisoner who watched his comrades die on hunger-strike has blasted the IRA leadership for their “needless deaths”.
Richard O’Rawe says key IRA leaders should “hang their heads in shame” for rejecting a secret British offer which could have saved six hunger-strikers’ lives in the notorious H-Blocks.
The West Belfast republican, who was the prisoners’ public relations officer, claims “six men with hearts like lions were let die horrific deaths for nothing other than getting Sinn Féin votes”.
Four hunger-strikers were already dead when British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, capitulated and made her dramatic offer in July 1981 effectively granting most of the prisoners’ demands.
O’Rawe, who bravely lifted the lid in 2001 on the secret British proposal to end the hunger-strike, was speaking after his account was proven true by documents just lodged in an Irish university.
He’s now urging republicans all over Ireland to urgently revise their understanding of what happened during the H-Block death fast that made headlines across the world.
“The evidence is there for all to see. It’s the biggest cover-up in the history of Irish republicanism,” he told the Sunday World.
The hunger-strike was run on the outside by a clandestine committee set up by the Army Council. Its members included the North’s best known Provos who were also in Sinn Féin.
“These men should have the guts to finally come clean and tell how they let six republicans, whose boots they weren’t fit to lace, needlessly die horrific deaths in a H-block hell-hole.
“Let them explain how they rejected an offer which meant Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Tom McElwee, Kieran Doherty and Mickey Devine would all have lived.”
O’Rawe spoke of the threats and intimidation he and his family had suffered since he exposed the leadership’s lies. “‘Richard O’Rawe H-Block traitor’ was written on the wall opposite my home. Well, it’s now as clear as daylight who betrayed the hunger-strikers.”
Papers donated to the National University of Ireland in Galway by Derry businessman, Brendan Duddy, show how the IRA prison leadership accepted a substantial British offer to end the death fast.
Known as the ‘Mountain Climber’, Duddy was the messenger between the British and the IRA. His notes show – as O’Rawe claimed in his best-selling book Blanketmen – that the British made an offer on 5 July 1981 effectively granting the prisoners’ five demands except free association.
Joe McDonnell, the fifth hunger-striker, was hovering on the brink of death so urgent action was required. Duddy relayed the offer to Martin McGuinness who told Gerry Adams. Danny Morrison was then despatched to the H-Blocks to brief Bik McFarlane, the IRA commander in the jail.
When he returned to his cell, McFarlane told O’Rawe the good news. “We were both delighted. A few hours free movement every day wasn’t worth one more life,” says O’Rawe.
“The British were compromising on prison uniforms, work, visits, letters and segregation. Bik wrote to Gerry Adams, accepting the offer.”
However, the Army Council committee then sent word into the jail that the offer wasn’t enough. On 7 July, the IRA told the British that while the substance of the proposal was acceptable, the “tone” needed changing.
Joe McDonnell died the next day. “This fine republican died because an Army Council clique didn’t like the ‘tone’ of a document,” says O’Rawe. “Five other great men, the bravest of the brave, followed him. The hunger-strikers were Spartacuses.
“They gave everything they had to the republican movement. They believed to their death in a 32 county socialist republic. This Army Council committee between them didn’t have even an ounce of one hunger-striker’s courage. They were a bunch of immoral, unscrupulous b*****ds.”
It was later revealed that the Army Council committee never briefed the entire Army Council itself on the details of the offer.
The hunger-strike had become “a cynical PR exercise to gain votes”, O’Rawe claims. It had to continue at least until Owen Carron won the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Westminister by-election in August, holding Bobby Sands’ seat.
The official Provo line has always been that a callous, uncompromising British government let 10 men die. “That lie’s now exposed,” says O’Rawe. “The hunger-strikers broke Margaret Thatcher. She blinked first. She gave in but the men weren’t told
The ex-IRA man says he faced a campaign of vilification since he began exposing the truth about the hunger-strike: “I was told I could be shot. My children were harassed. ‘Your da’s a liar,’ people shouted at them.
“I was ostracised. Guys I’d operated with in the IRA, some of my best friends, snubbed me as the leadership spread their lies.”
O’Rawe (57) lives just across the road from Milltown Cemetery on the Falls where three hunger-strikers are buried.
He often visits the graves of Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell, and Kieran Doherty: “It’s heart-breaking but I don’t need to go there to remember them because they never leave my mind.” On the 30th anniversary of the 10 deaths, he still breaks down in tears thinking of his comrades.
December 12, 2011
This article appeared in the December 11, 2011 edition of the Sunday World.
THE HUNGER STRIKE Was there a deal?
By Allison Morris
Former republican hunger striker Bernard Fox says he is deeply distressed by allegations that a deal which could have ended the strike was vetoed in order to maximise electoral support for Sinn Fein.
The west Belfast man, who spent a total of 22 years in prison, was on hunger strike for 32 days when the protest was ended.
Speaking to The Irish News Mr Fox said: “I was a close friend of Joe McDonnell. I was on active service with him on the outside, and later imprisoned with him.
“Under those circumstances you get to know a person’s character very well.
“Joe loved life and had no desire to die but he was determined and pragmatic and was not for settling for anything other than the five demands – that I can say for sure.
“I wasn’t in the hospital at that time and I don’t know what the men were told or not told but I do know that there was no deal.
“Offers, yes – there were plenty of offers.
“Sure wasn’t Kieran Nugent given an offer of a convict’s uniform in 1976, an offer he declined?”
Having been interned twice the former IRA man was returned to the Maze prison as a convicted prisoner in 1977 and immediately joined the blanket protest, before volunteering for the Hunger Strike.
He spent 32 days on hunger strike before the protest, which claimed the lives of seven IRA and three INLA prisoners, came to an end.
“It took me 20 years before I could even speak openly about my experiences,” he said.
“It’s still emotional and raw for me even now. These claims just add to that pain.
“I can only imagine what it must be like for the families of the 10 lads.
“Bik [McFarlane] was chosen to act as our OC [officer commanding]. It’s a job no-one envied – the pressure must have been unbearable.
“Regardless of what I or anyone else may think about the political direction he has taken since, at the time we knew he wasn’t going to let us down.
“To suggest that he in some way colluded with the outside leadership to let his comrades die is sickening to me and does not hold up to scrutiny.
“After the first hunger strike we, [the prisoners] were very clear we wanted our demands in writing and delivered by a representative of the British government so there could be no reneging this time.
“Look, I would never criticise any former blanketman. We all suffered equally and the comradeship we had at that time was the only thing that saw us through.
“But try as I may I cannot understand where some people are coming from or why they would wait all these years to bring this out.
“Thatcher and the British government are responsible for the deaths of our comrades – that’s where the blame lies.”
In 1998 Fox was released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
He has since parted company with Sinn Fein in disagreement over its political direction.
“I have no personal or political agenda,” he said.
“My only concern is for the families and how all this must be hurting them.
Addressing calls for a public inquiry, he said: “I have no time for inquiries. What you need is not an inquiry but the truth and it would be naive to think the British will ever tell the truth.
“If there are unanswered questions my advice would be to seek clarification.
“That way the families who have called on all this to stop can be left in peace.”